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Opening Thursday September 8

rom 9 to 9pm

September 9 - October 8, 2022

Celebrating 100 years of Raza!

Sayed Haider Raza left Bombay for Paris in 1950. Yet, it is little known that before he left, he was already a force to reckon with. Having quickly mastered the art of commercial landscape painting and academic art, he began to showcase his work in Bombay’s art society salons where he was promptly deemed a rising star. As the air of political liberation swept through the country, Raza found himself increasingly drawn towards the call for Independence. In less than 5 years of self-training, he banded together with like-minded artists to form the Progressive Artists Group (PAG)—one of India’s earliest Modernist alliances—in 1947. He even held exhibitions with them where he tried his hand at Cubism. Modernism, he believed, was the answer when it came to the future of art in newly Independent India. Yet, Raza was never wholly satisfied—not with where he was or what he knew about Modern Art. Determined to learn more, he applied to École Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris where he studied from 1951 till 1953 on a scholarship.

Paris was new and an open-ground for experimentation. The colourful, expressionistic watercolour landscapes of Kashmir that Raza painted towards the end of his time in Bombay now gave way into sombre, abstract landscapes floating in time and space. In gouache and what was perhaps the very first time, oils, Raza composed unusual, monochromatic pieces of buildings, houses and the Western urban cityscape. Although not thematically different from the subject matter he worked on in Bombay, his initial paintings in Paris reveal his formal art school training. Soon, Raza presented his first exhibition—a group show along with his artist friends, F N Souza and Akbar Padamsee. The show was a success.

Yet, time was ticking! As Raza’s scholarship came to an end, he found himself engaged in designing book covers and illustrations. It was at this point that he was noticed by the famed gallerist, Lara Vincy. In what can be said to be a defining moment in Raza’s career, she signed him on and began to sell his artworks. In 1955, Raza held his first exhibition with Galerie Lara Vincy. And just one year later, in 1956, he won the prestigious Prix de la Critique, becoming the only foreign artist to have won it back then. Shortly thereafter, his works turned into confident oil paintings of landscapes. Using thick impasto strokes, Raza painted what he saw outside his window—the river, villages around him, churches; particularly churches perhaps because they were a reminder of the Gothic buildings back in South Bombay. But stylistically, his paintings came to embody French abstract art of the 1940s and 50s. As he learnt to find his footing, Raza began showcasing his works internationally.

In the early 1960s a new opportunity came knocking. Raza was asked to teach for a brief period at the University of California in Berkeley. And so he travelled to America where he was introduced to the works of colour-field painters such as Mark Rothko and minimalists such as Frank Stella. After his teaching stint in California, Raza was invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to spend time in New York. The works of American abstractionists had a profound effect on Raza’s artistic sensibility. When he got back to Paris, he began examining his practice and style. How can he make his works his own at the same time adhere to American abstract principles? His paintings started becoming less expressionist, and more thin, runny and almost washed out. He was back in Paris but he wasn't painting what he was seeing. At least, not anymore. A new vision occupied his mind. And he wished more than anything, for his paintings to be able to transport viewers and become transformative experiences. Slowly, he began summoning memories of landscapes back home. And the world of Indian miniature painting found a way into his canvases. Raza began composing his paintings using borders and divisions like Indian miniaturists. He now knew that he was onto something—his own visual language.

For the next four decades, Raza continued to live and work in France. His constant travels back to India combined with memories of his homeland provided him with fresh ideas to navigate the field of Modern Art. He became extremely popular in India, exhibiting frequently there and across Europe. This exhibition is a homage to the artist’s relationship with Galerie Lara Vincy as well as an exploration of his artistic journey while in France.