EXHIBITION - S. H. Raza (Sep 21-Oct 31, 2007) :


Interracting with Raza is rarely just a discussion or a conversation, rather it is the process of creating a focal point. Much like the meditative nature of Raza's more recent work, one is intrinsically compelled to understand as he radiates outward and navigates through his artistic philosophy and its universality. Raza and his work, promulgate an important duality: the viewer's own introspection versus the act of viewing the perceived structure of Raza's paintings. Few people have the ability to inspire at this level. It is this ability, developed over a 60-year career, that is the focus of this exhibition and this publication.

Raza's oeuvre truly represents an immense body of work - one that has evolved from the artist's early studies and apprenticeship in the 1940's to his present symbolic meditations. Raza's art fuses his profound Indian sensibility with techniques and skills learnt in Europe and America: That his work repudiates meta-categories like nation, religion and race, and transcends chronology and geography, only adds to its cross-cultural appeal and underscores its relevance.

Though he embarked on his painterly career with representations of visualized or realistic landscapes in India and during his first few years in France, Raza quickly turned to a more intangible idiom. One where the communication of mood or emotion, that a scene inspired, became the artist's central concern. Colour and form were used express both the gentleness and ferocity of nature, whose omnipotence has inspired Raza since his childhood in the dense forests of Central India.

From the early 1960's, following a trip to the United States, Raza distanced himself from his 1950's architecture of impasto in oils. Instead, he began to focus on the freedom of stroke that the newly emerged acrylic medium offered. Inspired by the work of American Abstract Expressionists, the artist turned to loose, gestural brushwork and a vivid, expressive palette to create and convey emotion. At the same time, travels to India reminded Raza of the colors and passion of his homeland, whether under the beating sun or in the darkness of the night, which informed much of his work in the 1960's and 70's.

Raza believes he was reborn as a painter in the 1980s, when his deep engagement with the concept of the bindu began. The geometric symbolism that blossomed from its ancient origins and the coded language of the cosmos that these symbols comprised within Indian philosophy began to form the cornerstone of Raza's thought. Initially introduced to the bindu as a point of concentration, which subsumed all other thought, by one of his teachers in elementary school, Raza now returned to this black circle of concentrated energy as the source and end of all life in the universe. The bearer of immense potential, for Raza the bindu is core of the symbolic code that describes the cosmos, its dichotomies and its supporting structures.

Though anchored in Raza's Indian roots, his language transcends borders. As a result, the artist's paintings and his philosophy have resonated with some of the most discerning collectors of art all over the world. Of India's modern masters, Raza is one of the most distinguished, having won international critical acclaim throughout his career, and drawing global attention to modern Indian art. One of the founders of the path breaking Progressive Artists' Group in 1947, Raza, at eighty five years of age, is still a pioneer.

Not only does this major retrospective mark the artist's 85th birthday, it is also an important step forward in Saffronart's commitment to providing a comprehensive global platform for modern and contemporary Indian art. In addition, this event underscores Berkeley Square Gallery's sustained effort to create a strong platform for Indian art in Europe. It is the first comprehensive exhibition of Raza's work in the United States, and the first that will be continued with shows in the United Kingdom and India. In addition, the retrospective will be accompanied by a detailed monograph on the artist published by Saffronart. The illustrated volume will trace the development of Raza's painterly career, and also provide a full-color catalogue raisonne, the first of its kind, documenting several thousand of the artist's known works.

The most important acknowledgement that we would like to make for this retrospective and publications, however, is to Sayed Haider Raza who has unfailingly supported the development of Indian art its struggle to voice an expression on an international platform while retaining its cultural roots. We would like to offer a word of gratitude to the many collectors of Raza's work who have graciously agreed to lend their works to this documentary exhibition. In addition, we would like to thank the team at Saffronart and at Berkeley Square Gallery for their countless late nights, without whom this would certainly have been an impossible feat.

- Minal Vazirani, Saffronart
- Dinesh Vazirani, Saffronart
- Peter Osborne, Berkeley Square Gallery

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