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A Life in Art S.H.RAZA Written and Edited by

Ashok Vajpeyi

Published by:

Art Alive Gallery, S-221 Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017, India. E-mail: Website: Printed in India at Pragati Offset Pvt. Ltd., Hyderabad ISBN: 978-81-901844-4-1 Š Art Alive Gallery 2007 All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopy without permission in writing from the publishers. All the photographs of the works are selected and provided by the artist. Copyrights of all the works reproduced rest with the artist/collectors, of the photographs with the respective photographers and of text with the respective authors.

Contents 12 The Passionate Grace by Ashok Vajpeyi 14 Beginnings 52 The Journey 96 The Vision 126 Now

142 The Unending by Ashok Vajpeyi 152 Dhai Akshar – Notes, Letters and Sketches 194 The Subliminal World 196 The Subliminal World of Raza by Yashodhara Dalmia 200 Four Decades – Selected Works

328 Reflections – Extracts from critical writings of Geeti Sen, Michel Imbert and Ranjit Hoskote 338 The Blue which Burns by Akhilesh 342 Raza Saheb by Sujata Bajaj 344 Raza Reflections

348 Chronology 356 Work Evolution


Passionate Grace Beginnings

The Vision


The Journey


Paths go from here to there, but don’t arrive from somewhere!

– Rumi

There was the river Narmada, not yet far from its origin. The dark green forests, thick with trees, rocks, birds and animals. Days drenched in bright sunlight and beauty; nights dense with darkness and fear. In a forest village called Babariya in central India in a rural house Sayed Haider Raza was born in the family of a forest ranger in 1922. It was an old family of Delhi which had to leave the Mughal capital after the 1857 uprising. The father was a government official managing forests. The family had retained its tradition of refinement and mutual care. Tall in physical height and lofty and generous in vision and conduct, Raza was nurtured in a caring and sensitive ethos in which strict discipline, helpfulness and single-minded pursuit were ingrained as basic values. Little did anyone, including the loving parents, know that years later, both in Bombay and Paris, these same values would come in handy in the long and arduous struggles for both material and artistic survival and growth of their son. The lessons learnt in Kakaiya, Mandala and Damoh were not forgotten in Paris but were revivified and continue to remain the guiding principles for Raza as he nears his 85 years of life in 2007. No doubt, later many new values got added to the old baggage but it was never abandoned nor found by Raza as no longer relevant. The journey from Kakaiya-Damoh to Bombay and, eventually, to Paris was unpredictable, full of uncertainties and anxieties. But if strong winds and tumultuous storms could not ultimately bend Raza, as a person as well as an artist, it is because he was too deeply rooted. They might have, once in while, left marks and scars, wounds and scratches. But they could never injure his creative spirit and soul. A life, that started in the ambivalence between beauty and fear, continues to contribute beauty to the realm of art and, by that token, to the world at large. Fear has subsided, if not altogether disappeared, but the dedication to beauty remains. A lot more remains. The childhood memories of the Narmada river, its wild waters when it used to be in spate, its round stones sometimes treated and worshipped as little Shiva lingas; the thick forests with occasional humanising presence of tribal dancers around nocturnal fire; the lesson of concentrating on ‘Bindu’ given by an indulgent school teacher to help the way-ward mind of an anxious boy. They have all


which provided his livelihood, learnt at the Club and slept in the room of a taxi-driver who used to be on night-duty. An accident involving the taxi in a murder case forced Raza to abandon his night shelter and move on to the Studios where he worked through the day and then started sleeping at night. The physical distance between work and painting, between studios and shelter disappeared. One day art would become work but that day was still quite far. Raza, as a very young boy in Mandala, had once seen Mahatma Gandhi in 1930-31 who had come to address a public meeting there as a part of his leading the mass movement for freedom of India from the British colonial rule. He made a great impact on his young mind and, many years later, when India was free and the Mahatma was no more, he visited Sewagram where the Mahatma lived towards the later part of his life leading the freedom struggle against the colonial power residing in mud-made hutments with thatched roofs. Gandhiji’s devotion to and concern for the composite culture of India always inspired Raza and when the country was partitioned at the moment of its gaining freedom from the colonial yoke, Raza decided to stay on in India whereas his Some archeological remains from Mandala, Damoh

kith and kin left for the newly created Pakistan. At a young age Raza was married to a Muslim lady Fatima, though, unfortunately they had very little in common. It was a conventional marriage. She also left for Pakistan and wanted Raza to come over. Raza refused and some years later, they were legally divorced in 1959. The mid-forties in Bombay, as in India, were a period of turmoil and churning. The British Empire in India was facing its most severe challenge from the people of India and the freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi and was well on its way to leave the Indian subcontinent free but divided. In the realm of culture, in literature and arts, the period marked a plurality of experiments and departures, creativity moving in many different directions embodying new sensibilities, selfinterrogation asserting freedom and bold visions of reality, human condition and aesthetics. Raza as a young talented industrious painter was bound to be caught in the whirlwind. The status quo, the conservative stability of academism, the emaciated spirit of a facile and imitative modernity were all under assault and serious questioning. The historical juncture expected from the creative souls of that period a new and bold response, a daring leap into the realms of the unknown.


