During 1956, Raza was awarded with the prestigious French award Prix de la Critique. Illustration: Mohit Suneja
During 1956, Raza was awarded with the prestigious French award Prix de la Critique. Illustration: Mohit Suneja

Sayed Haider Raza: One of India’s most celebrated artists

One of the groundbreaking Indian painters of his generation, Sayed Haider Raza is known for rich and colourful abstracts in oil and acrylic, replete with icons of Indian cosmology as well as philosophy.
By HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 10, 2021 02:57 PM IST

Born to Sayed Mohammed Razi, deputy forest ranger, and Tahira Begum in Kakkaiya, Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh on February 22, 1922, SH Raza grew up with four brothers and a sister. He took to drawing at the age of 12. He completed high school from the Government High School in Damoh, Madhya Pradesh. He then enrolled at the Nagpur School of Art, Nagpur, followed by a stint at the Sir JJ School of Art, Bombay.

Career

Raza held his first solo show in 1946 at the Bombay Art Society Salon and was awarded the Silver Medal of the society. His work evolved from painting expressionistic landscapes to abstract ones. From his fluent water colours of landscapes and townscapes executed in the early 1940s, he moved toward a more expressive language.

In 1947, he joined hands with KH Ara and FN Souza to co-found the revolutionary Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group. The group set out to break free from the influences of European realism in Indian art and bring Indian inner vision into art. In 1950, he accepted a painting scholarship at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. During his stay in Paris, Raza was highly influenced by its landscape and incorporated it in his creations. In 1962, he became a visiting lecturer at the University of California in Berkeley, USA. He influenced many American painters and taught them the nuances of incorporating interesting Indian elements into modern art.

Bindu as leitmotif

Seeking more inspiration and a whiff of fresh air, Raza returned to India in the 1970s. He visited many parts of the country, including the majestic caves of Ajanta and Ellora, parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Varanasi. His quest and a close study of Indian culture for years helped him realise that the importance of the ‘Bindu’ (a dot), a powerful symbol in several religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

It took him back in time to an event that occurred during his schooldays wherein his teacher told young Raza, who at that experienced difficulty in concentrating, to focus on a single dot drawn on the blackboard. That simple realisation led him to incorporate in his paintings more Indian concepts and symbols including those of space, time as well as forms of energy.

Style

Raza’s works revolve mainly around nature and its facets. They evolved from purely expressionist landscapes to abstract ones and depict the Bindu (dot) to be the centre of creation and existence. Even though the vibrancy of his paintings gained in subtlety as his career progressed, they always retained a dynamic quality.

Personal life

During his stay in France, Raza married French artist Janine Mongillat. The renowned artist passed away in Delhi on July 23, 2016.

Awards

Raza received a large number of awards including the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan, the French Legion of Honour, the Lalit Kala Akademi’s Ratna Puruskar in 2004 and the Madhya Pradesh government’s Kalidas Samman in 1981.

Interesting Facts

More than a dozen of Syed Raza’s works crossed $1 million in auctions. His painting titled Tapovan (1972) sold for over $4.5 million at Christie’s, New York, in 2018 to break the artist’s world auction record .

To promote art among young Indians, he founded the Raza Foundation that works on his mission and gives awards in his name annually as an encouragement to budding artists.

During 1956, Raza was awarded with the prestigious French award Prix de la Critique, which made Raza the first non-French artist to be conferred the honour.

Though his brothers and sister decided to move to Pakistan after the partition in 1947, Syed Raza stayed on. His works have been displayed in many prestigious events in India and abroad.

His wife, Mongillat lost the battle against cancer in 2002. In 2010, Raza decided to move back from France to New Delhi, where he continued to work several hours a day up until his death.

Source: Wikipedia, Christie’s, culturalindia.net


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