Published in the catalogue by Apparao Galleries, 2002, pp. 4-10
The genesis of a new century, the conclusion of one epoch, the commencement of another. A time changed. Gone is the pure untainted India of yore, sealed off from the international arena, a contradiction to India’s own quest for modernity.
In today’s India, vexed questions of nation and identity are neither resolved nor silent. However, the polarities of internationalism and indigenous traditions while still ‘poles apart’ are closer to being reconciled, accommodating divergent elements. Also the spirit of post modernism, if not actual post-modernist practice allows for a non-hierarchical equation of categories. Kitsch, Myth, regional, folk, tribal, post-colonial, gender, political polemic can come together on the same platform, and reflect Indian multiculturalism. India now more than ever reflects a polycentric social order. Culture is no longer viewed as art mirroring life but a reality in itself.
Set against this backdrop of burgeoning international cosmopolitism stands Sayed Haider Raza. A reed, that sways and bends with the winds of time, he stands apart, seemingly untouched by the events that to the rest are all pervasive. A study in contradictions after a fashion, S.H Raza eschews the mundane and routine to seek to explore and portray the mystical and sensual. A man ‘of’ this world yet, ‘distant’ from it.
Today, pure forms, pure colour are a recurring theme in Raza’s work. Triangles, squares and the circle are leitmotifs which are Raza’s oeuvre. It is easy to put the label of ‘tantrik’ or ‘neo tantrik’ to his work, but for Raza it is the elements which engage him. He is absorbed with simple elementary forms which speak a universal language, and yet are symbols and metaphors for his own visual vocabulary. Beginning with the ‘Bindu’ which was his introduction to art by his school teacher Nandlaji Jhariya in the village of Kakaiya, in the Manda District of Madhya Pradesh the ‘Bindu’ has a variety of meanings for him. From the ‘shoonya’ which is the unmanifest to the ‘bindu’ which is the manifest, the circular form is this beginning and the end for Raza.
Of singular interest are the difficulties one faces in ascribing an “isim” to Raza. Beyond modern yet not postmodern. Postmodernism, displays contradictions, differences, plurality, synthesis, the hybrid and nihilism altogether, issues subsumed to the more fundamental in his works. Powerful and potent in their simplicity and candour, his paintings bespeak an intensely private, introspective and meditative journey that is as autobiographical as it is an exploration of that, which is beyond comprehension, that which is ‘without’. Raza is both the ‘rasa’ and the ‘rasika’. As an artist he creates work in which he positions not only himself but also takes the viewer into a meditative experience through the abstraction of his own perceptions.
If a crossing were to have a course the interplay of poetry, music and colour in Raza’s Sacred Search would be one of interdisciplinary delight. The full- blooded delight and joy in discovering colour and form, their myriad possibilities, the various ‘avatars’ or emanations, moods and temperaments lead the viewer into the internal world of Raza. Truly a painter’s painter he delves ever deeper into the cavernous, unfathomable depths of self-expression via the most time honoured of all means paint and canvas. His works bespeak of the Sadhak and his Sadhana.
Raza moves us as few can. In his realisation of the unknown he has created a visual vocabulary distinguished by its evocativeness, vitality and vibrancy.
Fifty years spent on distant shores in Paris and Gorbio, in the south of France, while taking him far from the country of his birth, served only to reinforce his undeniable devotion to and appreciation of all that he had left behind. The vanguard of what was to be contemporary art in India, Raza, embodies the cross fertilisation and grafting that was to distinguish it.
A painter who has retained his Indian sensibility, his is an impassioned language of colour and form, which evokes through the senses, poetry and music in painting. His images are improvisations on an essential theme: the mapping out of a metaphorical space in the mind, which is India. We are taken a full circle. The Bindu becomes enshrined as an icon, as sacred geography, restoring us to a sense of wholeness-be it the seed or the semen, the sun or as the harbinger of the Indian time cycle.
Traversing with colour was the beginning of Raza’s oeuvre and it is stull the high point in his work. His preoccupation with colour and form remains steadfast but the manifestations change along the path.
