One of India's leading modern masters, Syed Haider Raza was a founding member of the revolutionary Bombay Progressive Artist's group formed in the year of India's Independence in 1947. Now well established as an artist of international renown, he first came to worldwide prominence in Paris in the late 1950s and 60s after moving to the city in 1950.
Painted in 1964, Village en Fête, is a seminal work that belongs to a key period in Raza's career where he begins to experiment with a less structured pictorial space and explores the translucent play of color in nature. In 1962, while teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, Raza was deeply impacted by the work of Abstract Expressionists Sam Francis, Hans Hoffman and Mark Rothko.
"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 elated consciousness. Rothko's works made me understand the feel for spatial perception." (Raza: Celebrating 85 Years, Aryan Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2007)
Rooted in his childhood memories of life growing up in the small and densely forested village of Kakaiya near the Narmada River valley in Madhya Pradesh, this painting is an evocative expression of the strong sensory life inherent in India. Village en Fête relies primarily on color to convey its warmth and lyrical message, relegating representation to simple flickers of shape.
As the clouds lift, the village appears as a hidden enclave amidst the forest. Raza uses shades of blood red, orange and yellow to suggest the uplifting spirit and joyfulness of daybreak, but not just any ordinary day, a day of celebration. The vibrant colors dance across the canvas and the painting sings; drums beat in the distance, the gleeful chatter of village women intermingle with the rustling of trees. The canvas's texture creates movement and sound. The varying use of perspective takes the viewer at once into the heart of the village, but still at bird's eye view looking down from a distance, the distance of space and time, just as Raza must have felt back in France recalling the vivid memories of his childhood.
Raza conveys exuberance, hope and harmony. His expressive treatment of the Indian landscape is a celebration of India, its communities and the social and religious festivities that bind the past with the future, that bind him to mother earth. Village en Fête is an intuitive, emotional and spiritual love letter to the landscape of central India and to the birthplace of his artistic practice.
As a seminal painting and the earliest of his large scaled works that includes the top three world auction records: Saurashtra, 1983; La Terre, 1973; La Terre, 1985, Village en Fête is a testament to Raza's great intellectual capacity and artistic virtuosity to impart complex and abstract thoughts into masterworks of great beauty and fluidity.