One of India's leading modern masters, Syed Haider Raza was a founder member of the revolutionary Bombay Progressive Artist's group formed in the year of India's Independence in 1947. He first came to worldwide prominence in Paris in the late 1950s and 60s after moving to France in 1950. Painted in 1983, Saurashtra is a seminal work that belongs to a key period in Raza's career when, after many years working within the styles of the Ecole de Paris and Abstract Expressionism, his artistic path brought him full circle and he began to integrate vital elements of his Indian childhood and cultural heritage into his paintings. At the root of Raza's paintings lies a strong tie to nature and to the forests of Madhya Pradesh where he was born. Though his works from the 1980s and 90s are far from representational, the concept of nature remains pervasive and integral to their composition. Adopting a codified and symbolic language, Raza uses specific shapes and colours to represent different aspects of the natural world making the works intrinsically representative. In this particular work, the elements are depicted with a powerfully expressive brushstroke that at once combines the beauty of the Gujarati coastal landscape with the unabashed appreciation of its arts. Raza's extensive travels within the region have influenced this mature body of work, as mementoes of his journeys from the mirror-work embroideries to the remnants of Rajput miniatures and Jain manuscripts, are often seen strewn across his studio.
"I have never left India. I love my country and I am proud of it, and it's not sentimental my friend. Don't think that it's only emotional. I have been linked with the profound spiritual, religious message that India has to give to Indians and to the world of which we are forgetful at times, even in India."
"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)
Saurashtra is thus an amalgamation of the numerous themes Raza embarked upon throughout his decades-long career and serves as a transitional bridge into his structured geometric works characteristic of his most recent body of painting. Located at the far right is the Bindu-seed motif in its germinating stage. Conjuring at once landscape and nature, gesture and expression, and geometry and spiritualism altogether in one canvas, Saurashtra epitomises one of Raza's largest and most ambitious canvases to date.