Husain's series of 88 oil paintings commemorates the artist's eighty-eighth birthday. The works from this series were created over a period of approximately five months in galleries and ateliers in four different cities across the world, namely, Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Paris, respectively. As Husain moved from city to city the size and scale of his canvases increased.
This body of work, though devoid of any overarching theme, marks the artist's return to oil painting, a medium he had abandoned for over thirty years. Husain explains his return to oil painting as a personal test of his proficiency over the given medium. "It has to be admitted that oil has a body. Other mediums just don't have the same thickness, the same depth of layering... Oils by their very nature don't compel you to fill up blank spaces. The ecstasy is in structuring the space with color, almost as if you were sculpting space." (As told to K. Mohamed, 88 Husains in Oil 003, New Delhi, 2003.)
The motivation and principle driving force behind this series was the artist's desire to compile and present his experiences over the past 60 years through paint. "The 88 oils represent the essence of my life. While doing them, I felt that I have mastered the technique, which is on the tip of my fingers. The challenge throughout was in capturing the different moments. That was the struggle, a struggle which will last as long as I live." (As told to K. Mohamed, ibid.)
This particular work, executed during the artist's stay in Paris in July 2003, portrays two Sufi musicians caught in a moment of revelry. The use of a limited palette and strong swift strokes invests the figures with a sense of depth and sculptural mass, while simultaneously infusing the canvas with a dynamism and energy. It is color, not line that dominates here. The close relationship between the colors and the composition allows the figures to be clearly identified.