Mehlli Gobhai
Untitled (Energy Diagrams), 1976
Watercolor on paper
9 x 12 in | 22.86 x 30.48 cm
INR 150,000.00 | USD 2040.00


Energy Diagrams Mehlli Gobhai (1931-2018) pursued the objective of formal structure with a singular focus during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Renouncing his festive polychrome compositions of the mid-1970s, he adopted an austere palette of black, white and brown, occasionally relieved by saturated greens, terracotta and poster reds, ecru, and burgundy. In the spirit of an architect or surveyor, he used the plumb string, mapping his canvases by reference to the clarity of its line and the arc of its swing. Figures, vestigially present in his paintings of the mid-1970s, receded, leaving behind only their sharp, geometricized outlines. The imageless image, built from horizontal, vertical, diagonal and tilted lines, took centre stage. Fields of darkness contended with shards of illumination, as he moved towards an evocation of axial linearity. By 1979, Gobhai’s works assumed the form of energy diagrams, marked by scalar weights and vector forces. The quadrilaterals in these paintings are often shaped according to the golden section, a universal mathematical and geometrical ratio found in nature, architecture and music – in spiral venation, the pyramids, and the compositions of Claude Debussy and Erik Satie. Fittingly, the route to these paintings was laid through preparatory cut-outs, collages and drawings reduced to the taut interplay of line and curve. Experimentally, during this period, Gobhai used oils and acrylics as well as casein inks, dry pastels, aluminium powder, and conté. During this period, recognition came to him in the form of two major museum exhibitions in which he was invited to participate: ‘Marking Black’, curated by Madeleine Burnside (Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, 1980) and ‘Hard Line: Drawing as a Primary Medium’ (Islip Art Museum, New York, 1984). Ranjit Hoskote & Nancy Adajania (Curators, Mehlli Gobhai: Epiphanies, Chemould Prescott Road, 2021)


Mehlli Gobhai (1931 – 2018) was one of the foremost abstract artists in India. After graduating from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, he studied at the Royal College of Art, London and the Pratt Graphic Centre and the Art Students League, New York. He lived and worked in New York for over 20 years, returning to Mumbai in the late 1980’s. He has held many solo and group shows in India and internationally. His selected solo exhibitions include 2021 ‘Mehlli Gobhai: Epiphanies, A Series of Breakthrough Moments’, curated by Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania, Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai; 2020 ‘Don’t Ask Me About Colour’, curated by Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania, National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai; 2011 ‘New Works’, Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai; 2004 ‘Prism of Darkness’ Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai; 2002 ‘Mehlli Gohai’, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai; 1995 ‘Mehlli Gohai’, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai; 1992 ‘Mehlli Gohai’, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai; 1980 ‘Mehlli Gohai’, New India House, New York; 1985 ‘Mehlli Gohai’, Gallery 7, Mumbai. His selected group participations include 2013 ‘Aesthetic Bind: Subject of Death’, Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai; 2007 1st Anniversary Show, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai; 2006 Group show with Nasreen Mohamedi and Zarina Hashmi, Bombay Art Gallery, Mumbai; 2004 ‘Subtlety-Minimally’, curated by Marta Jakimowiez, Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai; 2003 ‘Crossing Generations: Diverge 40 years of Gallery Chemould’, curated by Geeta Kapur and Chaitanya Sambrani, Mumbai; 2000 ‘A Global View: Indian Artists at Home in the World’, curated by Bernhard Steinrucke, Fine Arts Resource, Berlin; 2000 ‘Intersections: Seven Artistic Dialogues between Abstraction and Figuration’, curated by Ranjit Hoskote, The Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai; 1994 ‘Hinged by Light’, curated by Ranjit Hoskote, Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai; 1980 ‘Marking Black’, curated by Madeleine Burnside, Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York. The artist passed away in 2018 in Mumbai.