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Clocher du Village

Clocher du Village
signed and dated 'RAZA '58' (lower right); further signed, titled, dated and inscribed 'CLOCHER DU VILLAGE' RAZA NO = 180 '58'; bearing labels Arthur Lénars & Co, Paris and Galerie Dresdnere, Montreal Sayed Haider RAZA "Clocher du Village" No. 413' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
57 3/8 x 44 5/8 in. (145.7 x 113.3 cm.)
Painted in 1958
Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris
Galerie Dresdnere, Montreal
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Damian Vesey
Damian Vesey

Lot Essay

I was inspired to conceive a painting which could be a letter to my mother country, India, revealing my experiences, discoveries and acquisitions. I hoped that the painting could be evidence that I was never cut off from my sources. The memories, conscious and unconscious, were ever present. (Artist Statement, 1981, S. H. RAZA, exhibition catalogue, London and New York, 2005, unpaginated)

One of India's leading modern masters, Syed Haider Raza was a founding member of the revolutionary Bombay Progressive Artists' group formed in the year of India's Independence in 1947. Raza left India for France arriving in October 1950 to attend the Ecole Nationale Supri/aeure des Beaux-Arts and recollects excitedly absorbing the thriving local scene. He was greatly influenced by the coloration and composition of the Post-Impressionists and of his early experiences in France.

After 60 years in France, Raza returned to India, to his home country - a place that he revisited through every brushstroke, capturing the essence and colours of India during his years away. This year Raza turned 90, celebrating his life and his commitment as an artist we have the honor of presenting a group of works that bring together the journey of the artist through the years.

In Clocher du Village, one of the largest and most ambitious paintings of this series from 1950s, Raza captures the rolling terrain and village architecture of rural France. It soundly demonstrates the artist's perceptive rationalisation of Post-Impressionism, particularly the oeuvre of Cezanne. It represents a grand scale turning point between two stages of Raza's artistic development: while the subject matter is still recognizable, colour and painterly application become key elements. The artist utilises gestural brushstrokes, vivid coloration and heavy impasto as stylistic devices which similarly hint at his later 1970s abstractions.

"Discernible in Raza's recent pictures are the forms of houses, trees and mountains; but to conclude on the strength of this that they are a literal description of nature would be to misjudge them entirely. Obviously the villages and country-side of Provence and Italy have cast their spell - fleeting or intense, as the case may be - over the artist; but these impressions have only served to precipitate and crystallize an inner landscape whose blandishments have haunted the artist for years, ever since his youthful familiarity with the intricate architecture and luxuriant vegetation of his native land.

[...] For all the tragic intensity of its smouldering fires, and the glare of its greenery, the world of Raza hangs in a torrent of potentialities, amid the contending powers of darkness and light. Notwithstanding the storm of life, the artist, true to himself, has acquired the gift of serenity; he has achieved the inexpressible plentitude which, in the Arabian poem, is born of the reiterated syllable signifying Night." (Jacques Lassaigne Raza, Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris, 1958, (unpaginated))

In Clocher du Village, the combination of the sensual enjoyment of physical detail and an almost tacit sense of painterliness with a fundamentally more mystic and conceptual imagery drawn from the artist's deeper understanding of the ancient Indian art, establishes this work as one that moves beyond the merely representational into the realm of the spiritual.

In 1962 while teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, Raza was deeply impacted by the work of Abstract Expressionists Sam Francis, Hans Hofmann, and Mark Rothko.

"Rothko's work opened up lots of interesting associations for me. It was so different from the insipid realism of the European School. It was like a door that opened to another interior vision. Yes, I felt that I was awakening to the music of another forest, one of subliminal energy. Rothko's works brought back the images of japmala, where the repetition of a word continues till you achieve a state of elevated consciousness... Rothko's works made me understand the feel for spatial perception." (Raza: Celebrating 85 years, exhibition catalogue, Aryan Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2007)

In subsequent paintings such as Saison I painted in 1966 (lot 89), Raza begins to experiment with a less structured pictorial space and explores the translucent play of colour in nature with light.

In the late 1970s, Raza's style of painting changed dramatically. Moving away from figuration and the energetic brushstrokes which characterized his earlier work, his artistic path brought him full circle and he began to integrate vital elements of his Indian childhood and cultural heritage into his paintings. Painted in 1980, untitled (lot 47) is far from representational, but the concept of nature remains pervasive and integral to the composition. Adopting a codified and symbolic language, Raza uses specific shapes and colours to represent different aspects of the natural world depicted with a powerfully expressive brushstroke that at once captures the beauty of the Indian landscape.

Bindu (lot 50) painted in 1986, demonstrates the complete shift from Raza's expressionist to the geometric style - representing the cosmic egg or primordial seed of nothingness from which, in Hindu mythology, all creation is born. Though in a strictly formal sense, this work bears some resemblance to the Abstract Expressionist paintings of Frank Stella and Jasper Johns, and whilst these artists were part of a theoretical exploration of the Formalist movement, Raza's work addresses a more spiritual context. The circle becomes less of a graphical component and more of a central point representing concentrated energy. This element manifests itself in various forms throughout Raza's more recent works and is variously interpreted as a beginning, a zero point or seed. It becomes the principle around which the artist structures his canvases, and this compositional foundation is similarly derived from meditative aids such as yantras and mandalas.

"I needed ten years in Bombay and I needed thirty years here (in Paris) to understand what is 'plastic art' what the fundamental requirements of a 'vital painted work' were so that it could be called 'important', Raza has said. 'I did this in France, in Paris, and I am grateful [...] that I could come to a certain recognition in the art world in France and the rest of the world. But I was still unhappy. I said to myself: Yes, it is all right to be an important painter of the Ecole de Paris, but where is your Indian background Raza? I asked myself and I started coming more and more regularly to India - for two to three months every year to study again what Indian culture was, what Indian sculpture was. I went to Ellora and Ajanta, I went to Benares, I went to Gujarat and Rajasthan. I looked at the sculptures and paintings, I read books and still I needed another twenty years to arrive where I am today. You know it's not very easy to give fifty years of one's life to the fundamental research of painting. It was a long period, a long wait, but I did it.'" (Raza cited in 'A Conversation with Raza', Raza: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2007, unpaginated)

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