Like S.H.Raza and F.N.Souza, Tyeb Mehta too was an influential modern Indian artist, who is also a favourite in the Indian art auction scene. Tyeb Mehta’s works have mainly been influenced by three major phases in his life. 1) The communal rights during the partition of India influenced the stark and often disturbing depiction of his subjects. 2) Francis Bacon expressionist paintings, which he became acquainted with in London and 3) the minimalist art he was exposed to in New York on a Rockefeller foundation grant.
Since his early years as an artist, Tyeb Mehta has used canvas to express images that illustrate the struggles of contemporary society. From the early images of the trussed bull that show the helpless plight of the animal in Mumbai's slaughter houses; to the falling figure hurtling toward its metaphorical abyss; to the trapped rickshaw puller, his paintings reflect his own disillusionment with the world around him. Later in life, he added 'Falling Figures', and several Indian mythological figures into his work, highlighted by the depictions of goddess Kali and demon Mahishasura. Both of these are a part of his seminal works. His unique formal treatment of the canvas only serves to heighten the impact of these images. The sight of dismembered figures with flailing limbs set against a fractured picture plane serve as a glaring reminder for the viewer to consider and address the violence and suffering that is both around and within.
He moved to the 'Diagonal series', which he created through the 1970s, after accidentally discovering it in 1969, when in a moment of creative frustration he flung a black streak across his canvas. Tyeb Mehta however had a peculiarity; he hated to part with his paintings as he thought they were not good enough for selling.
All the angst of existence was conveyed by Tyeb Mehta's falling figures, while his fragmented forms which remain intact while suspended in tension symbolise survival against great odds—imagery born out of his experience of Partition. In his Mahishasura images of the goddess Kali locked in battle with the buffalo demon, Mehta was to continue with his brooding forms which were as much harbingers of destruction as well as of its detoxification. In focusing on the buffalo demon Mahishasura, he also depicted an interlocking of the masculine and feminine, the divine and the mortal, the bestial and the human in perpetual coexistence.
Tyeb Mehta was very self critical and had very high standards for considering a work complete and fit for sale. It is said that he destroyed seven to eight paintings for every one that he sold.
Tyeb Mehta passed was in Mumbai in 2009.
Tyeb Meta, untitled (figure on rickshaw)
Tyeb Meta, untitled (falling series)
Tyeb Mehta, Mahishasura, 1997