Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tyeb Mehta

A blockage in the heart led to the demise of an Indian legend -- artist Tyeb Mehta was in his 80s when he passed away on July 2. With his long-ish hair and wizened face painting a picture of old-world cultured grace, he created works that bring a sense of violence, mutilation and grief to the forefront. While many might feel his works are too flat to really evoke such feelings in a viewer, he has left this world as undoubtedly one of the nation's renowned artists. Mehta shot to fame as late as 2003 only when he smashed international ceilings on behalf of the Indian artist community, whether through his Celebration that was auctioned at Christie's for an unprecedented $300,000 (2003) or his Mahishahura (2005) that was the first Indian work of art that was sold for $1.5million. His works are peopled with bodies that speak of torture in simple fuss-free lines and solid block colours. Art historians have mentioned the deep effect communal violence had on Mehta, explaining the recurring theme. Friends like Anjolie Ela Menon and Ram Kumar prefer to remember him as a true artist who did not lunge to take advantage of the booming art market.
Few will remember him as a filmmaker as his stint in cinema lasted a brief while, only to be taken over by his love for painting. His film Kadool on the common man won a critical award in 1970 and was discussed by our film maestro, Satyajit Ray in his book Our FIlms, Their Films. Had the times allowed it financially and socially, perhaps Mehta would have been a brilliant director with a bank of memorable films behind him instead. But the creative instinct does not change from medium to medium; we have his encased in bold canvases that speak volumes of his angst at social ills.

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