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Raza@100: He carried his jungle everywhere and remained lost in it


Noted painter Akhilesh talks about his long association, exchanges and interaction with Syed Haidar Raza

Editor’s Note: Abir Pothi is excited to bring you book excerpts from Raza: Jaisa Maine Dekha by noted artist Akhilesh published by Rajkamal Prakashan, where he has sketched with words his long association with Syed Haidar Raza from the authors early days to Razas last. We thank Akhilesh for allowing us to translate and use excerpts for Abir readers. This is special because Raza would have entered his 100th year in 2021. It is a useful book for art lovers and, specially, young artists as they get a ringside view of the journeys of two artists crossing, connecting and sometimes entwining their paths and destinations. We are bringing it in five parts. This is the last of five-part series.

You can read the first , the second, second , the third  and the fourth part of this series here.

Raza had begun to like the art world of Paris. Money was in short supply. Sale of his works was in hands of the gallery, Lara Vinchy, and as it happens with all galleries of the world, it was not able to give Raza enough assurance that he could be free from financial worries. Raza found a place where he could teach Hindi. He also occasionally earned some money by doing some design work. His friends helped in that and sometimes he was helped by his peers from his art school, École des Beaux-Arts. Akbar Padamsee had moved into Paris. Ram Kumar was already there. These three friends met once or more in a week and talked about art at Louvre or other museums. Sometimes they met on picnics and at others in Raza’s small studio.

Once Husain came to Paris and he took along Raza and Akbar to buy a very elegant bridal dress and invited both his friends to join him in his marriage. He also bought a Beetle car and the idea was to drive down to Prague, where the bride Maria was waiting for Husain. Husain wanted the three friends to have this car ride and to have them around for the event. Raza liked this plan and he was waiting for Akbar to agree for this. Husain was very excited. He had made up his mind to divorce his wife Fazila, now that Maria was now ready. Akbar expressed his inability to join in. On the other hand, Raza had to excuse himself because Janine’s father was not well and he was to be attended. Now Husain went to Prague on his car alone. However, Maria changed her mind and refused to marry him. Husain returned after gifting her the dress and also the car.

Raza’s work had gradually begun to take shape. Raza’s mind was never out of his childhood and he found himself lonely in Paris. If Janine wasn’t around him, it would have been more difficult for him. Janine kept encouraging, motivating him besides helping him through difficult times and dilemmas. Raza’s paintings had begun to speak more clearly now. While describing nature in his paintings, his relationship with nature was getting into a deeper configuration. He was able to read complex codes of nature and turn them into language of colour and art. This was not just a visual description. Nor a realist depiction. Raza was able to find hints of art in nature, which made his paintings possible. Colours were no more mysterious. There were no complex secrets of design. Intuitive wisdom had become his source.

Raza’s seeing and painting was getting into a rhythm. Raza remembered his days of impoverishment and he was not able to earn much in France. That he could manage his day-to-day expense, scrap his life through, buy canvas and colours was just barely possible then. And in that situation, he used to call his patrons to his studio to help his friend Ram Kumar. This buyer used to buy Raza’s works occasionally. Raza told him about Ram Kumar’s work and insisted that the buyer should check out his (Ram Kumar’s work) and could buy if he liked them. He was hopeful that the buyer would take one or two works of Ram Kumar. When he came, Raza left the studio, so that the buyer doesn’t get distracted from Ram Kumar’s to Raza’s works and change his mind. The buyer liked Ram Kumar’s works and bought some as well.


Meanwhile, Raza’s paintings were becoming lonelier. They were more than landscapes.  His innate ability to paint stillness, emptiness and their glory was also connecting him to his mysterious, strange, unresolved, unnamed issues of childhood.

Paul Gauthier writes about these works, “If you look at them analytically, one can see the basic structure of these paintings. The motive of not differentiating between artistic and physical worlds leads to yet another beginning of monotheism from ancient philosophy. In fact, there is no western challenge to physical and mental, body and soul here. The elements which are here, exist here in their fundamental forms. The origin and the medium are both same.”

“The Bindu as base of all conscious lives is the original source of energy and power and it is where all the five elements (earth, fire, water, sky, wind). Accordingly, to these five elements, there are five sources to light, which are mixed by becoming base colours in the rays of the sun.”

