An Intriguing Group Show Explores the Ethnic Identities of India’s Diaspora Artists
The Landscapes, architectonic with their 'cubic factors' are ultimately lyrical. There's an unrestrained enthusiasm, a liberty in the application of color that is applied swiftly with a palette knife, creating smooth pulsating textures.(A. Ludwig, Souza, exhibition catalogue, Dhoomi Mal Gallery, New Delhi)
Houses on a Green Hill by Francis Newton Souza oscillates between the lyrical, the sublime and the malevolent. Its corniced buildings, twisting line and piercing steeple like chimney, suggesting not only the Catholic architecture which informed so much of Souza's oeuvre but also his immediate North London surrounding, where he lived around Belsize Park and Hampstead Heath. This landscape augmented by rich blues, greens, reds and browns, is in fact reminiscent of stained glass windows found in churches further alluding to the Catholic imagery that would perennially permeate his practice.
Jagdish Swaminathan describes Souza's cityscapes as "singularly devoid of emotive inhibitions." They are the "congealed visions of a mysterious world. Whether standing solidly in enamelled petrification or delineated in thin color with calligraphic intonations, the cityscapes of Souza are purely plastic entities with no reference to memories or mirrors." (J. Swaminathan, Souza's Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Lalit Kala Contemporary 40, New Delhi, 1995, p. 31)
In landscapes such as Houses on a Green Hill, Souza effectively demonstrates the inherent tension between nature and civilization. His works, which often depict the sky as an equally viscous force against the buildings and trees, become treatises on the conflating powers of god, man and the natural world. Rooftops cut sharply into the translucent, glowing auburn sky, suggesting not harmony but a tumultuous battle between dissonant elements, emphasized through the violent brushstroke and dramatic palette. Houses on a Green Hill, drenched in foreboding, is where the pastoral and urban traditions collide in a celebration of visceral violence. Juxtaposing naturalism with reverential expression, Souza represents the landscape as a sublime scene of primordial power. This work is abstract perhaps not in appearance but in its existential undercurrents, the absence of humanity at such an epicentre of civilization, where religion, modernity and nature coexist in a perpetual struggle.
Signature: signed and dated 'Souza 64' (upper left); further signed, titled, dated and inscribed 'F.N. SOUZA / HOUSES ON A GREEN HILL / 1964 / 48" X 36"' (on the reverse)
PROPERTY OF WAYNE ST. UNIVERSITY ART COLLECTION, SOLD TO BENEFIT THE ACQUISITION FUND
London Arts Group, Detroit
Acquired from the above by a private collector
This painting was a gift to Wayne State University Art Collection in 1980 by the above
Francis Newton Souza was one of the first painters to achieve international recognition from a newly independent India, as well as a leading figure of its avant-garde movement. As a result of his time spent abroad, Souza’s style drew heavily from Expressionism and Art Brut. Often referred to as the “Indian Picasso”, Souza became known for his aggressive lines and thick application of color. He was fascinated with images of the sacred and the profane, and the boundary that divided them; his favorite subjects included the human figure, frequently depicted engaging in erotic acts and organized rituals of religion. Souza was also responsible for co-founding the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group in 1947, which sought to encourage artists to depict Indian subject matter with Western Modernist styles.