A tearful adieu to Tyeb Mehta by Tanu Talwar

A painter, sculptor, filmmaker – multi-talented artist Tyeb Mehta’s love for his trade made him one of the most revered figures in the field of modern Indian art. But for a generation that equates entertainment to movies and de-stresses only over a cup of coffee, a large sized calorie loaded muffin or head banging rock session, Tyeb Mehta’s stature is limited to the fact that he holds the record of getting the highest price for his art in an international auction. A remarkable achievement, however, there is more to this proficient artist than just a record-breaking detail. Mehta, one of the rare priceless gems of the art world was indeed a distinguished painter whose works have been celebrated both at home and abroad.
An artist par excellence, Mehta’s paintings and sculptures have been a rage with some of the most prominent personalities and celebrities of our time. A Padma Bhushan holder, this modern Indian artist was renowned for his fixation with the formalist means of expression.
And even though his works have been widely discussed and appreciated, his reticent disposition revealed little about his personal life. Not many personal facts are known about this hugely talented painter.
Born in a humble household on July 26, 1925 in Kapadvanj, Gujarat, Tyeb Mehta was initially inclined to pursue a career in films. But after working as a film editor in a cinema laboratory, the young Mehta embraced his true calling as he enrolled in Sir JJ School of Art, Bombay, to study painting.
After nurturing his talent for over six years from 1947 to 1952, Mehta met Akbar Padamsee, a renowned figure in the art world. Bonded by their common love for art Mehta and Padamsee became close associates and were linked with the Progressive Artists` Group.
In the year 1959, Mehta left for London and resided there till 1965. And even though he was away his paintings were widely appreciated in India. Apparently, his first solo show in Bombay, which came after a number of group exhibitions, was a huge hit.
After a series of shows and exhibitions, Tyeb Mehta established a strong foothold in the world of art by the year 1965. After returning to India for a short period of time in 1965 Mehta went to the US to pursue Rockefeller Fellowship.
Tyeb Mehta had been time and again invited to the several prestigious international shows like the Ten Contemporary Indian Painters at Trenton in the US in 1965; Festival Internationale de la Peinture, Cagnes- -Sur-Mer, France 1974; Modem Indian Paintings at Hirschhom Museum, Washington 1982, and Seven Indian Painters at Gallerie Le Monde de U art, Paris 1994.
However, although Tyeb was a noted name in the industry, it was only in the year 2002, when one of his paintings’ ‘Celebration’ was sold for a record price of USD 317,500, which brought him into limelight.
With this Mehta gave the world, the only Indian painting to be ever sold in a public auction. But there was more extol coming Mehta’s way as just a few years later when his painting ‘Mahishasura’ that showed Durga locked in an embrace with Mahisha sold for a whooping $1.584 million. It was the first time a modern Indian painting had crossed the million-dollar mark.
Besides these, in May 2005 his painting ``Kali`` sold for 10 million Indian rupees at an Indian auction house - Saffronart`s online auction. In December 2005, Mehta`s painting `Gesture` was sold for 31 million Indian rupees to Ranjit Malkani, chairman of Kuomi Travel, at the Osian`s auction.
But for a painter, who possessed the record for creating one of the most expensive paintings, money meant little or nothing to Mehta. For him it was the people’s reaction that was the much-priced reward.
In one of the few interviews Mehta gave, he said, "I like to believe that I have evolved for the better over the years and as a painter what matters to me the most is not somebody paying a large sum of money to buy my work. I don`t want people to pay a spectacular amount to purchase my work, I would rather that people come to just see my work and react to what they see. That reaction is worth a million dollar.""I do not paint for money, or for what people think of me or of my work. I am not part of this hyped up art world, yet, this changing world outside my window is reflected in my work. I paint of my times, but I am not of this time."
Suffering from a heart ailment Mehta breathed his last breath on July 2 leaving a huge void in the world of art.
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