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Modern & Contemporary Indian Art Modern & Contemporary Indian Art F.N. SOUZA (1924 - 2002)
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Souza’s 1956 painting ‘Crucifixion’ depicts the figure of a woman holding up a candle to the crucified figure of Christ. The metaphor of light here stands for knowledge and the ensuing announcement of Christ’s resurrection. The atmosphere is that of a somber and desolate night scene, complete with rustic buildings, lush greenery and a clear ultramarine sky, reminiscent of the French towns Souza had visited. The woman represented here, in all probability, finds its biblical connotation in the character of Mary Magdalene, the alleged companion and disciple of Christ. It freezes the presence of Magdalene on the eve of the hapless night of Crucifixion. The rationale behind this assumption is drawn from the parallel it finds in the portrait of Dora Maar and the fact that Souza deliberately chose this particular style to represent the character of Mary Magdalene, who was considered highest among all since she was commissioned to carry the message of Christ’s Resurrection. In many ways she is revered with equal piety as the intellectual counterpart of Christ, as Dora Maar was to Picasso.
From the collection of a prominent industrialist of Madras, who had acquired it in London during a visit in 1962 (original frame with gallery label partially visible).
“Souza’s art lies in his power to strengthen the eye's image of this world by distorting it, until it becomes merely the language by which his own mental images are expressed, and the common ground on which we may come to terms with them. For although Souza is a figurative painter, nothing about his art is descriptive; there is no celebration of nature, no attempt to capture the effect of a sunset, no concern whatsoever with what is "particular" in life. Above all, there is nothing romantic about his paintings.” –Mullins
Critics Edwin Mullins and David Sylvester compared Souza's expressionism with that of Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon, both of whom had depicted religious subject matter in a similarly brutal style shortly after the Second World War. Comparisons were also drawn with the stylistic renditions of artists like Georges Roulalt and Pablo Picasso (specifically works of late 30s-40s). The true roots of Souza's art, lies as much entrenched in the stylistic variations of Rouault and Picasso as in the Spanish and Portuguese Byzantine imagery. Much of his art retains the stiff, hieratic quality of Byzantine church imagery. But what was most stunning about his works was the successful marriage of Western and Indian Aesthetics. Souza’s art is indebted to the ingenious manipulation of flat surfaces seen in the miniature paintings as well as the treatment of voluptuous sensuality evident in the temple sculptures of India. As he himself said “I... create modern Indian erotic art with its roots in the medieval temple sculpture of Khajuraho and Konark, and make it flower into an entirely contemporary expression."
In the 1950s, London was still recovering from the devastation of the Second World War. The situation in Paris, was not much different, yet, it presented a thriving scene for young artists on the search for the avant-garde. Souza was invited to Paris on a scholarship, which proved to be an important opportunity for him to be acquainted with the masterminds of the Parisian art scene. Also the prevalent Parisian art milieu of the 1950s generated much inspiration to Souza with its creative dynamism. It was an environment enriched by a successive legion of artists, the most renowned of all being Picasso - the Spanish giant who dominated the 20th century art movements with his sheer talent for innovation. Like many of his own generation, Souza too was naturally impressed by him and had been preemptive enough to assert:
"I am the next greatest living artist after Picasso."
‘Dora Maar au chat’ by Picasso dating from 1941 is a portraiture of Dora Maar, his lover and artistic companion. She was like an intellectual force. Their partnership was an electrified exchange of intellect and passion that stimulated as well as challenged Picasso. A reputed artist and photographer at her own right, Dora shared his political concerns and was the only muse he considered to be his equal. She famously assisted Picasso in the execution of his monumental painting ‘Guernica’ and produced the only photodocumentary of the work in progress.