La Terre, meaning the earth, articulates Syed Haider Raza’s indissoluble affinity with nature and specifically the forests of Madhya Pradesh in Central India, where he was born. In the late 1950s, Raza’s depiction of landscape became less about cognitive recognition and figuration, and more concerned with emotion and spiritual and experiential memory. The artist, who lived in France at the time, was physically dislocated from his homeland and so his landscapes provided a conduit of communication with ‘home’. These landscapes, emotive in their representations of place, allowed Raza to reconnect and communicate with his own origins and heritage.
In this study for an early version of the artist’s well-known La Terre series of paintings, Raza captures the rolling terrain of rural France under an inky blue sky. Although flashes of red and white against the dark sky hint at foliage and architectural structures, the painting clearly represents a major turning point in Raza’s artistic development. Here, color and painterly application become key elements overtaking recognizable form and narrative. The artist’s gestural brushstrokes, emotive coloration and heavy impasto also hint at the direction his oeuvre would soon take following a summer spent teaching in California a few years later.