Modern and Contemporary Art from India
February 25, 2011 through September 4, 2011, San Jose Museum of Art
  UNTITLED from the “Diagonal” Series, 1976
Oil on canvas
44 X 35 inches
Private collection
Photo: © Christie’s Images Limited 2010

Tyeb Mehta
Born 1925, Kapadvanj, Gujarat, India
Died 2009, Mumbai

Tyeb Mehta straddled abstract and representational art by depicting stylized human figures suspended in geometric planes. During a visit to New York in 1968, he was exposed to American paintings, in particular the work of Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman1. Mehta was fascinated by Newman’s monochromatic “Zip” paintings divided by a vertical line. In this painting from the “Diagonal” series, Mehta adapted the idea of the divider to bisect a female figure. Her disjointed body symbolizes the violence that Mehta and others of his generation witnessed after the Partition of India in 1947. In the Muslim ghetto where Mehta grew up, street violence was frequent. In 1965, he visited the battle fields of the Indo-Pakistani conflict. He commented: “That violence gave me the clue about the emotion I want to paint.” 2 Mehta’s tormented figures mark his awareness of the horrors of war.

1 Edward Saywell, Bharat Ratna: Jewels of Modern India (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 2009), p. 11.

2 Ranjit Hoskote, ed., Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images, Exchanges (New Delhi, Vadehra Art Gallery, 2005).