There’s a stark difference between the world of an artist and the world that we live in. In the studio of SH Raza, one would not only find squeezed tubes of paint, but also a piece of his soul is left behind in each canvas. It is true then, that he still paints after all these years! One step across the threshold, and you enter a space of surreal geometry dipped in a rich colour palette and canvasses that are lined-up to tell the tale of a voyage of immense passion and enthusiasm. A phenomenal journey of an extraordinary artist, and it all comes down to the site of conception. S H Raza is not merely an artist, he is a master of colours with an unparalleled contribution to modern Indian art. It all starts from a blank canvas in a humble and understated studio, a messy palette of vibrant paint and a brush. To witness the 92-year-old artist in his studio as he paints after almost seven decades of his life dedicated to art is nothing short of magical as the colours reveal themselves inch by inch on an incomplete canvas, patiently waiting for the final product.
Not one to separate himself from his art, Raza has always had a studio where he lives. Be it his apartment in Paris, a peaceful cottage in Gorbio along the Cote d’Azur or his cozy studio in the heart of New Delhi. There are canvases everywhere, some of his works are scattered along the walls and the rest are stacked or displayed, accompanied by the calming fragrance of paint that can never be isolated from the life of a painter. Amidst the overwhelming sense of being in presence of a legend at work, the ongoing work propped up on the easel takes over the spotlight. An unfinished Bindu surrounded by geometry with rough edges, the lines are almost never straight up close. To find beauty in imperfections is a quest that Raza strives to explore. The colours, on the other hand, tell a different story altogether, never leaving behind the vibrant character and always striking a chord with the mundane geometry. They are essentially the heart of the canvas, lending each one with a unique personality. “Painting is meditation for me, like the journey of spirituality from darkness to enlightenment, the colours too move from dark below to light above against the white canvas”, he says, explaining the element of spirituality that is intrinsic in every painting that he creates. “As for the Bindu,” he adds, “it came about as a result of the sadhana that is essential for a good painter. I never really get tired of it.” The strong round dot of solid colour is an iconic element in his paintings after its emergence in 1980 that marked his ‘rebirth’ as an artist. The Bindu is now known as the Razabindu, inseparable from his own identity. He continues to pursue the elusive symbol to date, capturing it with renewed fondness in his canvas.
What was the best advice given to him during his days as a struggling artist? He says, “I showed my works at an exhibition in Srinagar and Henri Cartier-Bresson happened to see my paintings. He asked to meet me. He said that my paintings were too fluid and lacked ‘construction’. I didn’t know what that meant. He suggested I study the works of Cezanne. It helped.”
It all starts from a blank canvas in a humble and understated studio, a messy palette of vibrant paint and brush