Legendary modern Indian artist SH Raza passed away on Saturday, 23 July. He was 94.
Through his long and prolific career — his first solo exhibition was in the year 1946 — Raza's art evolved continuously. But by the '70s, he had found the motif that would make him a legend: the 'bindu'.
In an interview with India Today last year, Raza talked about what the 'bindu' meant to him.
"It is a religious perception of colour. Just as you would say Ram, Ram, Ram, or Allah, Allah, Allah, you say Bindu, Bindu, Bindu. It leads to an understanding of life, the mysteries of life, and in painting, the mysteries of colour. All colours emanate from it. Then, with the colours that appear, you paint."
The 'bindu' and certain other elements — dots, triangles and circles painted in vivid hues of red, blue, black, orange and yellow — were a Raza trademark.
Raza explained why he never 'tired' of his muse:
"You have to concentrate on one idea. I usually offer one advice to young men, concentrate on one woman. One woman gives everything. One idea is sufficient for an artist. For me, the 'bindu' has been a vast subject with its variations throughout my life," he told IANS.
Raza had been honoured with both a Padma Shri, and in 2007, a Padma Bhushan. Although he lived for several years in France, he returned to India after his wife passed away in 2002. His studio in south Delhi, was where he painted, for an hour in the morning, and three in the afternoon — according to this DNA report.
In the same report, Raza had also talked of how he was introduced to the 'bindu':
"One of my teachers in Mandla had once drawn a sign — a dot on the wall knowing that my mind was wandering. He told me to look at the point while he went for a wash. I did not understand the significance of the 'bindu' then — but it existed in my mind."
In 2010, Raza — whose artworks fetch record prices — was in the news when his Saurashtra was sold to an Indian museum for Rs 16+ crore at a Christie's auction. In an interview published by Rediff at the time, Raza spoke not only of Saurashtra, but of how the 'bindu' had helped him find his identity as an artist.
"I was not happy. I was looking for an Indian concept, a vision in my painting," Raza was quoted by Rediff as saying.After finding inspiration in symbols like the 'bindu', "I integrated this ethnography, these icons in my work," Raza said. "I was till then a French painter. I did my own research and took what I felt was important... 'Bindu' is the centre of my life."
Along with MF Husain and FN Souza, Raza was one of the moving spirits behind the Bombay Progressive Artists' Group. Raza has recounted how each of the artists "cherished and celebrated our plurality".
"We shared the unhappiness, the dissatisfaction, the anxieties. Each one us in the PAG had a different style, a different aesthetic vision... Our staying places were small and narrow and could hardly accommodate more than one person, but we often met in Irani cafes over tea and furiously discussed the various issues, from politics of freedom to our works, the direction art was taking and the possibilities of the Modern in India," Raza said in an interview with The Indian Express.
The true significance of the 'bindu' and his art wasn't always fully understood, and it was sometimes dismissed as being merely about geometric patterns.
But Raza was not disturbed by this. As he said to Quint in this interview in June last year:
"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."