PAST MAS­TER

India Today - - LEISURE - —Phal­guni De­sai

The new S.H. Raza ret­ro­spec­tive at Mum­bai’s Pi­ra­mal Mu­seum of Art goes fur­ther than most ex­hi­bi­tions to con­tex­tu­alise the painter’s work with archival ma­te­rial re­lat­ing to his life in In­dia and France and his di­a­logues with other artists. As a re­sult, says ex­hi­bi­tion cu­ra­tor and mu­seum direc­tor Ashvin Ra­jagopalan, the show cap­tures Raza’s evo­lu­tion as an artist, and helps view­ers con­nect the stylis­tic shifts seen in his paint­ings.

Born in 1922, Raza was a con­tem­po­rary of M.F. Hu­sain and F.N. Souza, among other no­table artists. To­gether, they founded the ‘Pro­gres­sive Artists’ Group’ (PAG) in 1947, a short-lived as­so­ci­a­tion of artists now ac­knowl­edged for their path-break­ing work. Their aim was to un­der­stand art from an in­de­pen­dent per­spec­tive. When Raza moved to Paris for a schol­ar­ship with the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he was known for his post-im­pres­sion­ist land­scapes and not the ‘bindu’ and other geo­met­ric mo­tifs for which he’s fa­mous to­day. This ret­ro­spec­tive ex­plains this stylis­tic shift.

“We ac­cessed ma­te­rial from three ar­chives: The Kr­ishen Khanna Ar­chive, the Ga­lerie Lara Vincy ar­chive and the Raza Foun­da­tion ar­chive,” says co-cu­ra­tor Vaish­navi Ra­manathan. Khanna, the Delhi-based artist and a mem­ber of the PAG, was also Raza’s close friend. On dis­play are let­ters ex­changed over 60 years of friend­ship be­tween the two—a throw­back to a time when artists ex­changed in­for­mal notes about their work. “Raza would write to Khanna about his ex­hi­bi­tions, and would urge Khanna to do sim­i­lar shows in­ter­na­tion­ally,” says Ra­manathan. The show fea­tures never-be­fore-seen ar­chives from Ga­lerie Lara Vincy of Paris, with whom Raza worked for most of his ca­reer. Trav­el­ling through Europe be­tween 1955 and 1970, Raza was in touch with Mme Vincy—dis­cussing paint­ings and ideas.

Also in­cluded are Raza’s cor­re­spon­dence with photography great Henri Cartier-Bres­son, who di­rected him to­wards post-im­pres­sion­ism and Cezanne, as well as a por­trait Cartier-Bres­son made of the In­dian painter. The Raza Foun­da­tion, started by the artist along with for­mer bu­reau­crat­poet Ashok Va­jpeyi, is the last stop for the ar­chive. It shares mo­ments from Raza’s time at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and charts out his as­so­ci­a­tions with In­dia, where he moved back for a few years be­fore his death in 2016.

Im­age courtesy: PI­RA­MAL MU­SEUM OF ART

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