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Tyeb Mehta (Indian, 1925-2009)

Untitled (Yellow Heads)

Tyeb Mehta (Indian, 1925-2009)
Untitled (Yellow Heads)
signed and dated 'Tyeb 79' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
59 x 41¼in. (149.9 x 104.8cm.)
Painted in 1979
Tyeb Mehta; Ideas, Images, Exchanges, New Delhi, 2005, p. 132 (illustrated).
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William Lawrie
William Lawrie




Tyeb Mehta's work underwent several epiphanies following a year-long stay in New York on a Rockefeller Grant in 1968. His harshly textured impressionistic brushstrokes were transformed into a new painting mode with structured expanses of color and a conscious two-dimensionality focused more on line than contour.

"My encounter with minimalist art was a revelation. I had seen minimalist reproductions previously but I hadn't seen the works in the original. Had I not seen the original, I might have dismissed many of them as gimmicks just another tricky idea. But when I saw my first original [Barnett Newman] for example, I had such an incredible emotional response to it. The canvas had no image but the way the paint had been applied, the way the scale had been worked out the whole area proportioned. There was something about it which is inexpressible. Let's say there must have been a point of saturation in my work before I went to New York, which my confrontation with the contemporary art scene brought to the surface. I was open to new ideas. About the same time, I became interested in using pure color. Normally brush marks suggest areas of directions. I wanted to avoid all this to bring elements down to such a minimal level that the image alone would be sufficient to speak for itself." (in dialogue with the artist, Nikki Ty-Tomkins Seth, Tyeb Mehta; Ideas, Images, Exchanges, R. Hoskote, ed., New Delhi, 2005, p. 342)

Shortly after Mehta abandoned his expressionistic painting style, he began work on a series in which each painting's composition was built around a thick oblique line running right to left, oftentimes rendered over his figures. In these works, the diagonal allows a single figure to adopt different forms on each side, giving Mehta the flexibility to explore different means of representation in a single painting. This segmentation of the canvas is continued in works from the late 70s /early 80s however, it slowly begins to become less obtrusive as Mehta's style matures. This particular painting is an important transitional work for the artist who has himself mentioned that it pre-figures his obsession with themes of the Goddess. As he was grappling with depicting its formal and psychological elements, the work serves as a turning point in Mehta's oeuvre by illustrating a growing complexity in composition and facility of line which makes Mehta's works masterpieces of Indian Modernism.