Details & Cataloguing

Boundless: India


Sayed Haider Raza
1922 - 2016
Signed, dated and inscribed 'RAZA / 1982 / 80 X 80 CMS' on reverse 
Acrylic on canvas
31 ½ x 31 ½ in. (80 x 80 cm.)
Painted in 1982
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Private Collection, France
Acquired from the above by the current owner

Catalogue Note

According to author and art historian, Michel Imbert who was a close friend and neighbor of Raza and his wife, Janine Mongillat, the original owners of this painting were also part of Raza’s intimate circle of friends living between Paris and Gorbio. They began collecting Raza’s work in the 1950s and were instrumental as lenders to two mid-career exhibitions taking place in 1985. This was part of the 'Year of India' celebrations taking place throughout France.  “They were savvy collectors from the beginning, who knew very early on how to choose relevant works highlighting the strength and diversity within Raza's oeuvre. The close friendship led them to collect in greater depth by allowing them to choose remarkable works at each stage of Raza’s artistic evolution, thus making their collection of Raza one of the most accomplished in France during its time. (Correspondence with Michel Imbert, 30 October 2018)

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).

This painting is from a creative peak in Raza's oeuvre that illustrates his progression towards total abstraction, and the geometry born from the precepts of Hindu philosophy. ‘His fascination with nature and his concept of the earth as sacred – as mandala – were to find expression again and again as his work evolved in response to his return […] as the new Indian experience.’ (G. Sen, Bindu: Space and Time in Raza's Vision, Media Transasia, New Delhi, 1997, p. 92). This series of paintings demonstrates his cherished memories of India while a new type of abstraction emerges. As with Rajasthan, Saurashtra, Paysage and other landscapes painted during this period, the current lot is 'a metaphor for the colours of India: of vibrant greens and vermilion and ochres, as also blacks. [it] is the mapping out of a metaphorical space in the mind which is then enclosed with a broad border in bold vermilion - as also happens to be the case in Rajput paintings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The image becomes thus enshrined as an icon, a sacred geography.’ (ibid. p. 98).

With his abstract expressionist phase, Raza’s turns to using earth tones, a progression from his earlier brightly painted compositions, the palette knife is replaced once again by the paintbrush, the thick impasto with a thin translucent veneer made possible by the use of acrylic paint. Raza’s well-balanced paintings go beyond simply organising space on a surface with pigment and line, they express a human feeling. They also capture the joy with which Raza handled paint when he put brush to canvas, which gives the viewer an insight into the artist’s mood at the time.

As the artist states "Paintings done between the 80s and now appear to me the most convincing part of my work ... I was suggesting an inner climate which I experienced at the centre, with the sum total of living experience that could come out on the canvas and that could be the suggestion of what was intrinsically important in life experience." (S.H. Raza and A. Vajpeyi, Passion: Life and Art of Raza, Raj Kamal Prakashan Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2005, p. 75). Raza’s art belongs to that generation of painters who sincerely strove for personal expression and individualism. It is less important whether Raza was the original discoverer of this style, but what is significant is that it represents a new understanding. Raza’s paintings like  Shakespeare’s poems, make the viewer’s emotions correspond with his poetry.

Boundless: India