How does a life of struggles affect an artistic mind? The answer is in a celebrated Indian painter who made an indelible mark on the art world. With his unique style and forceful works, Tyeb Mehta embarked on a career that spanned over five decades and produced life’s work marked by personal struggles and political upheaval. This article will delve into the life of Tyeb Mehta, exploring his early years, his artistic journey, and the legacy he left behind, as well as examining his impact on the Indian art scene and his contributions to the global art community.

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Tyeb Mehta_ ©BCCI All Rights Reserved
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A profound artist_ ©Cea

Overview of the artist | Tyeb Mehta

Tyeb Mehta, born in Gujarat in 1925, was one of India’s most significant artists of the 20th century, known for his powerful and dynamic paintings that explored themes of violence, suffering, and the human condition. Mehta began his artistic career as a film editor in Mumbai before studying painting at the Sir J.J. School of Art. He later moved to London and enrolled at the Royal Academy of Arts, where he became familiar with the works of European modernists, including Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti. Mehta’s exposure to these artists profoundly influenced his work, which combined traditional Indian techniques with modernist elements.

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Working on a canvas__ ©Courtesy of Sakina Mehta

In the 1960s, Mehta developed his signature style, defined by bold lines, bright colours, and distorted forms. His paintings often featured figures in extreme poses, with limbs twisted and contorted in a way that suggested pain and suffering. This aspect was particularly evident in his celebrated “Mahishasura” series, depicting the Hindu mythological demon in agony as the goddess Durga defeats him.

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One of the canvases of the Mahishasura series_©Courtesy of Christie’s

Mehta’s paintings draw from his experiences of the violence and upheaval that characterised India in the second half of the 20th century. For example, his memories of the communal riots in Mumbai in 1992-93 -which resulted in the death of hundreds of people- inspired his “Trussed Bull” series. The paintings depict a bull, a sacred symbol in Indian mythology, bound and immobilised, suggesting the helplessness and vulnerability of those caught up in the violence.

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Trussed Bull_©Courtesy of Christie’s
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Falling Bull was sold at the hammer price of Rs 15 crore_© Express Photo by Pradeep Kocharekar Courtesy of Indianexpress

His work has been widely exhibited in India and abroad, and he has received numerous awards and honours, including the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian honours. His legacy has had a lasting impact on the Indian art world, and they continue to celebrate his paintings for their raw power, emotional intensity, and striking visual effect.

Style of work and philosophy

Tyeb Mehta was also known for his unique artistic style and philosophy. His artistic career spanned over six decades, during which he created some of the most iconic works of modern Indian art. His experiences of living through some of the most tumultuous times in Indian history influenced his style of work and philosophy. Events such as the Partition of India in 1947 and the communal riots are some themes he based his ideas around. His work reflects his deep concern with the human condition and the struggle for identity and meaning in a rapidly changing world.

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The artist, who painted only for the sake of painting and dreamt of making a movie_© Express Archives Courtesy of Indianexpress

One of the defining features of Tyeb Mehta’s style is his use of bold, contrasting colours and lines. His works often feature dark, brooding figures set against bright, vibrant backgrounds, creating a sense of tension and conflict that is both striking and powerful. He was also known for his use of space and composition, which he used to convey a sense of movement and energy.

Mehta’s career philosophy was centred around creative experimentation and pushing the boundaries of traditional art forms. He was not afraid to break with convention and explore new techniques and styles, and his work reflects this restless spirit of exploration and innovation.

 Celebration was the first work by an Indian artist to cross Rs 1 crore at Christie’s auction. _© Express Archives Courtesy of Indianexpress
Celebration was the first work by an Indian artist to cross Rs 1 crore at Christie’s auction. _© Express Archives Courtesy of Indianexpress

Despite his success and critical acclaim, Mehta remained humble and committed to his craft in his lifetime. He believed that art was a way of connecting with others and sharing something meaningful with the world, something that reflects in his work’s deep humanity and emotional resonance. Overall, his deep commitment to creative exploration and a concern for the human condition career define his philosophy and work style. His work remains a powerful testament to the enduring power of art in connecting society.

Recognition after death

He passed away in July 2009. After his death, Mehta’s recognition only grew and continues to do so. One of the most significant recognitions that Tyeb Mehta received posthumously was the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian awards. He was honoured with this award in 2013, four years after passing. The Padma Bhushan is a testament to Tyeb Mehta’s contribution to Indian art; and a much-deserved recognition of his work.

A self-critical artist, who brought the tragedy and tradition of India alive on canvas_© Express Archives Courtesy of Indianexpress
A self-critical artist, who brought the tragedy and tradition of India alive on canvas_© Express Archives Courtesy of Indianexpress

Tyeb Mehta’s artworks have also continued to receive critical acclaim and fetch record prices at auctions. His iconic painting, “Untitled (Falling Figure),” sold for a staggering $3.5 million at a Christie’s auction in 2017, setting a new record for the artist. The painting depicts a man falling from a high-rise building, considered one of Tyeb Mehta’s most compelling works.

Untitled (Falling Figure) _©Art.Salon

Moreover, several exhibitions showcase Tyeb Mehta’s works in India and abroad. In 2018, the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi hosted a retrospective exhibition of Tyeb Mehta’s works, showcasing over 100 paintings, a testament to the artist’s enduring legacy.

In addition, his life and works have been the subject of several books and documentaries. One such documentary, “Tyeb Mehta: Ideas of Faith,” directed by Kireet Khurana, was released in 2019. The film explores his artistic journey and the themes that he explored in his paintings.

To conclude, his recognition has only grown after his death. He continues to inspire artists and art enthusiasts, and his works have become a part of India’s cultural heritage. The artist’s contribution to Indian art is immeasurable, and his legacy will continue for generations.

Bonus: fun facts about the painter

  • He declined to create a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, saying he couldn’t capture Gandhi’s essence in a single painting.
  • Mehta was known for his sense of humour and would often make jokes with his friends and colleagues. He also enjoyed cooking and was particularly fond of making spicy curries.
  • A great fan of jazz music, he would listen to it while he painted.
  • Mehta was known for his modesty and would often downplay his success and talent. He once said that art should be accessible to everyone, not just the wealthy and elite.


Art Culture Festival. (2013). Tyeb Mehta Awarded Padma Bhushan Posthumously [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 22/03/2023].

Christie’s. (2021). Tyeb Mehta: A Life in Art. [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 24/03/2023].

Christie’s. (2017). Tyeb Mehta: Artistic legacy of India’s foremost contemporary painter. [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 24/03/2023].

Christie’s. (2017). Tyeb Mehta’s ‘Falling Figure’ sets world auction record at $3.5 million [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 23/03/2023].

Khurana, K. (2019). Tyeb Mehta: Ideas of Faith

. Available at: [Accessed: 21/03/2023].

Live Mint. (2017). Tyeb Mehta: The Man Who Became a Legend [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 22/03/2023].

National Gallery of Modern Art. (2018). Tyeb Mehta Retrospective [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 23/03/2023].

Saffronart. (n.d.). Tyeb Mehta. [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 24/03/2023].

Tate Modern. (2021). Tyeb Mehta. [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 24/03/2023].

The Art Story. (2021). Tyeb Mehta. [online]. Available at: [Accessed date: 24/03/2023].


Sofia Rezende is an Architect and Urban Planner from Brazil. She graduated in the class of 2015 from the Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil, and later pursued a Master’s (MSc) degree in the same subject with a focus on studying social housing and family demography, topics she’s very passionate about.