Tyeb Mehta

Untitled (Two Figures) | Mumbai | acrylic on canvas | 91.4 x 91.4 cm.

“His painterly frame occasionally assumes the magnitude of the monumental, where image, tone and space coalesce towards an ascending truth.”

Yahodhara Dalmia, curator

The revered painter Tyeb Mehta spent the majority of his years contemplating the human condition. As a young man, he witnessed firsthand the violence that accompanied India’s partition, an event that was pivotal in the formation of his artistic vision. Struggle and suffering are dominant subjects in his work from the beginning: from the helpless plight of the trussed bull in Mumbai's slaughter houses; to the falling figure hurtling toward its metaphorical abyss; to the trapped rickshaw-puller who is, as Mehta described it, “caged in a vehicle that has become an aching extension of his body.” The paintings offer a disillusioned—if acute, and fundamentally human—vision of the modern world.

As Mehta’s bodies push and pull one another, compassion and destruction become interchangeable. His  treatment is stark: lumpen, Bacon-esque figures—hybrids, deformed and dismembered, their arms flailing—the jagged diagonal lines of their bodies cutting across flat color planes, heightening their impact. An intense, often brutal dynamism defines Mehta’s work: Dramatic in its juxtaposition of opposites—good and evil, male and female, death and life, color against color—the work is charged with visual and symbolic tension.

Born in Gujarat, Mehta spent his early years working as a film editor in a cinema laboratory.  His love for painting and an introduction to the workings of the Bombay Progressive Artists Group redirected his path to the Sir J.J. School of Art where he graduated in 1952.  From 1959 to 1964 he lived in London, and was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship; it brought him to the United States in 1968, where his work went through several stylistic changes.  He is regarded as one of India’s greatest artists, and his work has appeared in solo and group exhibitions around the world. He was first among Indian artists to sell work at auction for over $1 million.

In his lifetime he was awarded the Prix Nationale in Cagne-sur-Mer, in 1974, and received the Kalidas Samman from the Madhya Pradesh State Government in 1988.He was also awarded Gold Medal by the President of India on the occasion of Lalit Kala Akademie golden Jubilee Celebration in 2004. He passed in 2009.

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Works by Tyeb Mehta

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  • Sonal Singh
    • South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art
    • Mumbai
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