SH Raza, India’s poster boy of modern art dies at 94

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 24, 2016 01:44 IST
Syed Haider Raza was 94. (HT photo)

Legendary artist Sayed Haider Raza, who had famously said that he lived to paint and painted to live, died in a New Delhi hospital at around 11 am on Saturday. He was 94.

SH Raza died of old-age related ailments had been in the ICU for the last two months. “The end came at 11am,” poet Ashok Vajpeyi, a close friend of the artist, told PTI.

As per Raza’s wishes, his last rites would be conducted in Madhya Pradesh’ Mandala.

The man

Primarily known for his abstracts in acrylic, Raza was born on February 22, 1922 and grew up in a small village in Madhya Pradesh. He went on to study at the Sir JJ School of Art and founded the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group (1947), which challenged the existing art establishment.

Raza with one of his paintings featuring geometric motifs. (HT photo)

“I grew up as an artist in Bombay before going to Paris. I lived there for 60 years. I have been living in Delhi since 2011. They’ve all been my homes,” he had told HT in an interview earlier this year.

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“It has been a long journey, full of anxieties and exhilarations. I started as a landscape painter, a colourist. But soon, I turned to metaphysical ideas and the essence of life,” he had said.

His work

His body of work is instantly recognisable thanks to the geometric motifs that feature in it. He has explored themes of prakriti (nature), kundalini (primal energy), tribhuj (triangle) and bindu (circle/dot).

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His paintings have sold for record prices — Saurashtra, which sold for Rs 15.9 crore, and La Terre, which sold for Rs 18.8 crore — count among the most expensive paintings sold at an auction. But the artist remains unfazed by the attention. “What matters is value, not price,” he had said.

Raza’s acrylic paianting called ‘Nagas’. (HT photo)

For Raza, the process of painting was one of perennial search, almost akin to a spiritual quest: “Art is meditation; it meditates through colours. The bindu provides you with a focus, a locus (position) to concentrate on,” he had once told us.

His motivation

Interestingly, Raza’s interest in the bindu stemmed from his childhood days. His primary school teacher had asked him to stare at a dot on the wall to calm his distracted mind; the dot would go on to influence the course of his life. “Bindu is a source of energy, a still centre, a point of radiation. It has immense visual possibilities,” he had said.

Awards and hounours

The noted artist has been the recipient of Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and the Legion of Honour (the highest honour awarded to civilians by the French government). Raza was also a fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi.

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