"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."
J. Lassaigne Raza, Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris, 1958, (unpaginated)
Oliviers represents a shift in Raza's work moving away from his Post-Impressionist style of representation within his landscapes of the 1950s to a more expressionistic abstraction. This follows from Raza's 1962 visit to the USA and Canada where he was invited as a visiting lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley and subsequently a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow. Here and through his travels he encountered the works of Mark Rothko, Sam Francis, Jackson Pollock and Hans Hoffmann at the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the USA.
"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)
Painted in 1965, though this work is far from representational and relies primarily on colour to convey its warmth and lyrical message, relegating representation to simple flickers of shape, the concept of nature remains pervasive and integral to this composition. Raza begins to experiment with a less structured pictorial space and explores the translucent play of colour in nature with light. The artist uses shades of yellow, blue and green to suggest a landscape with olive trees. A few breaks in the foliage give way to the white and blues of the sky, lending a luminous and weightless atmosphere to the painting. The shimmering playful light and shade cast by the leaves makes the painting come alive and evokes the rustling rhythm of the leaves in the wind on a sunny day. 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.