Tyeb Mehta was one of the artists in Mumbai who was close to the Progressive Artists Group formed in Mumbai in 1947. Over the years, his visual language acquired a sharper edge and intensive expressiveness. He was inspired by the minimalist artists of the USA and as the years progressed the lines achieved a razor-sharp precision. The distorted forms of the tense, sad-faced figures who peopled his images communicated a crisis of existence. They were held together, however, through clear, vivid fields of colour.
Mehta spent a couple of years as artist-in-residence at Kala Bhavana in Santiniketan in the early ‘80s of the 20th century. There, he had an experience during a folk festival held towards the end of spring. He saw an old woman completely lost in her own thoughts and with intense concentration holding the sacrificial goat inside the hut. The scene had a profound effect on Mehta. It was almost like a mystical encounter and it brought about changes in his images. He began to take elements from this scene and painted several works. But the painting ‘Untitled’, popularly known as the Santiniketan Triptych, in the NGMA, crystallizes the profound changes that occurred in Mehta’s perception of life. The drama of life and death is enacted in the image with deep sensitivity. The usual terror and angst witnessed in Mehta’s earlier images gave way to a note of hope and regeneration. Large groups of people, unlike the single figures in Mehta’s paintings, are seen dancing, celebrating, waiting in anticipation of the climactic moment. In this larger-than-life painting, the old woman and the animal are seen joined in a tender bond. The finality of death is accepted with calm resignation.