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Sayed Haider Raza

Born 1922. Died 2016.
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Sayed Haider Raza Biography

Born in India in 1922, Sayed Haider Raza was one of the co-founders of the Progressive Artists’ Group, which was created to further explore the precepts of modernism that were not encouraged in art schools at the time.

By the 1940s, Raza had already successfully deployed light and color in his works to convey the way in which landscapes resonated around him. In 1950, Sayed Haider Raza left for Paris with a bursary from the French Government to study at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Whilst in Paris, Raza achieved commercial success and in 1956 was awarded the prestigious Prix de La Critique, which provided Raza with international recognition. During his stay in France Raza was moved by the post-impressionists; Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne and Paul Gaugin. He started to use more oil-based pigments and his work became more about the mood that color evoked.

In 1962, Raza moved to America to teach at Berkley were he came into contact with many American painters; Sam Francis, Jackson Pollok and Mark Rothko. These artists employed Abstract Expressionism and Raza began to paint with abstract narratives and a deeper sense of spatial recession.

Raza's abstract landscapes of the 1970s and early 1980s were influenced not only by the French countryside, but also represented a visual expression of the artist's own meditations, clearly inspired by childhood memories of India. "Sometime between 1975 and 1980, I began to feel the draw of my Indian heritage. I thought: I come from India, I have a different vision; I should incorporate what I have learned in France with Indian concepts. In this period, I visited India every year to study Indian philosophy, iconography, magic diagrams (yantras), and ancient Indian art, particularly Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain art. I was impressed by paintings from Basholi, Malwa, and Mewar, and began combining colours in a manner that echoed Indian miniature painting." (S.H. Raza in conversation with Amrita Jhaveri, Sotheby's Preview, March/April 2007 p. 57).

1981 marked the cusp of Raza’s progression towards formal geometric compositions dominated by their color and shape. He started to use more earthy tones rather than his earlier brightly painted compositions. “For black was the mother of all colors and the one from which all others were born. It was also the void from which sprang the manifest universe [...] Some of the most haunting works of this period are those which evoke the night [...] where the liminal sheaths of black are illuminated by sparks of white light [...] As with Mark Rothko, black is one of the richest colors in Raza’s palette and signifies a state of fulsomeness. However, for both painters, colors plumb the depths and are not simply used for their own sake.” (Y. Dalmia, ‘The Subliminal World of Raza’, A Life in Art: S.H. Raza, Art Alive, New Delhi, 2007, p. 197).

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