The current lot is reminiscent of the artist’s ‘Figures in Landscape, Freeport, Bahamas’ which was painted in 1971 and evokes the feeling of enjoying under the sun and lazing on the beach. F.N. Souza used bright sunlit colors to portray a sense of lightness that is so dissimilar from his usual and dark palette choices. Aside from the uncharacteristic palette choice, the picture appears to have been executed perfunctorily without much attention to details of the figure.
Souza routinely came back to his favorite motifs throughout his career. A recurrent theme of his works was the conflicts in man-woman relationships with an emphasis on sexual tension and friction, as seen in the current image executed in 1974.
In the drawing, he was able to maintain an excellent economy on his use of line while still managing to capture fine details. He employed an abundance of detailing, which made up the overall structure of his subjects. Disfigured and malformed, this image of a couple was part of the ‘mutant’ studies that Souza did in conjecture with nuclear warfare in what he predicted as the eventual downfall of man.
After Souza left London in 1967, he lived in New York, where he continued to experiment with new ways of creating landscapes and figurative works. His painting in the following decades included uniquely rendered chemical drawings that demonstrate color palettes of vivid hues, as seen in the current image.
Souza’s women were frankly sexual and shockingly exposed themselves. In each of his works, they become more and more voluptuous, and all the more revealing and sordid. Conversely, his women are awe-inspiring in their unabashed display and ownership of their sexuality, yet on the flip side is Souza’s belief in women as objects of sexual gratification.
The genre of the landscape was a cornerstone of F.N. Souza’s oeuvres as much as his scathing portraits and nudes. Like many of his works, he articulates his particular brand of imagery in them exhibiting an uncompromising commitment to his inner muse.
The present lot, painted in 1993, two decades after his move from London to New York, encapsulates a particularly joyful period in the life of the artist. Souza’s painting style from previous decades evolved, becoming looser, slightly abstracted, and full of bright colors. He produced works depicting nature and flowery images using colorful pigments that evoke a carefree and light atmosphere. Repeatedly emphasizing nature being the sole principle – a tenet of “Redmonism,” the colors that he concocted seem almost to rival those of life itself. Here, the limits of the picture plane are disregarded; the leaves break off into a sea of green, and branches like vines appear in the foreground as a means to create perspective.
Souza’s landscapes are ultimately lyrical with unrestrained enthusiasm in the application of colors. The effects of the vibrant and gestural color schemes belong to a world of memories captured in the richness of Souza’s vision.
Religion may be the root and theme of many of Souza’s work, but it was also his compulsion. It played an integral part in his art, along with another of his obsession, which was female nudity. The fact that Souza was so bitterly critical of the Catholic Church yet so obsessed with making dozens of images around biblical themes was so indicative of the tremendous mental anguish he endured.
A true iconoclast, he paid no reverence in the depiction of Jesus, the core of the Christian religion; instead, he portrayed him just using his signature strong blacklines without any colors, embellishments, pomp, or details associated with religious establishments. Even the expression reflected is that of sadness or hardship, basing from Souza’s whole theological position and convictions of suffering without redemption.
Souza made his mark as a profound artist by producing visually intense and often disturbing works. With his exceptional skills, he disturbed accepted notions of aesthetics and jolted stereotypical perceptions about religion, sin, and oppressive political orders, which he depicted in many of his art.
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
M.F. Husain, one of the great artists that came from India, was born on September 17, 1915. Known as the painter of the people, he is celebrated for his exceptional yet sometimes controversial works that deeply embody the Indian aesthetics and made him popular and relatable to people from all walks of life. His themes too are Indian; from the great epics (the Mahabharata and the Ramayana) to Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the British Raj, to the motifs of Indian urban and rural life. His memorable works reflected the life of an artist that is as vibrant and spirited as his canvases.
Through his career, he enjoyed great popularity and reverence that earned him the moniker ‘The Barefoot Picasso of Indian Art’ attributed to his style which reflected influence from Pablo Picasso and his atypical characteristic of foregoing footwear no matter the occasion or the establishment.
As a tribute to the master on his birthday, here are 10 things to know more about M.F. Husain:
1. His exact birthday is unknown but as a general belief, he was born on the 17th of September 1915; a date that he thought of when he applied for a passport on 1950 for the first time without having proof of his birth date.
2. He started his art career painting cinema hoardings for six annas (1/16th of a rupee) each in 1930. Working on these huge hoardings helped him use space effectively and to paint quickly and boldly on large surfaces. He also took up designing and painting nursery furniture and toys to make a living before becoming a full-time artist.
3. He sold his first painting for Rs 10 in his first show in 1934. To date, his works fetch top dollars; his most priced work sold for USD 1.6 million at an auction in 2008.
4. An extremely prolific artist, his works are estimated to be in the thousands nearing to 40,000. It is said that at one point in his career, he was producing as much as 6 artworks per day.
5. He executed a mural painting titled ‘Mahabali’ (The Great Sacrifice) on the walls of the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York freehand. The 21-meter by 6-meter ‘floor to wall’ mural speaks of human suffering and the environment.
