Born: 1924
Died: 10 August 2001

V.S. Gaitonde - Paintings


Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde, born on 1924 in Nagpur, Maharashtra to Goan parents, was regarded as one of India’s foremost abstract painters. He was an artist of singular stature and was known to fellow artists and intellectuals as well as to later generations of students and admirers, as a man of uncompromising integrity of spirit and purpose. A man who never addresses the camera, Gaitonde’s stringent attachment to the codes of painting and the ethics of being a painter distinguised his aesthetic worldview. Short, stocky, self-critical, and confident, Gaitonde scorned sentimentality in his biography and his artistic practice. He was a man of few words and an avid admirer of Indian and Western classical music, poetry, cinema, literature and theater who dedicated his life to painting. He cut ties with his immediately family early on and was briefly associated with the Progressive Artist’s Group. Although the world’s come to regard Gaitonde as a recluse — one should rather say that he tended toward solitude — this isolation was by no means entirely self-imposed, and as such, Ram Kumar who had been a very dear friend to him recalls this once-spirited and gregarious artist as suffering from a sense of loneliness in his later years. Kumar states, “After moving to Delhi [in the early 1970s] Gaitonde missed the sea… About fifteen years before his death, he said that this was going to be his last painting. That he had said whatever he wanted to say in painting, and that if he continued to paint, he would be repeating himself, which he didn’t want to do. Gaitonde’s consistently nonrepresentational works from 1959 onward resist any intrinsic meaning or description and must be dealt with on their own uncompromised terms.

The artist spent his early childhood in Goa and moved to Bombay at a young age. He subsequently lived with his family in a working-class tenement in Khotachiwadi in Gurgaon, often sleeping under the staircase leading down from the landing of their rented room. He graduated from from the renowned though by now moribund Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay in 1948 and became a fellow there from 1948 to 1950. Gaitonde studied under professor Jagannath M. Ahivasi who familiarized the young artist with compositional techniques associated with Indian mural painting and miniatures.

V.S.Gaitonde - Artworks
Gaitonde - Indian Artist

He began working in the late 1950s in a non-representational mode—or as the artist himself preferred to call it, a “non-objective” or non-figurative style. And although short-lived, Gaitonde made foray into printmaking in 1957-58 alongside his few peers and achieved his first financial break in 1957 when he won the Fleischmann Prize at the First Young Asian Artists Exhibition in Tokyo organized by the Japan Cultural Forum, which was affiliated with the Congress for Cultural Freedom. A critical juncture occurred in Gaitonde’s career in 1959, when he stopped working altogether with colored watercolors and pastels on paper, as well as utilizing a brush alone for his canvases, and embarked on his roller works on both canvas and paper. Then, the shift to a monochromatic palette in 1961 — with ink or ink and wash on paper — accompanies Gaitonde’s interest in Zen Buddhism and the principles of calligraphy, as manifest in a suite of works on paper from 1962. Gaitonde’s artist questionnaire for MoMA’s collection files from May 1963 conveys his interiorized world view and source of inspiration: “I work as an individual. I do not have a scientific point of view; it is mostly my total experience of life [and] nature that comes through me, that is manifested on canvas. For me every painting I do is a miracle… So I cannot really form a philosophy. It is my sincere belief in life, truth, God, whatever it is that prompts me to paint.” Gaitonde made use of roller as a painting instrument as well as palette knives through the 1960s and from this time on always worked on easels during the painting process. Around 1968, one notices a shift from the horizontal canvases to the dominating format of the verticals, which the artist continued to utilize until his last works from 1997-98. In 1972, along with Kumar, Gaitonde received the highly prestigious Padma Shri award from the government of India.

He moved to New Delhi permanently in 1972. At this time, he began utilizing a “lift-off” process: tearing pieces from newspapers and magazines. The paintings made with this process have a gravity-defying weightlessness and yet there is a real sense of physicality and presence to them. Gaitonde fully believed in his vocation of artist and in painting as such. He spent months cogitating over a new work but allowed for accidents to ultimately inform the making of his art. Never prolific, he is known to have made only a few paintings a year, given that the overall process of conceptualizing a work was a lengthy one. This emphasis on the creative process, the artist’s masterful handling of colour, structure, texture and light, and his intuitive understanding of how these forces come together to alter one’s perception are testament to his unwavering commitment to his craft. In September 1984, Gaitonde suffered severe injuries in an auto accident in New Delhi, which left him unable to cope with making large canvases.

Consequently, he turned to smaller format works on paper. His ink drawings rom 1985 - 87 from an important part of his overall oeuvre and consist of non-mimetic calligraphic and hieroglyphic markings made with spontaneous gestures and rhythmic movements. The draftsman of old returns in these works, and encounters the artist who has complete control over cadence, tonality and scale.

In interviews, he spoke of the modest, unhurried approach that gave birth to his paintings: “I don’t work, I relax and wait, and then I apply some paint on the canvas. The most important aspect of painting is waiting, waiting and waiting, between one work and the next; rest and relaxation are very necessary… I don’t really have anything to say, if someone asks a question, I provide an answer. I feel comfortable with people who are calm, quiet and non-talkative… I make about five or six works a year. I work on each painting for weeks at a time. A painting is never complete… I am who I am. The artist makes a work, that itself is his self portrait. Though suffering from frequent bouts of ill-health in the 1980s and 90s, Gaitonde continued to paint until 1998. He died in Gurgaon in 2001. The paintings from his last years sustained the great inventiveness that characterized his entire career. But here, rather than an overall effect produced by scattered forms, the artist chose instead to focus attention onto the central circle, a magnet, a centripetal point—the place of Zen.

V.S. Gaitonde - Art

Text Reference:
Excerpts from the book V.S. Gaitonde ‘Painting as Process, Painting as Life’ by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York published by Prestel Publishing Ltd. on 2014


  • Silver Medal, Bombay Art Society, India, 1950
  • Young Asian Artists Award, Tokyo, Japan, 1957
  • Padma Shri, Government of India, 1972
  • Rockefeller Fellowship, USA, 1964-65



  • V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life
  • Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde: Sonata of Solitude

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