Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Facets of late M. F. Husain’s personality

Paying a rich tribute to him, art connoisseur-collector Harsh Goenka stated (quoting The TOI essay): “Husain had his feet firmly on the ground, literally! A familiar figure seen at local 'chai' shops, he was equally at ease eating at Bhendi Bazaar’s (a central Mumbai locality) roadside stalls as at five-star restaurants, absorbing their sights & sounds and smells seamlessly, which went a long way in ensuring market penetration of ‘Brand Husain’ to cut across a broad social spectrum.

Artist Ganesh Pyne recounted that he worked at tremendous speed. More importantly, Husain was forward-looking and never looked back, he added. Jogen Chowdhury termed the great artist’s life ‘a rags to riches story’, remembering he signed many of his paintings related to Bengal in Bengali.

Akabar Padamsee came across Husain in the late 1940s when Raza, Souza and Tyeb Mehta were also at the Sir JJ School of Art. Underlining his role and legacy, Padamsee remarked that Husain was chiefly responsible for the art prices going up. When Bal Chhabra launched Gallery One in Mumbai in 1959, Husain was not happy that Raza’s works were priced at Rs 2,000 whereas he had put them up for Rs 700, at the inaugural group show.

When he was struggling he never complained, nor did Husain flaunt his wealth after becoming famous. He had a habit of wandering around, remembered Krishen Khanna. Indifferent to both politics and religion, he treated the gods and goddesses as visual stimuli. His cavalier treatment of them earned him the hatred of hardcore Hindu nationalist groups, which mounted a campaign against him in the 1990s. His deities painted in the nude, first in the 1970s, invited charge of obscenity.

Husain spent much of his time trying to defend himself against legal actions, and finally left his home country, pained by a spate of notices, cases and threats to his life. He inflicted a self-imposed exile, later becoming a citizen of Qatar. In 2008, the Supreme Court set aside a plea to prosecute him.

In spite of assurances of security from the Government of India, he did not come back. He had revealed: “I would have fought this tooth & nail, at the age of 40. But I just wished to focus on my work at this age. For the creator, these boundaries are merely political in nature. We belong to the whole world. And whatever I’ve done is so with conviction. If someone has felt hurt, I regret. However, my conscience is clear.”

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