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Death of a painter, perfectionist, icon

Honoured with a Padma Bhushan in 2007, Mehta's acclaimed work Kali sold for Rs 1 crore in 2005, followed by Celebration which fetched Rs 15 million, and finally topped by the Christie's achievement when one of his creations was sold for $ 1,918,926 (Rs 8.2 crore approximately). Renuka Narayanan writes.

india Updated: Jul 03, 2009 03:53 IST
Renuka Narayanan

Padma Bhushan awardee painter Tyeb Mehta died at his residence in Mumbai on Thursday morning. The 84-year-old artist was reportedly suffering from heart trouble. He is survived by his wife Sakina, son Yusuf and daughter Himani.

In May 2005, Mehta’s painting Kali sold for Rs 1 crore at Saffronart’s online auction. In December 2005, his painting Gesture was reportedly sold for Rs 3.1 crore to Ranjit Malkani, chairman of Kuomi Travel, at the Osian’s auction. Last year, his Figure on a Rickshaw (1984) sold at Christie’s June 2008 auction of Asian art for US $1,918,926 (Rs 8.2 crore approximately).

Mehta received the Padma Bhushan in 2007.

Born in Gujarat in 1925, Mehta initially worked as a film editor in a cinelab. His interest in painting drew him to Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai from where he took his diploma in 1952.

A close associate of the Progressive Artists Group in Mumbai that followed the painting styles of modern European masters, Mehta’s own particular Western influence was the ‘deformed macabre’ style of Irish painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992).

Mehta lived and worked in London between 1959 and 1964 and visited the US on a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1968. In 1970, he made a 16-minute experimental film on violence, Koodal, which won the Filmfare Critics’ Award. He was an artist-in-residence at Shantiniketan in 1984-85 and participated in international art exhibitions in France and the US in the 1990s.

“We first met in 1991 when there was no money in Indian painting. Even then, he would destroy at least six or seven perfectly good paintings before a final canvas, though I wanted to buy them. He described those earlier attempts as ‘riyaz’ (practice),” said Delhi-based Arun Vadehra of Vadehra Gallery, his principal dealer since 1999.

“His wife Sakinaji worked in a bookstore and supported him through years of hardship while he stayed totally focused on his work as a painter. We did a book on him since we dealt so much in his work,” added Vadehra, who was in Mumbai to attend Mehta’s funeral.

Commissioned by Vadehra, the late writer Ramachandra Gandhi had discoursed in a book exclusively on Mehta’s ‘Shantiniketan triptych’ in 2002.