Nature was the main source of S.H Raza’s inspiration who grew up in Madhya Pradesh, spent his childhood in the dense forests of this state where his father was the forest warden. Rivers, the dense and verdant vegetation, the lakes share space on the canvas with mountains and the sun, with its potent inflexions of the forces of conception and obliteration, expressing his love for the same. When he introduces human figures into the narrative, they melt into the atmosphere, a part of the whole, rather than standing apart. The colours of the Indian countryside, verdant greens, pulsating yellow and ochre’s , temperate oranges, blistering reds and Vandyke’s, cool blues, iridescent ultramarines, mysterious purples, sparkling whites and warm creams dominate. Every brush stroke is a turn of phrase. Every line an integral part of the narrative.
The works, dating 1945-1950, show the emergence of Raza- from an expressionist landscape painter, using colour as a primary determinant of form, to an abstract painter, using geometric forms to highlight the visual impact of colours as evocative of different emotions. This process can be seen unfolding itself from his Kashmir landscapes of 1947-48 to an intermediate work, Dal Lake, of 1949, to an abstract composition of 1949 that reflects a clear departure to his present work.
Through the early sixties and late seventies nature becomes an idiom, a means of articulation. Raza’s abstractions are neither non-representational in the European sense nor ritualistic such as the tantric art of Hindu and Jain manuscripts. He traverses the winding path from expressionist landscapes to abstract symbolic art.
In early Indian philosophy, cosmic energy was symbolised by Nad, the primordial sound, which is described as the “inaudible sound.” Nad, in time, was visually hypostatised as Bindu (dot)-that is, as position without dimension. The Bindu thus contains within itself the two poles’ (zero and infinity) and all that lies between. The zero in Raza is manifest not in its minimalism but in its vast power. Its inherent energy contains all potentialities and all polarities. The radiating source of energy that generates all forms. It is the divine essence out of which proceeds the polarized world. It is called Bindu, the first drop, which spreads unfolds, and expands into the tangible realm of the universe.
It was in 1981 when he painted the iconic ‘Maa’ that the large circle of the bindu assumes a new and personal significance. It comes to represent his association with the country of his birth-of his motherland. The colours are brilliant. Courageous and bold, they blaze forth. Paintings such as ‘Maa’ and ‘Rajasthan’ articulate a link between the Rajasthani school of Mewar and Malwa from seventeenth century India. Startling in their intensity, the colours juxtaposed intrepidly, white, black, red and yellow come together in faultless concord.
The paintings of this phase are commanding, dominating creations that command attention. The brush strokes are fast and furious. Restiveness, vigour, vivacity, dynamism and force predominate.
As Raza moves into the closing decade of the millennium the abstraction in his work moves into a more contemplative and meditative tone. It shows the emergence of symbolic and ritual elements in traditional art as pure abstractions.
An impression of a supreme self-confidence, a concretization of purpose, the realisation of a goal, once only in sight on the far distant horizon, now within reach, dominates. Raza now is characterised by an almost preternatural calm, a clarity and lucidity, as stark and austere as it is refreshing and soothing. Harmony prevails. Genius revealed when one realises the perfection in composition and mood. His paintings, never chaotic, always well thought out and envisaged, achieve a pinnacle of conception. We are naturally taken with the Nad Bindu where he has come to the coherent and seemingly inevitable conclusion of expression. Colours bleed away, taking with them their distracting ambiance. What remains is a profoundly austere, silent image that resounds with a frequency all its own. Black at its centre, the bindu radiates outward, ever outward, the black fading and the impression of being drawn in grows stronger. Dialogue, a given in the case of Raza’s works, takes on a new significance.
The sacred search documents Raza’s visual vocabulary. It not only frames his work within a certain mapping but also initiates the viewer into the personal world of the artist himself. His own pre occupations with colour and forms, his inroads into the realm of geometry, into symbolism and continuous absorption with colour, it is never static or inert. It is constantly evolving, changing, transforming reaching out to new horizons, crossing boundaries and entering the realm of the spiritual. A spirituality which is not linked to religion but to a personal search.
As Raza ages with time he starts distilling life.
Published in the catalogue by Apparao Galleries, 2002, pp. 4-10