Prakrti (Cosmogony)

Prakrti (Cosmogony)
signed and dated 'RAZA '99' (lower left) and titled in Hindi (lower right); further titled in Hindi and signed, dated, titled and inscribed 'RAZA / 1999 / "PRAKRTI" / (Cosmogony) / 150 X 150 cms / Acrylic on canvas' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
59 1⁄8 x 59 in. (150.2 x 149.9 cm.)
Painted in 1999
Acquired directly from the artist, Paris, 1999
Raza, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1999, p. 22 (illustrated)
S. Safrani, ‘Raza: Prince of Painters’, The Hindu Magazine, 27 June 1999, p. 3 (illustrated)
India: Contemporary Art from Northeastern Private Collections, exhibition catalogue, Rutgers, 2002, p. 97 (illustrated)
A. Vajpeyi, Raza: Text-Interview-Poetry, New Delhi, 2002 (illustrated, unpaginated)
M. Imbert, Raza - An Introduction to his Paintings, New Delhi, 2003, p. 64 (illustrated)
O. Germain-Thomas, Sayed Haider Raza, Mandalas, Paris, 2004, p. 47 (illustrated)
A. Jhaveri, A Guide to 101 Modern & Contemporary Indian Artists, Mumbai, 2005, p. 75 (illustrated)
Raza: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2007, p. 105 (illustrated)
A. Bonfand, Raza, Paris, 2008, p. 189 (illustrated)
P. Bhaggeria and P. Malhotra, Elite Collectors of Modern & Contemporary Indian Art, New Delhi, 2008, p. 80 (illustrated)
This work will be included in SH RAZA, Catalogue Raisonné Volume III (1990 - 1999) by Anne Macklin on behalf of The Raza Foundation, New Delhi
New York, Raza, Apparao Galleries at Art 54, 2-14 June, 1999
Rutgers, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, India: Contemporary Art from Northeastern Private Collections, 2002
New York, Saffronart, Raza: A Retrospective, 21 September - 31 October, 2007

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Lot Essay

Geometrical forms are used to map the universe. Here, the vocabulary of pure plastic form acquires an integral purpose: to relate the shape and rhythm of these forms to Nature
- Geeti Sen, 1997

While Sayed Haider Raza’s work has always been inspired by the landscape and nature, his compositions based on these themes continually evolved over the course of his eight decade long career, eventually tracing a complete arc from stylized realism to nonobjective abstraction. By the early 1980s, Raza had turned to planned, geometrical pictorial structures to negotiate and express his vision of nature and its cyclical forces. In doing so, Raza turned from “the external to the internal substance. There is an implicit sense of timelessness which is all-pervasive, which brings a different meaning to his pictures. There is no reference here, as with his earlier work [...] Instead he has ‘abstracted’ from nature its essence, its deeper implications for mankind” (G. Sen, Bindu: Space and Time in Raza's Vision, New Delhi, 1997, p. 27).

In the present lot, titled Prakrti (Cosmogony) and painted in 1994, the artist pushes this nonrepresentational idiom to its limits, assembling color sequences and shapes in a large, grid-like composition to meditate on cosmogony or the origins of nature and the universe. Divided into twenty five equal panels, this important painting centers on Raza’s ubiquitous bindu, which symbolizes both a seed bearing the potential to generate life, and a black void into which that life is ultimately subsumed. As Raza explains, the bindu gives rise to and also anchors the composition: “The process is akin to germination. The obscure black space is charged with latent forces asking for fulfilment. Like the universal natural order of the ‘earth-seed’ relationship, the original unit, ‘BINDU’, emerges and unfolds itself in the black space. All inherent forces unite. A vertical line intersects a horizontal line, engendering energy and light. Space is charged. Contours appear: white, yellow, red and blue, and along with the original black, they compose the colour spectrum of the visible world” (Artist statement, Raza, New York, 1999, p. 2).

Using a luminous spectrum of color, Raza creates an almost hypnotic visual diagram around the bindu that draws on the potent symbolism of color from Eastern and Western pictorial traditions. With the five primary colors, which he believes to emerge from the ‘mother color’ of the black bindu, Raza maps out the five basic elements of nature and the unceasing cycles of the cosmos that they collaboratively sustain. The elements that these colors represent, which Raza details in a panel on the upper left, are samira or ether, gagan or sky, pawak or fire, jala or water and kshiti or earth. It is through the dynamic interplay of these elements, represented as colors and forms in this painting, that the artist offers his viewers a map-like microcosm of the universe as well as a key to unlock and commune with it.

Pierre Gaudibert, former director of the Grenoble Museum of Painting, dubs this idiom Raza’s ‘coloured architecture’, where various combinations of shapes and colors combine to signify natural phenomena and different phases of the cycle of life from germination to death. More than just a focal point or graphic device, the bindu recurs on the canvas in many of its cells. Alongside it, patterns of horizontals, chevrons and concentric circles depict the sun, trees, bodies of water and coiled snakes which in turn symbolize concepts like fertility, gestation and growth and the essential balance of polarities like light and dark matter, masculine and feminine energies and life and death.

In terms of methodical repetition and concentric sequencing, a link can be made between Raza’s paintings like Prakrti and the works of artists like Frank Stella or Kenneth Noland. However, while the Western abstractionists sought to repudiate subjective emotion, Raza’s works are suffused with emotion and spirituality. “Raza’s practice of symbolic abstraction has demonstrated that abstraction can also articulate an embracing of sringara, a joyous reaching-out experience. The abstractionist need not be a self-denying ascetic or a slave to the stimulations of the senses; rather, he can flourish through a dynamic interplay between these positions, savouring the world as a coded invitation that rewards the deciphering self with an expansion of consciousness” (R. Hoskote, Painting as Japa: Recent Works by S H Raza, exhibition catalogue, Mumbai, 2004, unpaginated).

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