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Artist Profile3
Padma Vibhushan for SH Raza
The country’s second highest civilian honor, the Padma Vibhushan, has been conferred on SH Raza by the Government of India in recognition of his achievements in the field of art.

To the veteran artist, the act and process of painting is akin to intense meditative practice of japa (repetitive recitation of a holy mantra). Working with some very basic forms and concepts such as the point, the circle, the concentric diagram etc, he has vehemently pursued a pictorial japa so as to fathom deep recesses of the inner self. His 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 gradually turned non-representational. Later, in the late 70’s, he focused 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’.

One of the founders of the modern art movement in India, having co-founded the Progressive Artist’s Group in 1947 along with his contemporaries FN Souza, MF Husain and KH Ara, Raza sought to break free from the shackles imposed in Indian teaching system based on traditional Western ideals and techniques. Born in a forest village of Babaria in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where his father worked as a forest ranger, he first studied art in Nagpur (1939-43), and then at the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai (1946- 48). In 1950 he went to the Ecole National des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1950-53). All he wished initially was to see the artworks of van Gogh and Cézanne in the museums there, he has once revealed. He watched the opera, visited the ballet, and read Camus, Sartre, Rilke...

Among his selected shows are a solo at The Arts Trust, Mumbai (2012); 'Bindu Vistaar', Grosvenor Gallery, London (2012); 'Punaragaman', Vadehra Art Gallery and LKA, Delhi (2010); ‘Raza Ceramiques’, Galerie Flora J, Paris (2011); Galerie Patrice Trigano, Paris (2010); a show at RL Fine Arts, New York (2010); a retrospective courtesy Saffronart with Berkeley Square Gallery ((2007); ‘Celebrating 85 Years of a Living Legend’, a traveling exhibit at Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, India courtesy Aryan Art Gallery, Delhi (2007); selected works at Peter Louis Gallery, Paris (2008); ‘Retrospective 1952-91’, Palais Carnles, Musee de Menton, France;’ Lanyon Gallery, Palo Alto, California (1962); Galerie Dresdnere, Montreal (1959-60, 1962-68); Jehangir Art gallery, Mumbai (1959); Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris (1958, 61, 62, 64, 1967, 69); and Charles Petras’s Institute of Foreign Languages, Mumbai (1950); among others. His works have featured in joint exhibitions with Husain (2009, ‘Spirit of India’) at Kings Road Galleries, London; and with Manish Pushkale (2009’ 'Shanti: A Scream for Peace') at Bugno Art Gallery, Venice, and in 2004 at Guild Art, Mumbai. The world-renowned artist has participated in various landmark exhibitions including the Venice Biennale; Sao Paulo Biennale; John Moore’s Exhibition, Liverpool; First Triennale, Delhi; Salon De Mai, Grand Palais; and Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan.

Mumbai-based Art Musings presented a solo of his wonderful works late last year. Entitled ‘Vistaar’, it underlined how his oeuvre encompasses mystic aspects of Hindu philosophy. An accompanying note stated: “His art lends itself to such a quest for intensity: the compass of its scale meets the eye in an intimate encounter; the linear stroke, the chromatic pitch and the unspoken sound explode, not at the distance set by the frame, but within our minds. In his favored vocabulary of motifs, alongside cosmic references as the bija or seed, the bindu or focal source, the divya-chakshu or inner eye, and the kalpa vriksha or cosmic tree, the artist also dwells on the twinned nagas, the interlocking serpents emblematic of regeneration, and the yoni, the locus of the female principle.”

His early work was characterized by the use of thick impasto and depicted landscapes - far more representational than abstract. Gradually, his landscapes became ever more removed from reality before becoming totally abstract. The vivid colors and scenery of rural India remained with him long after he left the country. In fact, his strong ties to nature, especially the forests of Madhya Pradesh, remained at the root of his fabulous paintings, and manifested themselves predominantly through his usage of color. In the 1980s the artist distilled his landscapes into geometric blocks of color. The compositional elements and the vibrancy of colors used to represent the elements were central to his works from this period. Raza's canvases from the eighties onwards, which comprise combinations of geometrical shapes, alluded to the contemporary metamorphosis of an ancient tradition of the mandalas.

Raza’s practice is greatly influenced by his love for the rich Indian culture and belief system. On the eve of his recent visit to India, he quipped: “There used to be a great influence that of European realism. 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 or antargyan (knowledge of inner self).” 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 is in constant touch with the art scene in India and runs a foundation to promote young artists. He describes the contemporary Indian art scene as ‘very encouraging’ and is happy about the fact that contemporary Indian painters are fast rising in stature. Akhilesh, Manish Pushkale, Seema Ghuraiya, Sheetal Gatani, and Sujata Bajaj are among his favorite artists. The passionate painter believes if there’s truth in the painting, it will expose and assert itself, which in a way, forms the crux of his own practice.