It's the evening of September 16 and there is a palpable buzz around Gallery Arts India on Fifth Avenue, New York; a certain nervous excitement, the kind that would befit the arrival of the Warrior Christ moments before Armageddon. In a rare occasion, India's legendary SH Raza is set to unveil some of his new (and old) artworks outside his home-base of Paris, in an exhibition entitled 'Prakriti: Nature And Its Elements', alongside the paintings of artist Sujata Bajaj.
"India is full of rich icons and symbols that have no parallel elsewhere. Consider the Purush-Prakriti symbols that are everywhere in our temple sculptures. Or the idea of the Kundalini, the source of energy. Or Pancha Tatava - the five elements that constitute Nature," says Raza. "I use these icons in my work and I try to understand how they relate to each other."
Having moved to Paris over fifty years ago, Raza reminisces, "I was never interested in going to London or New York. But Paris always attracted me. When I came to Paris in 1950, I spent a lot of time at the museums and the galleries and talking to other artists. There were a number of Indian artists in Paris in those days - Paritosh Sen, Ram Kumar, and later Akbar Padamsee came…Cartier-Bresson had also said to me that I should study the paintings of Cezanne and I spent years trying to understand how Cezanne constructed his paintings, not to copy but to find my own language. France taught me how to paint."
Of course what's become synonymous with Raza is the 'bindu'. "Starting in 1975, I started focusing on the Bindu. And that has been the central focus of my work in the years since," he says of his calling card. "Bindu to me is about beginning, it is the seed from which the tree grows, it is the egg from which comes the child, it is to painting what Om is to meditation and music."
Feeling that Indian art is currently seeing a Renaissance, adds Raza, "And I am very hopeful." He pauses to reflect. "Painting is like doing Sadhana; you have to do it for years before you find your language. I want to paint in the way that Mozart wrote music. Mozart would say 'I want to find notes that are happy together.' Similarly, I want to find colours that are happy together."
Was born in 1922 in Babaria, MP.
Founding member of the Progressive Artists Group in India.
Awarded the Prix de la Critique in Paris in 1956, and the Padma Shri in 1981.
His highest priced work, Lot 255, sold for Rs 63,08,640.