I was inspired to conceive a painting which could be a letter to my mother country, India, revealing my experiences, discoveries and acquisitions. I hoped that the painting could be evidence that I was never cut off from my sources. The memories, conscious and unconscious, were ever present. (Artist Statement, 1981, S. H. RAZA, exhibition catalogue, London and New York, 2005, unpaginated)
Syed Haider Raza, one of India's leading modern masters, was a founding 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 1985, La Terre, a masterpiece, belongs to a key period in Raza's career. 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 heritage into his paintings.
La Terre, or the Earth, represents the breakthrough between abstraction and the crystallization of pictorial structures mimicking the crystalline patterns of nature. Though his works from the 1980s and 90s are far from representational, the concept of nature remains pervasive and integral to their composition. Raza uses specific geometric shapes and earthy colors to represent different aspects of the natural world making the works intrinsically representative. The earth is conceived in burnt siennas, ochres and browns expressed through lines and diagonals, together exploring the forces that control the sacred order of the universe. La Terre 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. According to art historian Geethi Sen, "Geometrical forms are used to map the universe. Here, the vocabulary of pure plastic form acquires an integral purpose: to relate the shape and rhythm of these forms to Nature." (G. Sen, Bindu: Space and Time in Raza's Vision, New Delhi, 1998, p. 118)
At Christie's in June 2010 sale, Saurashtra (1983), a work from the same period and exact same dimension, made history for the field of Indian Contemporary Art becoming the first work to achieve $3,486,965, setting a world auction record for any Modern Indian work of art and a world auction record for the artist. Within the artist's oeuvre there are very few works of this monumental size and caliber.
La Terre is a holistic painting that invokes a deep sense of the land stretching beyond the relegated borders of the canvas and extending into infinity. The warmth of the colors against the sharp diagonals creates tension and lends depth to the composition. The painting is an evocative expression of the rich density and strong sensory life inherent with the luminous brightness of the sun and the deep and warm Indian night.
"[...] I moved to a new period in the eighties. The language of your painting changes when you start listening to silence. Within the silence of solitude, the inner landscape of the human mind moves into another pathway. I learnt to understand polarities-the co-existence of opposites that complement even as they exist. Life and death, man and woman, black and white-everything has a different rhythm. I realized how poetry can contain few words and say so much. Painting became the metaphor of life itself." (A. Vajpeyi, A Life in Art: RAZA, New Delhi, 2007, p. 345)