Raza: a contemporary artist with a sense of Indianness
To determine a new position to express Indianness, a band of young painters founded The Progressive Artist's Group in Mumbai, just after the independence in 1947. It survived only near about one decade, but it left a indelible impact on the Indian art scene.
Syed Haider Raza – whose painting recently set a record, in price, for a modern Indian work – was one of the six key members of the group. His 'Sourashtra' fetched Rs16.42 crore (£2.4m) at Christie's in London, June 2010. Raza, inclined as he is to abstraction, has his own way of using a rich palette and displays a knack for devising his composition based on Indian cosmology and philosophy.
For the first time in Kolkata, Raza arrives, in the form of a solo exhibition, courtesy of the gallery Akar Prakar, where over a dozen of his original paintings on paper and canvas, executed between 2008 and 2010, are brought under one roof. Ashok Vajpeyi, chairman of Lalit Kala Academy, defines Raza's current phase – an offshoot of his late creative spurt – as lyricism takes over his defining themes.
The 88-year-old artist has been living and working in France for the last 60 years, exploring western modernism, injecting it with a strong sense of Indianness.
In his current oeuvre, the iconography and the symbolism related to Tantra collide with vibrant colors producing splintered visions. For this, Raza has been mistakenly bracketed among the neo-Tantric, a category the artist abhors.
Raza spent part of his childhood in the lap of nature as his father had been a forest ranger, hence the dominance of forest in his nature themed works. But the European Raza emerges when the colour white dictates the tone of his imagery. Raza's own view is that he addresses the ambiguity of nature and form through the articulation of line and space daubed in bright colours and the radiance they give off.
So, to sum up Raza's life-long journey, from the birth of his artistic career, when the bindu appeared in his work-surface, to this day, when the geometry continues to be a mainstay, one may conclude that he has subtly blended the European perception with the quintessence of the land of his birth leading to various remarkable effects.