Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002)
- Francis Newton Souza
Signed and dated 'Souza 57' upper middle
Oil on board
- 29 1/2 by 24 in. (75 by 61 cm.)
Gifted to the present owner's mother by the artist as a self-portrait
Souza’s work is often evaluated within the context of his Indian contemporaries, namely the Progressives, of which he was a founding member. Whilst it is important to recognize the group's shared passion, it is less clear to assess the level of inspiration that Souza derived from his Indian contemporaries' work. Furthermore shortly after his arrival in London in 1949 his inspiration becomes hugely diverse. As art critic John Berger states, ‘he straddles many traditions but serves none.’ (John Berger, New Statesman, 1955).
The format used by Souza in this work is one that he used repeatedly, that of a head and torso painted against a flat background. Such a composition has its origins in religious iconography, a format that was first adopted during the Renaissance by such artists as Titian, whose works Souza would have seen first hand in the National Gallery in London. However, although the influence of Byzantine painting and the Old Masters are evident, the finished painting is clearly completed in Souza's own unique style.
'Around 1955 he fashioned for his purpose a distinctive type of male head for which he is perhaps best known. It is a face without a forehead, bearded and pock-marked, eyes bulging from the sides of the skull like a frog’s, a mouth full of multiple sets of teeth.' (Geeta Kapur, Contemporary Indian Artists, New Delhi, 1978, p 2).
These distinctive aggressive male heads were built up from thick black lines cross hatched on either side, a structural technique that fascinated him throughout the 50s. 'My Drawings and paintings are made of little structure: two parallel lines cross-hatched on either side ... All my work - still lives, landscapes, portraits and compositions are based on this principle...' (F. N. Souza, "Encounter," February 1955). Alkazi somewhat implausibly associates the form with 'a woman's private parts', whilst others have seen the influence of early European etchings in the technique. Souza himself states of the form 'The two lines cross-hatched on either side is a spinous vertebrae that became life...It is the beginning, the end and the beginning. The lines cross and divide each other or remain undivided or uncrossed. They form and transform into many forms. They spread out like the sun's rays and fall like the magnitude of its shadow engulfing everything with dark and light...' (F. N. Souza, Words and Lines, My Friend and I, London, 1959, p. 24).