6. He walked around everywhere carrying a long oversized paintbrush that had become a part of his legend.
7. One of his favorite muses was Bollywood superstar Madhuri Dixit; his adoration of the actress resulted in many works inspired by her and her films. He would later direct the film ‘Gaja Gamini’ featuring the actress in 2000. Rumor has it that he watched one of her film a total of 67 times!
8. Husain’s diverse influences both in inspiration and style acknowledged his respect and openness to ancient and new styles of painting. He used symbolization to pay homage to some of the western masters by incorporating Salvador Dali’s signature mustache, Cezanne’s apple, and Van Gogh’s chair among others in his works.
9. Aside from being well-respected and sought after, he was also multi-awarded. He was conferred the Padma Shri (1966), Padma Bhushan (1973), and Padma Vibhushan (1991) by the Government of India along with several honorary doctorates from several distinguished universities.
10. Although considered one of the greatest artists in the history of Indian art, he remained in a self-imposed exile from 2006 until his death on June 2011. He accepted Qatari citizenship in 2010.
To know more about this great artist; visit http://mf-husain.com/
2 3 4 Sudha Tilak, The Private Life of a people’s painter, The Hindu – Business Line, December 15, 2017
5 8 9 Najma Husain, Husain’s Art, Pragati Offset Ltd., Hyderabad, 2016
Establishing his practice along with the Partition in the 1950s, M.F. Husain participated and played a big part in the creation of the modern Indian pictorial tradition. “For Husain, modern Indian pictorial language needed to be recognizable to the people on the street and in the village. After the Partition, a modern India needs an artist for its people. For Husain, as shared Indian identity and humanity was the entrance to creating a universal pictorial language that Indians could understand and use.[…]”(Thaara Shankar, M.F. Husain’s Modern India, Bowdoin Journal of Art, John Hopkins University, 2018, p. 12)
As the country was struggling to regain identity post-independence, there was a great desire to document and promote the nation’s rich and varied heritage of art. Believing that modern Indian picture has a firm place within India’s long history, Husain plied various sources and presented a range of images depicting the nation; from dancers, sculptures, to images of the great epics – subjects that Husain considered readily available and deemed representative of the Indian culture and heritage.
Imbibing the creative interaction between different art forms, Husain initiated his series on musicians in 1959, a theme that he revisited throughout the following decades. He adopted traditional postures from sculptures to convey a sense of movement in his figures and depicted traditional instruments to express a sense of music and dance on his canvases.
In the current lot featuring the junction between artistic interpretation and content, Husain used his own pictorial language by straying from any defined qualities and adapting symbols as visual stimuli. The featureless face of the woman is adorned with ‘kumkuma’ and jewelry while the veena seen here is typical of Husain’s iconography, and a recurring motif in his paintings of musicians. The blue outlining the figure in contrast to the otherwise earthy swatch of ochre and brown creates a sense of depth and movement in the composition. Husain stretched icons and played with the blurriness by employing a simplified composition in an undefined setting and focusing on the representational more than individualizing details.
“My subject is woman”, M.F. Husain once stated. Women of all sort – rural and urban, anonymous and famous, mortal and divine– have been his subject from the very start of his career as an artist.
Husain’s interest in the female figure and posture led to his involvement with the subject and a personal idiom that emphasized on the form and not on the emotions evoked. In order to do this, he depersonalized his women and rendered them faceless; with few exceptions including the current image. Here, the titular woman appears with a clearly delineated face; although half of it is partially covered with the canopy of hair. She is placed in an undefined setting completely liberated from the confinement of any social or ethnic references. The shadows around her play an important role in defining and outlining her figure.
As an artist, Husain had a keen interest in the erotic but usually avoided frontal nudity in his work. He deliberately emphasized the erotic aspect of the female form as an epitome of sensuality and beauty, yet none of this was explicitly and directly explored. Instead, he juxtaposed the female figure with folk elements and symbols –of which India has an abundance of– such as lamps, spokes, and spiders. In this case, a snake around the woman’s neck alludes to male energy and virility.
Sayed Haider Raza had grown increasingly unhappy and restless with his own work by the start of the 1970s. The desire for a new direction and deeper authenticity in his work urged him to move away from plastic arts and study his Indian heritage in an in-depth manner. Starting from this period, he underwent a gradual transformation from an expressionist to a master of abstraction and profundity before arriving at the Bindu.
Painted in 1974, a decade after Raza’s shift in style to find a purer form of abstraction, the current work is part of the culmination of this period of experimentation. He was no longer concern with the representational and began to communicate mood rather than images through his canvases. He skillfully used colors and gestural brushstrokes to convey warmth and lyrical messages rather than use direct representation to express emotions in the piece. Here, the composition is executed in loose brushstrokes, a departure from his previous style of semi-abstraction, and a precursor to his heavily structured geometric canvases. Albeit the change in stylistic and technical concerns, nature and its elements had remained the basis and inspiration to his art.