Goodbye S H Raza, The Painter Whose ‘Bindu’ Shall Remain Eternal

Read The Quint’s exclusive interview with the painter right after he won France’s highest civilian honour.

4 min read
 Raza busy painting in his studio in New Delhi. (Photo courtesy: Sahar Zaman)

S H Raza – the 94-year-old modern Indian artist and Padma Shri winner – breathed his last in France on late Friday. He was suffering from old-age-related ailments and had been in the ICU of a private hospital for the last two months. The following piece is a reproduction of The Quint’s exclusive interview with the internationally acclaimed painter in July 2015.

India’s ‘bindu’ artist, Syed Haider Raza, has finally got France’s highest civilian honour, the Legion d’Honneur. I say ‘finally’ because he made France his first home for almost six decades before he packed his bags and returned to India in 2010. Even the Indian government which is known to be slow with awarding artists, conferred the Padma Vibhushan on him, in 2013.

I am very happy that it came whenever it had to. I can’t say whether it was delayed or not.
Raza, Defending the French
 Raza being pinned the medal by French Ambassador Francios Richer, on behalf of the French President. (Photo courtesy: Sahar Zaman)
Raza being pinned the medal by French Ambassador Francios Richer, on behalf of the French President. (Photo courtesy: Sahar Zaman)

Now 93, he was sitting like a disciplined little boy in his studio, waiting for me to arrive for this interview. He paints every afternoon for a few hours, his daily ritual. As Ashok Vajpeyi, who has dedicated his life to Raza, says, “Like any normal person at this age, he has a few medical issues but the single minded dedication to his art is his driving force.”

The writer with Raza in his studio. (Photo courtesy: Sahar Zaman)
The writer with Raza in his studio. (Photo courtesy: Sahar Zaman)

That’s true of most artists from Raza’s generation. While MF Husain passed away at 96, painting till his last day, his other friends like Ram Kumar, Satish Gujral and Krishen Khanna are all 90 years old and exemplarily active!

There are so many disturbances in life but one has to concentrate on work. There’s radio, there’s television and newspapers – it’s all very helpful too and I’ve come to adopt myself to these various changes in modern life.

What about technology, don’t you try out smartphones and the web world, I ask.“Not so much. I realise its importance but I live a simple life and painting problems are the same, irrespective of technology.”

‘A Simple Life’

Simple indeed. He is one of India’s top selling artists, his most expensive work being Saurashtra, inspired by the forests of Madhya Pradesh, where he spent his childhood. He painted this in 1983 and it was auctioned for close to $3.5 million in 2010 at Christie’s.

Raza’s most expensive work <i>Saurashtra</i>. (Photo courtesy: Sahar Zaman)
Raza’s most expensive work Saurashtra. (Photo courtesy: Sahar Zaman)

While his brand name in the market brings along its benefits, he has chosen to use his status to create a platform for future artists, in the form of the Raza Foundation. Most other successful master artists in India have failed to do this.

Because I was very poor, I understand the struggle. The foundation has talented artists who deserve encouragement. People like Ashok Vajpeyi (eminent art critic and poet), are very competent in taking care of this organization, I hope it grows. We promote artists, offer scholarships, put up exhibitions… In my early days, I could sell a painting for 40 rupees in the 1950s but still be glad. 

Raza’s Style and Inspiration

Raza’s style in art is original and instantly recognisable. His ‘bindus’ (dot) and other patterns pertaining to the cycle of life, landscapes and tantric elements are his unique signature style. Often misunderstood by people as mere geometric patterns!

It concerns me but it doesn’t disturb me. The explanation of modern art is very complex. I show all over the world, in NY, Europe, India and it is well received everywhere. 

He shares with me why the ‘bindu’ has been with him throughout his life. In his art, it the ‘bindu’ signifies the seed of life, the fulcrum of all creation. In his life, it was a Eureka moment.

This happened in school when my teacher made a bindu as asked me to concentrate on it, each time I have a problem. This remained with me forever.

In his mind, the conflict of having spent his life in France with his art dedicated to India is well resolved.

France has given me what is most important – the understanding of the relation of colours. I’m grateful that it was possible for me to learn that which I would not have if I stayed back in India.
The writer with Raza in his studio. (Photo courtesy: Sahar Zaman)
The writer with Raza in his studio. (Photo courtesy: Sahar Zaman)

Witty, sharp and original is what he should always be remembered as. And flirtatious too. I missed a couplet being dedicated to me this time, but each time my question was inaudible to him, he replied, “You are beautiful”!

(Sahar Zaman is an independent arts journalist, newscaster and curator. She has founded Asia’s first web-channel on the arts, Hunar TV)

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