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Unravelling artist Syed Haider Raza

Syed Haider Raza, four deacdes of abstract master, gave art-lovers a chance of a lifetime to look

india Updated: Mar 01, 2006 18:21 IST
Uma Nair
Uma Nair

Syed Haider Raza, four decades of abstract master,gave art-lovers a chance of a lifetime to look athis brilliance and spiritual evolution. In a free-wheeling interview, the Paris-based artist goes back in time. Somewhere in his words you see a handsome young Indian who explored a novel journey, sometimes a master who reveals his ideology.

Sometimes a new space can open up fantastic opportunities,sometimes it can present a show like never before. At their new space at Okhla, Vadehras brought together a historic show by Raza which spoke more like a mini retrospective of sorts. In Delhi for the exhibition at Palette Art Gallery as well as for Vadehras, Raza spoke about the world of art and the link between art and music and everything traditional.

"Indian art today is a result of a search that came out of the dependence on the insipid British system of looking at the world only in a realist sense".

"When I went to Paris 55 years ago I was excited by what I saw and learnt. Yes the plastic order came out of that search, but I was always inspired by the vitality of the spiritual that lay within all the Indian inspirations in the performing arts.

It was that inspiration that finally found its birth in my works. Now when I think back, I realise that I learnt the essentials of construction from the maestros, Ceazanna and Van Gogh and Paul Klee. I remember one point when I was attracted to the spiritual loftiness of Kandinsky.

Finally during those years abstraction was looked at differently and it was a summation of all those experiences that worked to create the vibrancy of colour in my works.

The forests of Madhya Pradesh that I knew in my childhood haunted me when you see colour in my work it is a metaphor of those forests. The whole cycle of nature that I wanted to bring back to my studio in France.'

At Vadehras, the Raza catalogue is a small mirror of the brilliance of Raza. As a design statement(by Monika Khanna) this catalogue is an exercise in aesthetic brilliance.

From his early works in the 70's like Night and Black Sun to works done in 2005 like Earth and Summer the art lover can partake of a feast of colour and an inherent evolution over 4 decades that positions Raza in the context of his own quest for abstraction.`

'Night' and 'La Nuit' are magical resolutions in space they are works that recall the essence of Rothko whom Raza grew to admire and watch in terms of artistic reasoning. Rothko's withdrawal from the world and his work that looked at a monochromatic order struck me deeply", says Raza.

Nobody would mistake Raza's now seemingly modernist views of forests, grottoes and the seashore for anything else because he weaves in the orchestration of colour in a manner of sheer celebration.

The show has a series of works that reflect the colourful zest of Raza's encounter with depictions of worlds within worlds, painted with an inspired brushwork that obscures as much as it reveals.

     Art title: Germination

And although Raza did paint a number of wintry as well as Indian summer scenes, his use of oil paint and canvas seems downright sedate next to the fields of Bindu circled with lines and strokes, which he assembled from a clear and threaded intuition. Raza's ability to draw upon abstract painting, which didn't exist in those early days and exploit styling techniques to finally eschew the Bindu becomes his most important inspiration in his cycle of thought.

Therein lies the link of his entire process of evoltion that found its roots in the Advaitya philosophy and the power of creation: We must never underestimate the artistic possibilities that lurk within spiritual territory of our tradityions and texts.'says Raza`I kept searching for that link between tradition and modernity and that is how I came to the Bindu.

The best thing about the show is that it represents Raza as the man who delighted in reflecting the landscape in its many moods. Blue is another impassioned work that gives us the moody rhythm of music in its midst, it is not difficult to imagine pictures of rolling hills or wind-swept trees or the magic of a moonlit night.

      Art Title: Bindu

Raza who gets into poetry at the suggestion of rhyme reflects also the romantic within."Love between man and woman, between man and nature, between man and god,everything is a realisation and a journey," says Raza,`in that eternal lyric of Kagaz ke Phool so timeless are those words:

Waqt ne kiya,kya haseen sitambh
Tum rahe na tum,hum rahe na hum

This is true about everything in life as well.But I think there comes a stage when we want to think only what is lasting and my works now look for those lasting moments. That is why you will see that I have now started working with the mood of the silent ripple in time. Now my work is looking at the power of silence that comes from within.It is that inward journey that I am trying to capture and still there is so much to be done.

Here at Vadehras when I saw the show I thought my Bindu was born only in the 80's, so as a painter I am only 25 years old. That is what is so magical about nature it is like an ocean that unfurls before time. It is the sediment of all creation and I feel this is only the genesis.'

As Raza departs for Singapore news arrives that Sotheby's Spring Auction to be held on March 29, 2006 just a day before Christies will have as its highest bid a 1972 work by Raza entitled Tapovan.

Raza's Tapovan, or Forest of Meditation ($800,000/1 million), represents a visual expression of his own meditation on the mystical power of nature which he refers to as "vitality of form from within".Raza's childhood memories of the forests of Madhya Pradesh shown here in this work actually speak in a passionate and potent vein -it is more like the glow of embers of colors and symbols of nature that were central to his visual vocabulary.

Perhaps more like a nocturne that mirrors the vibration of the elements of the earth this work is decidely done in the mode of Abstract Expressionism.

"Rothko's ability to create the luminosity from within is what fascinated me so many years ago", says Raza. "Studying modern abstraction through the works of Pollock and Rothko gave me an intense idea of the abstract movement. Couple that with my Indian inheritance of the shastras and that is how I learnt to hear with my eyes".

First Published: Mar 01, 2006 18:21 IST