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This is a forum for sharing knowledge, gaining insights and shaping opinions. We will not sit on the fence here or play favorites. The language of art has changed in a blink of a year– today there are market makers, power brokers, savvy investors, flippers, fakes and fund managers. Collectors are nearly extinct. Why? Because collectors can see and COLLECTORS MIND. So together, let’s take a small step to make today’s buyers into tomorrow’s collectors. The future of art depends on it!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Souza come home

Works like Death of a Pope, Lovers, Red Moon and Birth triumphantly asserts Souza’s ability and places him as one of India’s foremost artist to have ever yielded a brush.

Souza’s contribution to Indian art is unchallenged and it is well known that he founded the progressive Artists’ Group in 1947 and laid the foundation upon which modern art in India was painstakingly constructed in the ensuing years by the original group of six [F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, M.F. Husain, K.H. Ara, H.A. Gade, S.K. Bakre] and their contemporaries [Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, Tyeb Mehta et al]

The art and life of Souza has been a great source of inspiration for me and to this day, I remain convinced that he was the greatest painter in India’s modern era. His style was fluid and experimental not stiff and academic. His lines were sure and strong – often economical but always bold.

Souza was often compared to Picasso for his subject and style - a comparison that Souza loathed. In an interview with Yashodhara Dalmia in 1992 he remarked, “As you know Picasso drew the human face. They were magnificent. But I have drawn the physiognomy way beyond Picasso, in completely new terms. These fellows gave up after Picasso and became abstract or they painted garbage cans, thereby avoiding the whole problem of finding a new draughtsman-ship. He stumped them and the whole of Western art into shambles. When you examine the human face I am the only artist who has taken it a step further.”

Whether Souza outdrew Picasso or not is debatable, what is not is the lack of patronage his art found in India. Just two years after forming the Progressives and despite the heady days post independence where a new language in art was being forged, Souza boarded a ship in 1949 and arrived penniless in London.

If it were not for certain Europeans like Stephen Spender and Harold Kovner, who regularly bought his paintings Souza may have become a fellow who drew designs for pillow-cases, cushions and petticoats – as was his tongue-in-cheek opinion of the fate of a professional painter in India. Fifty years later, not much has changed. We are still at the mercy of European patronage for ‘new’ art that is challenging the now established modern visual aesthetic. Seminal works by our best contemporary artists are in western collections. Pinault, Cohen, Saatchi and Burger are the ‘spenders’ of the 21st century.

To see a significant body of work we now have to travel to UK, France, Netherlands and even Japan and Korea where museum exhibitions show new art from India. Most have an exotic title such as 'Indian Summer', Hungry God, Indian Highway, Chalo! India, etc. Many of them are poorly researched and fall short of presenting a holistic view of contemporary art practices prevelant in India or wooing the audience. Yet it’s better than nothing. I have been a long time critic of ‘thematic’ group exhibitions or ‘national’ group exhibitions but I am much more sympathetic when it comes to our own. Until we take collective responsibility and affirmative action to create broad awareness and ignite genuine interest in art, we have little choice but to depend on Euro dollars to keep our sculptors from becoming seamsters.

The Art of Souza: Property from the Estate of Francis Newton Souza goes under the hammer at Christies, London on June 9, 2010. Of the 152 lots of offer I hope the real jewels including the cover lot comes home.