A founding member of the celebrated Progressive Artists’ Group, Sayed Haider Raza left India on a government scholarship to Paris in 1950. There, he became a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts and was exposed to the Post-Impressionist artists, most notably Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh. Raza admired how such artists used colour to structure their paintings, something which greatly influenced his own artistic production. In 1962, Raza moved to America to teach at Berkeley. He witnessed for the first time, the Abstract Expressionism employed by Jasper Johns, Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Seeing the artistic production of these Expressionists furnished Raza with a greater artistic autonomy over his own pictorial space.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Raza employed the precepts of Abstract Expressionism, and was increasingly drawn, both emotionally and philosophically, toward his native land. He began a series of paintings titled La Terre or ‘The Earth’, of which Le Grain et La Terre is a compelling example. “… 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” (Raza in conversation with Amrita Jhaveri, Sotheby's Preview Magazine, March/April 2007, p. 57)
His paintings of ‘The Earth’ are marked by their use of vivid colour, used to represent the elements of nature. Talking about colour in his work, Raza states, “The variations are infinite; the mysteries are total. In painting the five Elements we use the five colours: black, white, yellow, red and blue, giving birth to a vision of nature. But the most perfect orchestration of colour and form is insufficient if the painting is not invested by profound feeling. This is possible only in an elevated state of direct perception - manasa pratyakshata. How this miracle happens, how this state of mind is achieved, how one feels – not even the artist knows. However, the best of poetry, the finest music, the most significant art takes place in this “état de grace”. (S. H. Raza quoted in G. Sen, Bindu, Space and Time in Raza’s Vision, Media Transasia Ltd., New Delhi, p. 11)
Painted in 1988, the current work illustrates Raza’s increasing propensity to pure abstraction and a geometry born from the precepts of Hindu philosophy. The square canvas is divided into many parts by horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines, creating complex intersecting triangles and segments. A black Bindu is lower centre, housed within this intricate geometrical composition. For Raza, the Bindu represents the creative seed from which all life emerges, and this beautifully rendered work is an early example of Raza’s exploration into this powerful symbolism. Raza states “the obscure black space is charged with latent force aspiring to fulfilment. Like the universal order of the earth-seed relationship, the original form of the Bindu emerges and unfolds itself in black space. All inherent forces unite. A vertical line intersects a horizontal line, engendering energy and light. Space is charged." (ibid, p. 107) The Bindu in the current work is ‘Le Grain’ of the painting’s title; the seed of his artistic philosophy. ‘Between 1975 and 1982 Raza realised that – with the Bindu as its starting point – a relationship between geometry, space, colour and Indian aesthetics is possible. A new horizon opened up before him’. (M. Imbert, Raza: An Introduction to his Painting, Rainbow Publishers Ltd., Noida, 2003, p. 51)
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