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End of an era in modern Indian art

Published : Jul 24, 2016, 1:40 am IST
Updated : Jul 24, 2016, 1:40 am IST

I hate writing tributes of any artist or artiste – for it means one more life that spent his or her entire life to create — has lost its life.

I hate writing tributes of any artist or artiste – for it means one more life that spent his or her entire life to create — has lost its life. It is all the more terrible in the case of dancers or theatre artistes for theirs is a live art and their body embodies the art. But even in the case of a musician or an artist whose work can be heard or seen, somehow loses its soul. I feel it even more acutely when I see the works of an artist I have known or met and who is no longer alive, something goes out of their work or perhaps it is in my mind.

S.H. Raza, an artist who was one of our finest abstractionists, whose influence can be seen in an entire generation especially of artists from Bhopal, and one of the eclectic artists of the original Progressive Group that strived to break free from the influences of European realism in Indian art and bring Indian inner vision (Antar gyan) into their work. In the case of Raza, from the hauntingly gaunt landscapes of Europe to the seemingly simple style of the Bindu series or the Aakar Prakar series his work managed to touch a cord in the cognoscenti as well as the uninitiated. The one incident that I often quote is how once my maid looked at a painting of Raza in my house and recounted how a fellow artist down the lane too had a similar painting – that was his appeal and brand recall. I have often wondered about the reason of his choice of such vibrant and lively colours and instinctively understood that for someone who lived away from his roots for long – he lived in France for many decades – this was perhaps his way of capturing the colours and smells of his homeland. He not only understood the logic of art, he also understood the science and mathematics of it. The precision of aesthetics he brought to the labyrinth of circles amidst the plethora of triangles set in a perfect square yet keeping the art intact is not as simple as it looks. After the introduction of “bindu” (a point or the source of energy), he added newer dimensions to his thematic oeuvre in the following decades, with the inclusion of themes around the tribhuj (Triangle), which bolstered Indian concepts of space and time, as well as that of “prakriti-purusha” (the female and the male energy), his transformation from an expressionist to a master of abstraction and profundity, was complete. One of the most indelible images in my mind of Raza’s work undoubtedly is of the beautiful Bharatanatyam danseuse Malavika Sarrukai performing an entire evening’s repertoire based on Raza’s Bindu series. His paintings were projected on a large screen on the stage while she harnessed the almost geometric adavus of the classical form to great impact – it was one artiste paying homage to another great artist in an amazing interplay of the visual and the performing art.

A gentle and generous man from the old school, his geniality and soft heartedness was legendary. He was a man of varied interests, poetry always managed to touch a cord in him always as did music.

This progression of life on its onward journey would not be so terrible if it was not a painful reminder that it takes at least five decades of life to understand the art and then the gnawing and acute need to share the observations and experiences takes on a creative yet frenetic pace. Sometimes by the time the artist/artiste gets there, the toil takes its toll and all that remains is the whiff of life that thankfully Raza lived long enough, to share his myriad experiences on canvas and left behind a legacy that will continue to live with us forever. It reminds me of this beautiful Urdu couplet means that creativity is not a matter of one or two years but an uninterrupted story of centuries.

Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on Alka Raghuvanshi