An Intriguing Group Show Explores the Ethnic Identities of India’s Diaspora Artists
A beautiful country full of rice fields and palm trees; whitewashed churches with lofty steeples; small houses with imbricated tiles, painted in a variety of colours. Glimpses of the blue sea. Red Roads curving over hills and straight across paddy fields. Rich Green foliage, mango trees, birds, serpents, frogs, scores of butterflies and a thousand kinds of insects. (F N Souza, 'A Fragment of Autobiography', Words & Lines, 1997, New Delhi, p. 9)
More than merely the birth place of Francis Newton Souza, Goa provided an environment and stimulus which shaped his formative forays into the arts, a place that would inform a lifelong career. In Souza's literary work Words & Lines he states that even from an early age "The Jesuits who ran the school I attended knew I had a talent for drawing. Whenever there was a drawing in the lavatory, I was usually suspected of having done it." (F N Souza, 'A Fragment of Autobiography', p. 8)
Trees, Bathers and Figures at the Market (lots 9-11) all depict the Goan landscape in bright and brilliant color, uncharacteristic of Souza's later work which would alter dramatically. "I painted the earth and its tillers with broad strokes, heavily outlining masses of brilliant colours. Peasants in different moods, eating and drinking, toiling in the fields, bathing in a river or a lagoon, climbing palm trees mourning or merrymaking in market places." (F N Souza, 'Nirvana of a Maggot', p. 11)
While I%Trees_, (lot 9) and Bathers (lot 10) were painted in India, most likely in Goa, Figures at the Market, (lot 11) executed in 1950, a year after arriving in London, represents a nostalgia for his artistic heartland and his treasured moments of serene tranquillity, the antithesis of London in the early 1950s. This sentiment of whimsical longing is captured when Souza retrospectively writes vividly about a lake from the years leading up to his departure from Goa -- a lake similar if not the same as the one in which these anonymous bathers bask. "In the mornings I swam in a lake across the fields, quite near the house. The lake was luminous and flat, of an unbelievable blue descended as it were from the blues. It looked like a piece of sky fallen on earth and embedded there in a miraculous moment of sublime tranquility." (F N Souza, 'Nirvana of a Maggot', p. 14)
Abstract Figures (lot 12) though not Goan in direct subject matter, shows this vibrantly explosive pallet in a period where Souza was assimilating and experimenting with Western Modernist styles, such as German Expressionism.
Signature: dated '1946' (upper right); further dated '1946' (on the reverse)
Sotheby's London, 8 October 1996, lot 35
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.