Mulling over my memories of Vasudev S. Gaitonde over the years, both consciously and sub-consciously, I am convinced that he was without doubt the finest creative individual I have been fortunate to have known. While I do not believe I am qualified to discuss his paintings, I would like to share some personal insights into Gaitonde, the person.
I first met Gaitonde in 1981 and over the years each encounter with the artist confused me more. I could not decide if this man was a genius, as I had heard, or whether he was simply mad. His large one-room studio-cum-residence was neat but dusty. Any offer to clean it was greeted with a smile and a firm ‘no’. His life was simple and his needs were few. All that mattered was to be able to keep body and soul together so that he may continue creating. He was comfortable in his own skin and totally disregarded what others might think of him.
On one occasion, I remember enthusiastically narrating the condition of an old painting by him that had come to me for resale. He knew exactly which painting I was referring to, and asked why I was giving him all this information. I presumed it would be of interest to him I replied. The only work that was of any interest to him, he said was the last one completed and the one he was working on. He was not concerned if the others remained or not. There were always two canvases visible in his studio: a completed painting hanging on the wall and a canvas with a flat coat of uniform pigment on his easel. He would sit and contemplate that ground colour for days, maybe weeks, until he was ready to put paint to canvas.
He once said to me, rhetorically, ‘Why do I paint?’ Before I could answer, he replied that he painted because my father bought all his works. I found that statement terribly shallow and it bothered me for a long while. How could this man, of whom I thought so highly, say something that flippant and superficial. On the contrary, he never discussed prices with my father, but would only mildly inquire if there were sufficient funds for him to continue receiving his monthly cheque. Whenever he was informed of a price hike, he would reply with a smile and a thank you. How could money then be a criterion for this man?
On a visit to his studio several years later, when he had stopped painting, I found him feeding the remains of his late lunch – which Vimla, the caring wife of Ram Kumar, sent each day - to a murder of crows. He said he did this every afternoon and had in fact, altered his lunchtime to suit the birds. Sensing a moment of weakness, I selfishly brought up the topic of him painting. It had been years since his last work after his accident with an autorickshaw. Not sensing his growing irritation, I kept pushing the point. Suddenly, he angrily asked, ‘Who said I have stopped painting?’ I looked around me only to find the same canvas with a red ground, now slightly mellowed, standing on his easel as it had been for the last several years. ‘I paint every day’ he said. ‘I make paintings in my head. I have limited energy now and can’t waste it on putting paint to canvas. But I paint every day.’
I had a sudden realisation of what made this man invincible and the finest creative individual I have been fortunate to have known.
- Dadiba Pundole