Explained: Artist SH Raza and his universe around the bindu

One particular of India’s foremost modernists, Syed Haider Raza produced a language of art rooted in Indian tradition but also motivated by his worldview. The bindu was to become the centre of his universe – the epicentre of his maze of geometric styles and also his summary landscapes – by which he released the planet to Indian spiritual iconography. On his birth centenary, now (February 22), we search at his influences and how his artwork and he traversed borders to grow to be a worldwide phenomenon.

Where did Raza invest his early lifestyle?

Born in Babaria, Madhya Pradesh to Sayed Mohammed Razi, a forest officer, and Tahira Begum in 1922, Raza took to drawing ahead of his teenagers. Soon after completing education from Damoh in Madhya Pradesh, he enrolled to analyze artwork at the Nagpur Faculty of Art, immediately after which he moved to Mumbai in 1943, exactly where he received a scholarship to examine at the Sir JJ College of Artwork. The city was to influence his long run system in extra methods than a person. It is exactly where he formulated very long long lasting friendships with fellow artists and, together, they sought to reform Indian art and establish their own person vocabulary. Although his brothers and sister decided to move to Pakistan just after the Partition, Raza stayed again in India. “He mentioned he needed to continue to be in his personal state, in his “watan”. He imagined he would be betraying the Mahatma if he still left the nation,” mentioned Ashok Vajpeyi, a shut associate of Raza and trustee of the Raza Basis, in an job interview to The Indian Categorical in 2017.

What was the intention of the Progressive Artists’ Team, co-started by Raza?

Set up in the 12 months that India gained independence, the Progressive Artists’ Group aimed at breaking away from the present “isms” and establishing a language of the Indian avant-garde artwork. In the investigate paper, The Progressive Artists Group, artist Rudra Majithia writes, “The team wished to crack with the revivalist nationalism established by the Bengal Faculty of Art and to stimulate an Indian avant-garde, engaged at an global level.”

The customers of the team bundled the likes of FN Souza, MF Husain, KH Ara, HA Gade and SK Bakre. Though crucial of the current academic discourse and influenced by European modernism, every member experienced a unique style. “The team encouraged each individual member to locate their very own way, get the job done in their design and style. We used to examine just about every little thing, from artwork to our individual issues. FN Souza talked a ton, I spoke tiny, VS Gaitonde barely spoke. We employed to purchase just about every other’s performs, even present it,” stated Raza in an job interview to The Indian Categorical in 2010.

Born in Babaria, Madhya Pradesh to Sayed Mohammed Razi, a forest officer, and Tahira Begum in 1922, Raza took to drawing ahead of his teens. (Express Archive Image by Oinam Anand)

What have been the distinctive phases in Raza’s performs?

In the 2010 job interview to The Indian Specific, Raza categorised his artwork into 3 unique phases. He said, “There was the first phase when I was continue to discovering the nuances of line and color. The 2nd period commenced in the 1950s when I moved to France. That is when I did a great deal of landscapes but I uncovered some thing missing in my art. That is when I went into isolation and started off on the lookout at Indian iconography in the 1970s. I travelled a whole lot throughout India, together with the Ajanta caves and Banaras.”

For the duration of the early a long time, Raza produced his mark with landscapes. When he went to study art at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts on a scholarship in 1950, he was by now an artist of reputation in India, with solos and awards to his credit score. Identified for his expressionist landscapes, he painted the forest greens of Mandla as nicely as the streets of Mumbai and the Kashmir Valley that produced an effect on him throughout his check out in 1948. The mountainscapes have been to change to more structural representations of French towns and countryside just after he moved to France. In 1956, he became the 1st non-French artist to earn the prestigious Prix de la Critique award.

Just after completing education from Damoh in Madhya Pradesh, he enrolled to research artwork at the Nagpur School of Artwork. (Categorical Archive Photo by Harish Tyagi)

Did the West impact his oeuvre?

Whilst the early years saw Raza paint French landscapes, the artist also borrowed from the functions of post-impressionist masters these as Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, whose operates he noticed in the western museums. In the ’60s, he began to paint with oils, rather of gouache and watercolours. Invited to teach at the University of California in Berkeley in the 60s, he worked with Sam Francis, and deeply admired American summary expressionists, including Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.

Whilst his marriage and dedication to French artist Janine Mongillat stored him in Paris for around 50 a long time — till he returned right after her demise – Raza would journey to his homeland normally, for inspiration and thanks to his deep connection with his motherland. These journeys grew to become far more repeated in the 1970s and 80s, when he travelled throughout India, which includes Madhya Pradesh, Banaras and Rajasthan. Slowly, the affect of Indian colors and aesthetics, miniature traditions as effectively as Sanskrit and Urdu poetry, became much more apparent in his do the job. Tapovan, a seminal operate, painted in 1972, created an auction document for the artist and modern-day Indian art when it marketed for a lot more than $4.5 million at a Christie’s auction in New York in March 2018.

What did the bindu imply to Raza?

Raza often shared how it was his school instructor in Madhya Pradesh who launched him to the bindu when he was 9. In get to willpower the distracted pupil, he drew a dot on the board and questioned Raza to concentrate on it. That lesson was to continue to be with the artist, showing in his get the job done as the bindu in the late 1970s and thereafter, when Raza turned to additional geometric abstraction. An icon from Indian cosmology and philosophy, Raza established his have universe all-around the bindu, also imbibing themes these kinds of as the tribhuj (triangle) and prakriti-purusha (the woman and the male energy). “Since I initial started painting the bindu, it has reworked. Like men and women do Ram jaap, I do the same with the bindu, going deeper into the matter,” he stated in an interview to The Indian Specific.

When the early many years noticed Raza paint French landscapes, the artist also borrowed from the functions of write-up-impressionist masters these kinds of as Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, whose performs he observed in the western museums. (Categorical Archive Photograph by Harish Tyagi)

1922: Born in Babaria, Madhya Pradesh, to Sayed Mohammed Razi and Tahira Begum

1939-43: Soon after large college, he analyzed further more at the Nagpur College of Artwork, Nagpur

1943-47: Went to Sir JJ School of Artwork, Mumbai

1946: Experienced his to start with solo at the Bombay Artwork Culture Salon and was awarded the Silver Medal by the Culture

1947: Co-started the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group alongside with artists these kinds of as FN Souza and KH Ara. The group had its initially display in 1948

1950-53: Moved to France to examine at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris. He continued to live and exhibit his work in Paris

1956: Awarded the Prix de la critique in Paris, the 1st non-French artist to receive the honour

1959: Married French artist Janine Mongillat

2007: Was awarded the Padma Bhushan

2010: Moved back to India in December. The same yr, his seminal do the job ‘Surashtra’ offered at the Christie’s auction for Rs 16.42 crore

2013: Was awarded the Padma Vibhushan

2015: Acquired Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur by the Government of France

2016: He passed away in Delhi

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Kenneth Proto

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