Francis Newton Souza was the most vocal and controversial among the modern Indian masters. Following censorship and police raids on his exhibitions, he left India for London, where he initially struggled to establish himself in the post-war art and literary circle. He later found patronage and acclaim by the end of the 1950s, a period considered as the peak of his artistic prowess. The present lot painted in 1964 represents this critical stage in Souza’s career. Leading art writer Mervyn Levy described him as “one of the most vigorously stimulating and committed painters of our time.”1
Closely attuned with sociopolitical and scientific developments, Souza was deeply affected by the wars from years prior and was profoundly agitated over issues facing humanity, especially the development of nuclear weapons. He frequently portrays the subject in his works resulting in portrait studies of ‘mutant’ heads depicting the images of a man after a nuclear war. These studies became more vivid and frighteningly distorted as he felt civilization draws closer to destruction.
Here, he depicted the head profuse with facial features. Souza used a plethora of eyes and noses, with a gaping mouth placed haphazardly within the face making it look more of a monster than a man. This ability to disorganize and distort the human face without resorting to total abstraction or losing a vital aspect of the portraiture demonstrates Souza’s masterly skill as a draughtsman and his highly distinctive style. He explained, “I started using more than two eyes, many eyes and fingers on my paintings and drawings of human figures when I realized what it meant to have the superfluous and do not need the necessary.[…] I have everything to use at my disposal. I have never counted the number of teeth I’ve drawn in grinning mouths. So what of few extra eyes, fingers, etc.?”2 By consciously abandoning naturalism, Souza imbues his figures with enormous potency while liberating himself from objective representation.
1 F.N. Souza: The human and the Divine, Studio International Art, April 1964, p. 134
2 F.N. Souza, Exhibition Catalogue, Gallery One, London, 1961, unpaginated