For the time being there was an unhappiness with what appeared to be the verveless lyricism of the Bengal school. The disenchanted youthful energy needed to seek new paths, a bolder aesthetic, new idioms of expression. They felt they were at the threshold of a new beginning. They knew what they did not want or approve or were not satisfied with; they were yet to discover and articulate what they wanted, which would answer their irrepressible anxieties, artistic and social concerns and expectations. They did not want to delve in the past; they wanted to move on. Beset with countless uncertainties they wanted to forge ahead. It was at that critical moment, both historically and artistically, that some of them came together to form the Progressive Artists Group. Some of the current doyens of modern Indian art were the foundermembers of this loosely put-together organisation. Raza was one of them. It was a dynamic and aggressive camaraderie of artistic courage. Progressive Artists Group was initially thought of by three young painters Francis Newton Souza, Sayed Haider Raza and H.A.Gade. Each one of them was to bring one more artist to the group in keeping with their joint decision. Souza brought Maqbul Fida Husain, Raza Bakre and Gade V S Gaitonde. The group lasted for just a few years and held only one show. Souza, with his furiously Marxist beliefs, became the ideologue who articulated forcefully the mystique of the Progressive Artists Group, its common vision. The moment of the formation of Progressive Artists Group was following the lead given in literature by the Progressive Writers Association and in performing arts by the Indian People’s Theatre Association popularly known as IPTA. The search for new directions was already being pursued passionately in literature and performing arts. It was only natural that it should impact the realm of visual arts as well.

A press clipping of Bombay Progressive Artists Group Exhibition, 1948




Remember, The looking itself is a trace of what we’re looking for.

– Rumi

Raza along with another painter Akbar Padamsee sailed in a ship from Bombay to Marseille and then by train arrived in Paris on 3rd October, 1950. Another Indian painter Ram Kumar who was already living in Paris, received them at the railway station Gare de Lyon. Raza was given a room in Rue Delambre in the famous district of Montparnasse where many French and foreign painters also lived and worked. Raza says,‘I do confess I loved Paris at first sight. Its buildings, the atmosphere, the charged energy; it seemed to reveal at every corner that it was marvellous and was with us’. Coming from Bombay where there were statues of kings, administrators, industrialists Raza was immediately struck by the statue of Balzac by Rodin at the corner of Boulevard Raspail, a statute of a great writer by a great sculptor in a public place. The Montparnasse quarters were well-known where Modigliani, Soutine, Apollinaire, Picasso etc. had lived and worked. The first solo exhibition that Raza saw after his arrival in Paris was one of the collages by Matisse at the Maison de la Pensee Francaise. He noted that it was extraordinary in that this art seemed to be ‘nearer to the Indian concepts in which we were getting interested and involved. It was not the realism of the post Renaissance period. It was solidly constructed, where colour prevailed’. Raza visited other museums to see with his own eyes the original works of such masters as Vincent Van Gogh, Cezanne’s works overorchestrated, bringing him ‘from an emotional approach to art to reason’; Ganguin ‘much more oriental’ and Rousseau ‘close to oriental aesthetics’. At the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts (National School of Fine Arts) where Raza was scheduled to pursue his art-studies, he enrolled himself at the recently opened studio of Edmond Heuzé, a well-known portrait painter of France. He realised that Raza was already a mature painter, coming from ‘a great civilisation and culture’. He asserted in modesty that Raza had ‘nothing to learn at this school’ but insisted that he should work and see him ‘once a week at least’. What truly transformed Raza making him think anew about his own vision and style as an artist was not so much the art-school but the highly evocative ambience of Paris embodied in its various museums, art galleries, art-events and new friends including a fellow student at the École, Janine Mongillat, a ‘very talented’ person whom Raza was eventually to marry later in 1959. Statue of Balzac by Rodin in Paris


Paris Studio, 1951


A drawing on a newspaper Nude, Oil on Canvas, 1955



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Passage to Raza’s House, Rue de Charonne



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Self-knowledge reveals to the soul that its natural motion is not, if uninterrupted, in a straight line, but circular, as around some inner object, about a centre, the point to which it owes its origin.

– Plotinus

The self is a circle, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

– Carl G. Jung


Not a drop overflows, and there is no room for a single drop more.

– Franz Kafka

From all, one; and from one, all.

– Heraclitus

Be a lamp to your self. Be your own confidence. Hold to the truth within yourself, as to the only truth.

– The Buddha

Notes, Letters and Sketches

Two pages from the diary entitled ‘Dhai Akshar’



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Forms emerge from darkness. Their presence is perceptible in obscurity. They become relevant if their energy is orientated through vision into an alive form-orchestration for which certain pre-requisites are indispensable. The process is akin to germination. The obscure black space is charged with latent forces asking for fulfilment. Like the universal natural order of the ‘earthseed’ relationship, the original unit, ‘BINDU’ emerges and unfolds itself in the black space. All inherent forces unite. A vertical line intersects a horizontal line, engendering energy and light. Space is charged. Contours appear; white, yellow, red and blue and along with the original black, they compose the colour spectrum of the visible world. The mysteries of form reveal themselves through light colour space perceptions. In a visible energy spectacle, certain fundamental elements are intricately inter-related and determine the nature of form. Their understanding is indispensable in any creative process. Whatever the direction art expression may take, the language of form imposes its own inner logic and reveals infinite variations and mutations. The mind can perceive these mysteries only partially. The highest perception is of an intuitive order, where all human faculties participate, including intellect, which is ultimately a minor participant in the creative process. This stage is total bliss and defies analysis.



