Aicon New York is proud to present Raza + America, an exhibition of paintings by the celebrated Indian modernist Sayed Haider Raza exploring the transformation of his style, both in subject and medium, set in motion by his 1962 visit to the United States. This exhibition follows centenary celebrations of the storied artist at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi (2022) and Centre Pompidou in Paris (currently on view).
Born in 1922 in Babaria, Madhya Pradesh, India, Raza trained at the Sir J. J. School of Art in Bombay alongside M. F. Husain and F. N. Souza. Tired of the academic style and naturalism of the Bombay school, Raza and his cohorts formed the Progressive Art Group in 1947. Though short-lived, the group marked a turning point in Indian modernism. Raza left for France in 1950, where he lived and worked until 2010. Here he came under the influence of Art Informel and the School of Paris. It was during the 1950s when we see Souza first change his central medium, this time from gouache to oil paints. The canvases from these early Paris years are marked with increasing impasto and cityscapes unbound by time or space, often under a burning sun. The impact of artists like Cézanne and Van Gogh is readily apparent in paintings such as Village with Church, 1958, perhaps better known as the Rockefeller Raza.
Raza’s trip to America in 1962 as a visiting lecturer at the University of California in Berkeley marked the second significant shift in medium, this time from oil to acrylic paints. With this switch in medium came a corresponding transformation in style spurred on by his exposure to the New York school of painters and Abstract Expressionism. As Raza explained: “Thereafter, visual reality, the aim to construct a ‘tangible’ world, receded. In its place there was a preoccupation with evoking the essence, the mood of places and of people. Day and night, summer and winter, joy and anguish—these elementary experiences that are felt rather than seen, became my subjects. They were expressed through emotive colors and forms which became increasingly more gestural.”
His 1966 canvas, January 24, encapsulates the powerful sway of American ideas of abstraction on Raza’s evolving style. With the thin, almost stain-like application of acrylic paint, it is easy to draw comparisons to Helen Frankenthaler. While the title points to a particular moment in time, the formal qualities of the work are evocative rather than specific. Even in his paintings with text from the period, such as 1967’s Gods Dwell Where the Woman is Adored (pictured right), the horizontal bands are reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s color field compositions. Raza would eventually transform again upon discovering his seminal motif, the starkly geometric bindus; however, the lingering effects of his short stint in the United States echo throughout the rest of his career.