Tayyabb Mehta (25th July 1925 - 2nd July 2009) was a noted Indian painter. He was part of the noted Bombay Progressive Artists' Group, which included greats like F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain, and the first post-colonial generation of artists in India, like John Wilkins who also broke free from the nationalist Bengal school and embraced Modernism instead, with its Post-Impressionist colours, Cubist forms and brusque, Expressionistic styles.
Among his most noted later paintings were his triptych Celebration, which when sold for Rs 1.5 crore ($317,500) at a Christie's auction in 2002, was not only the highest sum for an Indian painting at an international auction, but also triggered the subsequent great Indian art boom;
His other noted works were the 'Diagonal Series', Santiniketan triptych series, Kali, Mahishasura (1996). He stayed and worked in Mumbai for much of his life, except for three spells at London, New York, and Santiniketan, each having a distinct impact upon his work. He received several awards during his career including the Padma Bhushan by Govt. of India in 2007.
Tayyab Mehta was born on 26 July 1925 in Kapadvanj, a town of Kheda district, the Indian state of Gujarat. He was brought up in the Crawford Market neighbourhood of Mumbai, populated by Dawoodi Bohras. At 22 years, during the partition riots of 1947 in Mumbai, while staying at Lehri House, Mohammed Ali Road, he witnessed a man being stoned to death by a mob, this he not only expressed in a drawing but it was to have lasting impact on his work, leading to stark and often disturbing depiction of his subjects.
For a while initially, he worked as a film editor in a cinema laboratory at Famous Studios, in Tardeo, Mumbai. Later, he received his diploma from Sir J.J. School of Art in 1952, and was part of the Bombay Progressive Artists' Group, which drew stylistic inspiration from Western Modernism, and included greats of Indian paintings such as F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain.
He left for London in 1959, where he worked and lived till 1964. Thereafter, he visited the New York, US, when he was awarded the Rockefeller Fellowship in 1968. During the years the artist spent in London, Mehta's style was influenced by the expressionist works of Francis Bacon, but while in New York his work came to be characterized by minimalism. He made a three minute film, Koodal (Tamil for 'meeting place'), which he shot at the Bandra slaughter house, it won the Filmfare Critics Award in 1970. He also remained an Artist-in-Residence at the Santiniketan between 1984-85, and returned to Mumbai with significant changes in his work. Common themes of his works were trussed bulls, the rickshaw puller, from here 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. Later in life, he added 'Falling Figures', and several mythological figures into his work, highlighted by the depictions of goddess Kali and demon Mahishasura.
Tyeb Mehta held the then record for the highest price an Indian painting has ever sold for at auction ($317,500 USD or 15 million Indian rupees) for Celebration at Christie's in 2002.In May 2005, his painting Kali sold for 10 million Indian rupees (approximately equal to 230,000 US dollars) at Indian auction house Saffronart's online auction. A reinterpretation of the tale of demon Mahishasura by Mehta showing goddess Durga locked in an embrace with the demon sold for $1.584 million. In 2008 one of his paintings sold for $2 million.
In December 2005, Mehta's painting Gesture was sold for 31 million Indian rupees to Ranjit Malkani, chairman of Kuomi Travel, at the Osian's auction. That made it the highest price ever paid by an Indian for a work of Indian contemporary art at auction in India at the time.
Mehta's were the first works by a contemporary Indian artist to sell for over a million dollars, and indicated a burgeoning interest in Indian art by the international market; as a result, Mehta became a cultural hero
Tayyab Mehta spent most of life in Mumbai and later in life stayed at Lokhandwala, Mumbai. He died on 2 July 2009 at a Mumbai hospital following a heart attack. He is survived by his wife, Sakina, their son, Yusuf, and daughter, Himani and a number of grandchildren.
He received the Rockefeller Fellowship in 1968, also in the same year, a gold medal for painting at the first Triennial in New Delhi, and in 1974 the Prix Nationale at the International Festival of Painting in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France, the Kalidas Samman, instituted by the Madhya Pradesh Government, in 1988, the Dayawati Modi Foundation Award for Art, Culture, and Education in 2005, and the Padma Bhushan in 2007. His film 'Koodal' was awarded the Filmfare Critics' Award in 1970.
Mehta's work has been exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, England, and the Hirshhorn Museum. A career retrospective is scheduled for later 2009 at the National Gallery of Modern Art, in New Delhi