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Solo Exhibition in Bharat Bhavan, 1997

Four Decades – Selected Works

La Terre, Acrylic on Canvas, 210 x 210 cm, 1985

Bindu, Acrylic on Canvas, 40 x 40 cm, 1995

Germination, Acrylic on Canvas,120 x 120 cm, 1999

Genesis, Acrylic on Canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 2000

Bindu, Acrylic on Canvas, 30 x 30 cm, 2004

Tree, Acrylic on Canvas, 30 x 30 cm, 2004

Purush, Acrylic on Canvas, 30 x 30 cm, 2004

Prakriti, Acrylic on Canvas, 30 x 30 cm, 2004

Prakriti, Acrylic on Canvas, 175 x 175 cm, 2006

Reflections Select Views Geeti Sen, Michel Imbert, Ranjit Hoskote, Akhilesh and Sujata Bajaj

Raza’s work has been engaging critical attention of many art-critics over the years. We give extracts from three such critics, two from India and one from France. Two Indian painters who have been close to Raza, have specially written the two pieces for this book.

From Bindu - Space and Time in Raza’s Vision by Geeti Sen What distinguishes Raza’s canvases is his choice of colours, and his symbiosis of forms. This palette returns us once more to the Indian sensibility, and it establishes an immediate distance from other forms of gestural expressionism. Having imbibed the modernism of Europe, he brings to this the underpinnings of another realm of colour sensation. He now allows the first impression to be filtered through his emotions. Returning to that statement made by Hofmann, Raza’s paintings are no more formal constructions; they now exude that powerful combination which is described by Hans Hofmann as that “harmony of heart and of mind”. … The raga and the ragamala have inspired the fabric of Raza’s pictures. These themes relate to his interest noted already in his paintings begun in the ‘60s: to express moods, times of the day and the seasons - not through narrative or the figurative but through gestural treatment. North Indian music and Hindi poetry have been a continuing source of enrichment. He brings the three together, music and poetry and painting, and in the manner of Rajasthan painting, he often inscribes a verse in his own work. Raza, who does not attempt to explain this state of intoxication, exclaims, What is raga? It is a certain melody Which colours the heart of man. Colour in Indian art is ecstasy! Language dictates the formulation of a certain world-view; it introduces a framework, a sensibility from its country of origin. By inscribing at times a verse in his painting, or by being inspired by a poem by Kabir or a song by Meerabai, Raza’s canvas acquires the rhythm and texture, the flavour of these verses.


The flavour of a painting or a poem is also rasa, that uniquely Indian concept which finds no adequate translation into the English language, but which in culinary terms means the “juice”. Hence the painting can be savoured or “tasted”by the rasika, who must be a connoisseur of all the arts and who responds to poetry and song as much as to the visual image. This brings us once more to the participation of both the artist or performer, and the viewer or listener. In this case Raza assumes two roles: he is both listener and singer, viewer and artist. He is the rasika who hears the melody and observes the colours, and is then himself transformed! This is the magical moment for him when the two identities that seemed antagonistic - the past and the present, the self and the other, begin to merge into one whole. Is it a coincidence that at this very point of time of resolution, of a problem which had expressed itself in the duality of his paintings, that sense of “wholeness”surfaces with the bindu ? … From the late seventies Raza’s paintings emerge from darkness; from deep silence; from the absolute vacuum created in himself; from inner space; from meditation. The forms in Raza’s paintings are pared down to their essence. They are simple, elementary forms with universal meaning - based on geometric principles which become metaphors for the world he intends to represent. It will be observed that Raza’s images are abstractions; they signify more than is stated. Abstraction is a state of mind. It is the inner face of truth. With meditation, the cognition of the outer world penetrates to another level of consciousness. The artist withdraws his mind from all external phenomena, to respond to his inner awareness or reality. Beginning with shunya, the state of emptiness, the artist’s vision arrives at equilibrium, of complete oneness with the universe. Through meditation, the artist’s perception of form is grounded in a process of symbolisation. Contemplative vision is intense, and directed towards the essence of form. In these diagrams or cosmograms is realised the infinite potential of the artist’s interior vision. There exists a logic of form, and of colour - in the organic unity which binds the universe into a single indivisible self. To understand this relationship, the artist has to develop his own experience and draw from his own inner perceptions - that which is called manasa pratyaksha. Raza refers to this as an “elevated state of direct perception”.


Raza : A Life in Art  

Raza: A Life in Art is the most comprehensive book to appear on the long life and the rich artistic career of a great master. Written and ed...

Raza : A Life in Art  

Raza: A Life in Art is the most comprehensive book to appear on the long life and the rich artistic career of a great master. Written and ed...