Tyeb Mehta's moment of glory

In the year 2005, Tyeb Mehta has remained in news for his glorious achievements. This eminent yet humble artist indeed has had several moments of glory this year. Though he keeps a low profile, Mehta's strokes ensure repeated brushes with the limelight. Just recently, he was honored with the 'Dayawati Modi Award for Art Culture and Education' After receiving the award, he commented: " I feel truly honored, as this award is recognition of my lifetime work. It inspires me to come up with more works of art in the future.'

At the Saffronart Winter Online Auction 2005 for celebrating its five years, winning value for one of Tyeb Mehta's untitled 1969 Oil on canvas (58.5' x 49' - 148.6 cm x 124.5 cm) was $355,025 (Rs.15,621,100 - inclusive of Buyers Premium 10%) . This painting is among the first three paintings that Tyeb Mehta created when experimenting with the concept of a diagonal division to create separate planes of the same fractured image. The deep blue diagonal however, proved elusive as a motif or a central point of division and he shifted, instead to a single jagged, diagonal.

'Having come to an impasse in his handling of the relationship between figure, field and colour, in 1969, Tyeb suddenly flung a back slash across one of his paintings: beginning as an improvisatory resolution to a periodically intractable problem, the diagonal became a device to activate the painting, and eventually became a symbol of scission, of that simultaneous separation and twinning by which the self recognizes and comes to healing terms with its own contradictions," notes art critic Ranjit Hoskote ("Images of Transcendence", Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges).

A new book titled 'Tyeb Mehta - Ideas Images Exchanges' released by Vadhera Art Gallery gives art aficionados a glimpse into the life and times of the great painter. It peeps into his world, his moments in solitude as well as his inherent artistic quest.

Mumbai-based 80-year-old Tyeb Mehta is part of the Progressive Artists Group. Like most other artists of the Progressive Artists Movement in India, he drew inspiration from European masters but he interprets Indian themes.

Tyeb Mehta's paintings create an ethos of brooding, sombre consciousness. His paintings pose unanswered and unanswerable questions about the human condition. His large body of work spanning over six decades has established him as one of the greatest names of modern Indian art.

Explaining the thought-processes as an artist, he has been quoted as saying: "When you are young, you try to understand the world. As you grow old you try to understand yourself and your work then becomes the essence of these efforts." The celebrated artist has represented India in many international exhibitions with his masterpieces such as 'Trussed bull on Rickshaw', 'Kali' and 'Falling Figures.'

Among his other significant works are 'Shantiniketan Triptych' painted in 1985, a three-paneled portrait of distortion, of self-awareness, necessitated by exclusivist self-identities, individual and collective. He has received prestigious awards such as 'Lalit Kala Academy Award', 1965 and the 'Kalidasa Samman', 1988.

The year 2005, as stated above, has indeed brought many moment of glory for the artist. His depiction of goddess Durga set a new price record. He has been quoted as saying: 'As a young painter I had wanted to paint the Mother Goddess.' 'Mahishasura' is based on the tale of Goddess Durga slaying the demon with the artist depicting Mahishasura a sympathetic figure embracing the goddess, symbolizing the demon's transformation after uniting with the divine.

Tyeb Mehta is known for using the technique of creating multiple images to convey motion. This is obvious in the many arms of the Nataraja (the dancing God) that represent the movement of the hands in the Bharatanatyam dance form. The artist blends this with the radical vision he acquired in his days as a member of the Bombay Progressive Artists Group, using this ancient Indian treatment of motion to reflect the continuing decline in the price of a man's work in the face of the rising prices of other commodities.

He uses ancient images in a modern sense, blending the demon Mahishasura into the butcher's buffalo. A trussed bull, a red shawl, the nayika: these come directly from Tyeb's familiarity with Indian attitudes and from his knowledge of, and commitment to, the mythology.

There is more in store for the celebrated yet humble artist. Not just that a retrospective of his works at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA).

The octogenarian artist continues to be associated with various art and cultural organisations, and vows to continue to paint, and to create more masterpieces.Tyeb Mehta vows to continue to paint with the same old passion. Money, fame and awards are purely incidental for this celebrated artist.

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