The present work by Francis Newton Souza belongs to a notable body of landscapes painted during the 1960s. These are characterised by sweeping brushstrokes and the deliberate use of dark, powerful impasto. Ostensibly informed by the church-studded countryside of Cumberland, this work is nevertheless reminiscent of the steepled, Catholic landscape of Souza’s native Goa. Glimpses of a densely packed horizon are seen through the trees in the foreground, and distant buildings are picked out by their sharply gabled roofs and singular, jewel-like tonality. By incorporating the spiritual influences of his childhood within tightly ordered compositions, Souza has created a body of work where religion and Modernity coexist. The sprawling branches of a sylvan landscape become the leaded strips of a stained-glass window, the brightly-hued buildings its coloured panes.
The artist somehow imbues the intrinsic asymmetry of nature with a painterly coherence. The much-lauded grid of modernity is exploded to explore the geometry of a wild space, while the swirling, nebulous sky captures the drama of the rural sublime. A far cry from the bucolic idyll of the Pastoral genre, this work is an exploration of the tension between structural forms, both natural and man-made.
After moving to England in 1949, Souza was granted a government scholarship and research trip to Europe. Plunged into the complex and vibrant cityscapes of Rome and Amsterdam, Souza’s experience of various metropoles across the continent was evidently an important source of inspiration. Cumberland is a dynamic example of the artist’s enduring fascination with skylines, but one that remains deeply rooted in the post-war moment of disrupted discourses and shattered forms. The limited palette also attests his mastery of linear and geometric configuration, and exemplifies the dialectic between restraint and absolute freedom of expression which characterises the artist’s work.
Noted critic Edwin Mullins states that Souza has 'succeeded in creating images which are entirely personal, yet recognizable at the same time. They are often distorted to the point of destruction - houses no more than lopsided cubes...but they never threaten to dissolve into formalized abstract shapes. The violence and speed with which they were executed keep these images, however distorted, in touch with the painter's vision of what they really are.' (E. Mullins, Souza, Anthony Blond Ltd., London, 1962, p. 37).