Syed Haider Raza was a founding member of the revolutionary Progressive Artists' Group, formed in Bombay in 1947, the year of India's Independence. Raza was one of the first of this group of modern painters to make the pilgrimage from India to Europe, settling in Paris in 1950, where he continued to live for most of his life. While Raza spent close to six decades of his artistic career living in France, India and specifically the Indian landscape persisted and resonated within him and his practice. Writing about his lasting connection to his homeland, the critic Geeta Kapur noted, "[...] in nostalgia perhaps of the land he left behind when he settled in Paris, S.H. Raza opted wholeheartedly for the rhapsodic, nature based abstraction. The nostalgia was fierce and the earth was a conflagration of colours." (G. Kapur, Contemporary Indian Art, exhibition catalogue, London, 1982, unpaginated)
By the 1960s, Raza’s oeuvre became a perennial dialogue between East and West, and it was his unique synthesis of these that allowed the artist to develop his innovative, emotive style of landscape painting. Another artist who moved to Paris the same time as Raza was the Chinese painter, Zao Wou-Ki. Like Raza, he would also negotiate a dialogue between the Eastern and the Western avant-garde. Zao Wou-Ki's traditional training in Chinese painting and calligraphy, and his colorful abstract landscapes uniquely and deftly bridged the East and the West, expressing dynamic movement and balance comparable with Raza's works of the same period.
Painted in 1974, La Mer is an important painting from a key period in Raza's career, when, after many years of working within the style of the École de Paris, his artistic path brought him full circle and he began to integrate vital elements of his Indian childhood and cultural heritage into his paintings. A substantial body of works from this period that bear the title La Terre, or 'the earth', and the present painting titled La Mer, or 'the sea' offers a critical counterpoint. Rather than looking to the nostalgia of the forests of Madhya Pradesh, Raza here looks at their analogue in the open waters, which seem simultaneously inviting and darkly choppy.
La Mer exemplifies Raza’s expressionistic use of color and spiritual and symbolic engagement with nature, its principal elements, and the notion of creation. For the artist, nature had become a source of power that could not be portrayed in traditional landscapes. Instead, it was the emotion that each scene inspired in the artist that had to be captured through his vivid palette and gestural brush strokes. Here, the artist's use of primary colors and energetic brushwork helps create a captivating seascape that draws the viewer further into its depths with each encounter.