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Mapping S.H. Raza’s brilliant life and career
One of the founders of the Progressive Artist's Group (PAG), S. H. Raza has made immeasurable contribution to Indian art in the post-Independence era.

The veteran artist’s practice is greatly influenced by his love for the great Indian culture and belief system. Though he has spent close to six decades of his life in France, he remains deeply attached to the country of his birth. The internationally celebrated artist comes back to his home country as frequently as possible to reconnect with his roots.

In fact, as he reveals, he has been researching about Indian culture for well over 50 years, in order to portray the greatness of this vivid culture. He has stated, "I have come closer to India by being away. I have read and researched more and more about India. I have become more Indian in France."

Symbols in his works are largely derived from an Indian ethos, including the pancha tatva (five elements of Nature) and the Bindu (the dot or the epicenter). His work emphasizes the metaphysical and meditative philosophies of the five primeval elements the world is be made of, as propagated by Hindu mythology. Elaborating on his practice driven by Indian philosophy and history, the master artist mentions, “India is full of color. My paintings reflect the vibrancy of color that makes up the country. Whenever I am working away in France, the question I invariably ask myself is: where’s the Indian sensibility in it.”

S.H. Raza’s artistic evolution has been quite intriguing, starting with expressionist landscapes that became geometric representations of landscape. Gradually, the lines blurred and color began to dominate. Though landscape remained his chosen theme, it turned non-representational. Later, in the late 70’s, he began focusing on pure geometrical forms. His images then mapped the mind’s metaphorical space. The ‘Bindu’ became more of an icon, sacred in its symbolism. He terms his work an outcome of ‘two parallel enquiries’ - aimed at a "pure plastic order" and also concerning the theme of nature. According to him, both converge into a single point to become inseparable - the ‘Bindu’.

Born in 1922 in Babaria of Madhya Pradesh, he studied at Nagpur School of Art (1939-43) and later at Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai (1943-47), before joining Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris (1950-53), Among his selected solo exhibitions are ‘Raza – A Retrospective’, Berkeley Square Gallery, NY (2007); and ‘Living Legend S. H. Raza’, a traveling exhibit in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and India (2007), apart from a host of group exhibitions like 'Masters of Maharashtra', collection from Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi (2010); 'Jewels of Modern Indian Art', Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2010); 'Indian Art After Independence', Emily Lowe Gallery, Hempstead (2009); 'In Search of the Vernacular', Aicon Gallery, NY (2009); and 'Progressive to Altermodern: 62 Years of Indian Modern Art', Grosvenor Gallery, London (2009).

Among his significant joint shows last year were ‘Spirit of India’, with M F Husain at Kings Road Galleries, London, and 'Shanti: A Scream for Peace', with Manish Pushkale at Bugno Art Gallery, Venice. The Government of India awarded him the ‘Padma Shri’ in 1981 and the ‘Padma Bhushan’ in 2007, apart from Lalit Kala Ratna Puraskar (2004) from LKA, Delhi.

The zestful octogenarian refuses to count his age in terms of the years he has lived, and continues to create art with same energy and vigor as he did almost sixty years ago. He describes the contemporary Indian art scene as ‘very encouraging’. On the eve of his recent visit to India, he commented: “There used to be a great influence that of European realism on Indian painters. It was not keeping with our rich tradition. We later realized that painting is not something seen merely with our eyes, but that it is a sum total perception of the universe visualized with mind, heart and all human faculties. In Hindi, it’s termed antargyan (knowledge of inner self).”

S.H. Raza is in constant touch with the art scene in India and runs a foundation to promote young artists. Drawing from his rich reservoir of experience, he concludes that artists like Husain (sadly, no more an Indian), and Ram Kumar are now invariably noticed and appreciated on the world map. He is happy that contemporary Indian painters are also fast rising in stature. Akhilesh, Manish Pushkale, Seema Ghuraiya, Sheetal Gatani, and Sujata Bajaj are among his favorite artists. The celebrated artist believes that if there’s truth in the painting, it will expose itself.