S H Raza celebrates 91st bday with new solo show

New Delhi: After over 60 years spent in France, modernist painter S H Raza is celebrating his return home to India in grand style with an exhibition of brand new paintings which delves deeper into the master's preoccupation with Indian spiritual philosophy.

At 91 years, Raza, one of the oldest surviving members of the Progressive Artists Group, which gave shape to the Modern Art in India, has unveiled a set of 25 new works executed by the artist after his return to India in 2010.

"I want people to know what the heck have I been doing for all these years. Nobody has seen what I have been doing for the last 20 to 30 years," Raza told PTI in an interview.

His exhibition titled "Antardhwani" opened today at Vadehra Art Gallery here. Also two books "My Dear" and "Understanding Raza" have been brought out to mark the occasion.

Ask him about the status of Indian art worldwide and the master painter says the future is bright for the country's artists.

"Exhibitions of my paintings are all frequently held all over the world. Why do my paintings appeal to people in Japan, China, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, US etc? It has got to do with the beauty of Indian culture," says Raza who paints every single day.

The veteran artist emphasise the need for artists to articulate their works.

"Apart from being able to paint the artist should also know how to talk about his art. It is the duty of the artist to explain to society not only the theme of the story but also the philosophy behind it, " says Raza.

Talking about the late artist M F Husain, who died in London in 2011 Raza says, "Artists like M F Husain and Souza used to paint with simplicity but Husain was forced to spend his life outside the country. Likewise other artists have also spent time outside in exile. The essential thing is to find out what is the essence in the paintings of an artist what is he driving at."

Raza also points out there is a lot of good art emerging from the country.

"Controversies don't bother me. I am interested in what new is happening in the world of painting and art and not somebody who is doing nude art. Nowadays there are lot of artists who are doing superficial work. There are even copies of my art being made. I frequently meet people who want to authenticate my previous works but some of them are fake," says the artist.

On the entrance wall to the space in the gallery which is showing his works is a signed note that the artist has written in his handwriting.

"I am amazed that all this could be done in a lifetime. Indeed it is grace of God and the result of my serious concern of the traditions of the Indian culture," it says.

In the 25 works all executed in the last two years, Raza continues to fill up his canvasses a mix of large and small scale paintings with his trademark colourful palette full of abstract and geometrical "bindu" large black dots and triangles.

"After six decades living in France I am happy to be back in India. My heart, mind and soul is happy to be back in the country," says the painter who created an art record when his abstract 1983 work "Saurashtra" sold at a Christies auction for an astronomical Rs 16.4 crore.

Fascinated with the idea of the cosmos, nature, mysticism and spirituality, Raza represents them on his canvasses. The Tree of Life, the Panchtava of five elements as well as concepts of Prakriti-Purusha and the Kundalani are what he paints repeatedly, each work of showcasing the wealth of ancient Indian thought.

Growing up in Barbaria in Madhya Pradesh to a forest ranger father Raza was trained in art at Nagpur and Bombay. He has been influenced by nature from his early childhood, which is reflected in his artworks.

In his studio in south Delhi where he lives, Raza has a big format canvas, which he finished painting a couple of days ago. On the top corner he has written in black ink a single Hindi line "Sansar ko Pranati".

"I am constantly evolving my work. and like to keep some new works with me to show friends and people who come to visit me. They should also know what I have been upto all these years. In "Antardhwani" I'm looking at nature and different elements like the yoni and the linga. The sound that emerges from within the artist has to caught and expressed," says the artist.

"Today in this age of change, people know more about cinema and less about places concepts and individuals like Mahatma Gandhi, Sevagram, Bhakti and Tagore," says Raza who relocated to Delhi in the year 2010 after spending 60 years in France.

He had gone to Paris on a French Government scholarship in 1950. He set up studios there and married a French citizen Janine who died of cancer in 2002. He never gave up his Indian citizenship and was in constant touch with his contemporaries in India through letters.

A collection of letters that Raza had with his friend and artist Krishen Khanna has been compiled into a book "My Dear" that was released on the occasion of Raza's 91st birthday by the Raza Foundation in association with Vadehra Art Gallery

Another tome "Understanding Raza" an anthology bringing together some of the writings on Raza in English, French and Hindi including pieces by M F Husain, F N Souza, Ram Kumar, J Swaminathan, Geeti Sen and many more has also been released.