Untitled (Head)

Untitled (Head)
signed and dated 'Souza 64' (upper center)
oil on board
30 x 24 in. (76.2 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1964
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

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Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Head of Sale

Lot Essay

Religion, the complexity of human existence, creation and destruction, and the duality of good and evil are some of the philosophical subjects that Francis Newton Souza tackled in the extraordinary body of work he created over the course of his almost six decade long artistic career. Souza’s work challenged everything that may have formally been thought of as art at the time of its creation. Breaking then accepted constructs of painting, the artist revealed his subjects in their most dehumanized forms. Finding beauty in this destruction, Souza believed his work offered its subjects a new life and true freedom.

“I started using more than two eyes, numerous eyes and fingers on my paintings and drawings of human figures when I realised what it meant to have the superfluous and so not need the necessary. Why should I be sparse and parsimonious when not only this world, but worlds in space are open to me? I have everything to use at my disposal” (Artist statement, FN SOUZA, exhibition catalogue, London, 1961).

A spirit of wild creativity always informed Souza’s life, and unsurprisingly manifested itself in his work. His quest for an existence free of what he felt were externally imposed constraints and unjustified censorship led him first to join the Quit India Movement, then the Communist Party of India, and subsequently to form the Progressive Artists’ Group in 1947 on the eve of Indian independence. This quest continued to inform his art after he left India and moved to London in 1949, and then to New York in 1967.

In Souza’s paintings from the 1960s, the bold portraits of religious, social and political leaders he created earlier are distorted even further than they were, resulting in complex and mutated forms. “If he was creating monsters, probably no one would be troubled; but because his images are clearly intended to be human, one is compelled to ask why his faces have eyes high up in the forehead… why he paints mouths that stretch like hair combs across the face, and limbs that branch out like thistles. Souza’s imagery is not a surrealist vision – a self-conscious aesthetic shock – so much as a spontaneous re-creation of the world as he has seen it, distilled in the mind by a host of private experiences and associations” (E. Mullins, Souza, London, 1962, p. 39).

The present lot, painted in 1964, exemplifies this period of Souza’s work, in which the artist augmented and honed the critical disfiguration that had always informed his creative practice. The face here seems to be masked, but at the same time it is intensely unveiled for all to see it’s truly disturbing nature. As the artist once noted, his intention was never to paint angels for men to look upon as most painters had before him, instead, through works like these, he wanted to expose the true nature of men to the angels.

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