“The inter-relation amongst the re-attainment of eternity of the base circle of creation, its movement and rhythm in a pronounced form and its discipline forms the base of these recurring forms in the paintings. The circular movement is a form of world’s movement, disrupted by the dark shapes of night. But the same black colour becomes threshold of life in its foggy form in his painting Greeshm (Summers). Black colour attracts with its mystery and the artists wants to go to the depth of this mystery and find meanings continuously from there. Thus, black colour is not the last point of these canvas’s movement, but become the mysterious origin source of the cycle. By reaching the ancient source of colours, Raza’s canvas reveal the deepest truth of arts through the ancient form provided by his each brush stroke.”

The Bindu Paul Gauthier was seeing hints of in Raza’s work, had not surfaced yet. I also wanted to remind here, that I had strongly felt this when I spent three days seeing his work in Bhopal, that Raza begins every work of his with black colour.


I was telling Haren and Qadir on the bus on our way back to Indore from Bhopal with excitement and enthusiasm. This was verified when I spent time with him in Paris and saw him working. Raza was excited about my visit there. Raza used to visit India every year and he habitually would offer an invite to any young artist who he felt confident about. This was discontinued after an accident. After many years at the behest of Janine, he invited me and arranged to live in their house. Many years back one Goan artist reached Paris at their invitation. Raza and Janine looked after him. From paying for him to helping him learn French, to his food and lodging arrangement. After every possible help, offering everything they could, they sent him to London for his unreasonable excitement and lack of serious and long art experience.

The sad step he took after returning made Raza and Janine decide that they will not invite any young artist to Paris. Thirty years after this event, at a dinner in Mumbai Janine herself invited me to Paris. I was going to Tawson University for three months to give a lecture and coordinate an exhibition. Janine wanted me to stop over on my return. Raza who hadn’t invited any young artist for all these years, was very happy with Janine’s sudden proposal and left eating to write an invitation letter for the visa process. Thus, when I reached Paris and spent time with him, I also saw him painting in his studio.

I felt validated when I saw him starting his paintings with black colour. I had theorised about it before actually seeing or knowing about it. This black colour is his colour of memory, which is also the solitude of a dense jungle. Raza had a particular way of putting the colour on canvas. He will not paint a big black circle with a big brush. He would use a relatively small brush and begin with a small dot and then keep brushing gently agains the canvas over hours like a seasoned practice in deep concentration. Sometimes it may take 2 or 3 days. He will be focussed on it. When he does this, the shape and form doesn’t look superficial and flat, but rather becomes full of electricity, sensitivities and emotions. I specially felt it when I saw him painting that he is conversing with lines, colours, shapes, picture and scene. This conversation of his with lines, colours, shapes, is the interface with nature. This interface is also a conversation with the self, his experiences and unresolved secrets, which are chasing him since childhood.

It was not easy for Raza to relate to the differences existing in colours and his surroundings. He was hard working and could concentrate for long. Being lost was one task for him and, in the process, knowing a bit about himself was the second task. He found his concentration in losing himself in those scenes. As if he is meandering in the jungles of his childhood. The mystique is his attraction. Everything is hidden there. Nothing is revealed. The identity is behind a curtain, and when he removes the curtain, it begins to hide behind another curtain. It was a continuous game of opening and finding. It has the satisfaction of finding, without actually finding it. Satisfaction of opening it, without actually opening it. His childhood memories were so deeply ingrained that it was not possible for Raza to outgrow and come out of them. Nor did he desire to ever come out of them. There was this passion in him, to attain what was driving him. In this new setting, he seemed to settle down in the company of Janine. Raza was resolute and with hard work, was bringing newer meanings to his paintings. They were not just related to the mundane nor were they some spiritual expressions. He was not trying to achieve something, but he wanted to find a release from what was hitherto seen in the painted world. He vaguely sensed how that will happen, but he didn’t know how he would get there. He just kept walking on that strange path, like those walks in the jungle, where everything is hidden in the open. Like a mysterious attraction.

You can read the first , the second, second , the third  and the fourth part of this series here.


Copyrights : Akhilesh | Translated from the Hindi by Nidheesh Tyagi.

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