The New York Times‘s Pulitzer-Prize winning critic, Holland Carter, offers and obituary of Tyeb Mehta:
It is difficult to image anyone less suited to the role. A frail, soft-spoken artist who lived with his wife, Sakina, in a small walk-up apartment in a Mumbai suburb, Mr. Mehta was dismissive of the association of art with money. He had spent a lifetime living lean and would continue to. He made nothing from the auctions; the paintings sold had long been out of his hands.
He was also not the kind of artist who could make hay of a sudden career spurt by turning out new work fast. He was a slow, meticulous painter and a ruthless self-editor who destroyed many more pictures than he ever let out of the studio. He didn’t take commissions, and was reluctant to produce anything on demand. Independence and solitude were, for him, beyond price.
Mr. Mehta was born in the rural state of Gujurat, in western India, in 1925, and reared in an orthodox Shiite Muslim community in Mumbai, then called Bombay. His family was in the movie business. He initially worked as a film editor and continued to make films long after he become a painter, winning a Filmfare Critics Award for his 1970 documentary “Koodal,” shot in a slaughterhouse.
Despite his early interest in film, he enrolled in the Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai in 1947, when he was 22. The school, established under British rule, stressed the study of European art. In the same momentous year India declared its independence from colonial rule, and the partition of Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan was enforced. […]
The early post-colonial period was one of ferment for new Indian art. In Mumbai Mr. Mehta associated with the Progressive Artists Group, one of many such affiliations throughout the country. The Mumbai group, with Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002) and M. F. Husain among its members, was particularly cosmopolitan in its approach to art, combining Indian subject matter with Post-Impressionist colors, Cubist forms and brusque, Expressionistic styles.
Several of these artists left India for Europe and the United States, and Mr. Mehta did, too, for a while. He lived in London for five years, beginning in 1959, where he supported himself by working in a morgue. In 1968 he visited New York City on a Rockefeller Fellowship, then returned to India.
There were well-received solo shows, but the market in India was negligible. A supportive infrastructure of galleries, museums and collectors — of a kind that exists in India now — was simply not there. “To pick up a brush, to make a stroke on the canvas — I consider these acts of courage in this country,” Mr. Mehta said to his fellow artist and countryman Gieve Patel, in the 1960s.
Tyeb Mehta, Painter of Emerging India, Dies at 84 (New York Times)