Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A doyen of contemporary Indian art who turned it on its ‘head’

Best known for his inventive and stark, strong and bold human forms especially the heads, legendary artist FN Souza’s work is often evaluated and analyzed within the context of many of his great Indian contemporaries, the Progressives in particular - a group of which he was also a founding member.

It is important to recognize their shared passion to break away from conservative teachings following India’s Independence in 1947. And when his work is placed alongside those of such doyens as Raza, Akbar Padamsee and MF Husain, the similarities are palpable. It does not sit within any one single frame of thought.

Like many other great artists of the 20th Century, Souza was never daunted by clutches of tradition. Instead of becoming wary of contemporary visual culture, he skillfully adopted various notions and diverse visual references from such sources as the old masters, and commercial imagery – deftly appropriating them to create his own unique works.

Born in Goa in 1924 he joined Sir J.J. School of Art from where he was expelled for taking part in the Quit India Movement in 1942. The rebel artist made London his home in the time period of 1949-67, with intermittent stays in Paris and Rome, after which he moved to the US, settling in New York where he lived till his death in 2002.

The social context within which the legendary artist lived and created his art and his immense strength of character imparted a different dimension to his work. From the early childhood, with the death of both his father and sister, he struggled against adversity. He fought against conservatism to achieve international fame.

Souza’s zest for new ideas and newer techniques never abated, reflecting in his usage of light boxes to project images onto canvases, and also his initial experimentation with curious chemical solvents, acrylics and monochrome painting. Apart from being a prolific painter, he was also known as a capable writer, poet and philosopher.

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