A Necessary Madness
Thinking of an artist like F.N. Souza,
and the following lines straightaway formed in my head:
Give madness, Lord God, words
Demands blindness Lord
Frothing at the mouth:
To see your world with the private eye -
The standard of the worlds
The madness without a method,
In shambles, suave lips twisted
The revisiting of the dark
In knots, meanings mixed up
Unvisited places;
In bizarre brilliance, the parts
All in an unfamiliar light,
Of the rational sentence broken down
Floods of red blood fed into the brain,
And reassembled in shocking re-couplings.
The eye its own spectator
Madness my Lord
Give deafness also Lord,
Dismiss your old order,
The world's loud gong refused audience
And make it be the opposite world
And only heard the confused dance
Of the mirror on the wall
Of the bees within,
The right and the left turned about complete.
As the singing sting of the mosquito.
It is so my heart demands, Madness madness
Demands madness in the cause Flying ants up lumbering like gargantuan jumbos -
Of health, demands Mountains crushed down into moles,
The smashing up of your great Juggernaut Moles inflated till they touch sky.
Machine into bits of vibrating impulse; All sizes falsified.
Demands the separating of parts,
All to be on its own.

Artistic madness ? - that profound dissatisfaction with things as they are, or else with one's inability to bring forth a truly creative production! Said Plato: "He who, without the Muses madness in his soul, comes knocking at the door of poesy and thinks that an art will make him anything fit to be called a poet, finds that the poetry which he indites in his sober senses is beaten hollow by the poetry of madness."

Fifty years of exposure to this painter's artistic persona leads one to believe that, for good or evil, the man has been exceptionally possessed for a fair length of time. From which fact alone flow the seeming professional deformations, in his art or life, at chosen moments.

But then, we are here to commemorate a large, consistent body of triumphs of the human spirit and not to carp.

Souza's blunt, crazy style is well known. Question is, how it came about? Could it be - among other things - the profound indolence of our own society which made him violently readt, and reach out for earth-shaking action, an emphatic directness, as much for clarity and unambiguity in his images? Evidence suggests that the activating motorfeelings are especially strong in his basic personality structure; and that the life of his spontaneous impulses has not died despite his living for long under the constraints of deadening, hide-bound, or else artificial societies, as the case may be.

In an all too rationalized existence instinctual emotion is taboo. Emotion is the name given to the power-factor revealed in a body in excitement. This is the root energizing element and you may well call it a kind of madness in the face of a forbidding
moribund order. Perhaps in view of this itself, Souza's salient works are charged with the electricity of emotional expressiveness. And this electricity goes on to serve a great purpose: that of cauterizing else needling a too genteel, insincere ethos. At the best of times he means to shock with a pointed aim - in other words, to bring us back to the real life of our own body, so that we begin to react to our human surroundings. Souza's expressionism, if it may be dubbed that, is mostly not a bright boy show off, but the re-enactment of one man's basic radicalism - his essentially rebellious nature. And if salacious egotism becomes apparent in some of his artistic offerings (or in the anecdotes connected with him personally), these works can only be the obverse of his stirling quality, that of sticking to his guns and not donning the mask of dubious respectability, the one of the social climber.

Souza is a child of this century - warts and all - but his head will just not bow. No wonder his figures look straight at you, unabashedly. No side glances or shifty looks for them. This same life attitude braces us, here in India, where only a few call a spade a spade. A manliness of manner being in very short supply. This is a quality for which one may well be penalized under a morality that abets in deviousness.

As and when he is not self-imitating, this painter's imagination is seen to be working at a high, insane tension; actual pictures would now seem to pass before his eyes with a preternatural vividness; these impressions are retained on the retina of the eye with an unusual, independent, luminousness and precision. Is it not thus we witness those dazzling configurations, as if writ in a blaze of lightning?

Art such as Souza's is not made by mere artistic efficiency. Instead, the painter's extraordinary general craft competence is, I think, made necessary by what makes him paint; an underlying sense of violent unease with his times. In such work it must surely take a great deal of artistic efficiency to cope with violence; to keep its pressure under check. And, to record, such artistic efficiency has not failed him. Only occasionally he descends to the level of the precocious child's annoying pranks.

No, the best of his work is an intensely sensuous and emotional experience, but' still never being a naive cry from the heart. Souza, as I said, can control and manipulate most of his experiences, even the most terrifying - like that of madness, and of being tortured. And so these experiences - and not only his landscapes - are manipulated with an informed and intelligent mind. On his higher register he never is narcissistic, never shut in upon himself. Contrariwise never is he either overwhelmed by the pictured sacral or the mundane dimensions. All these states of being are as if savagely hewn out in paint with an insatiable lust for life - to borrow words applied to the life of another artist.

The pleasure of Souza's work, thus, arrives from its very texture and its ebullience - it gleaming with a rich beauty. In this collection there hardly is a work that lacks a vivid image, or memorable nuance. And remember too, that this is no facile, slick style of the smart empty painter; nor that of a timid intellectual; nor has it either the intricate jewellery of the aesthete.

At its best it is crystalline - razor edged. So designed, it could well cut through the substance of our own largely torpid Indian life. It is not painting for painting's sake alone; for too often it circles round the pit of modern misery and degradation. Parallelly it is a big dig, as I already implied, at our moral bankruptcy, our national inanition. No wonder corrective saints and prophets appear in the work from time to time, as also other pregnant biblical personages.

Thus, there is a pulse, and much impulse - a stream of running blood - behind Souza's creative will. It is a will to life that creates a potent art. The earliest of his works and prose style already had that potency, and this continues unabated, often without a slavish self-copying. On the contrary, Souza is still irritated into glorious fury time and again - but yet - his feet being firmly planted in the ground beneath. Ah well, his mind's eye has for long scanned larger than life figures in the human landscape, and thereby come these large gestures. But this preoccupation with the figurative is not that of the so-called 'social message' art, nor is it that of the voicing of any narrow moral lesson. Rather, it is one man's zeal in favour of the sharply defined individual life detail. On an earth now burdened with gargantuan statist organizational systems as eat up humans as well as destroy truth in the name of this or that creed and ideology, he asserts the sovereignty of the lone, defiant individual. It is over here we sense his 'madness' - one which, however obliquely, propagates the courage to be in a levelling steam-roller civilization.

We applaud this stance at a moment of time when the truth of life is sacrificed at the altar of pure abstractions. If the painter - like most artists - has borrowed widely from a range of painters, he has nevertheless done so only in order to support his own chief characteristic, that of turning the world upside on its head. It is only in this way are we alarmingly challenged. But why? For Souza would have us stand upon our own two feet. His art teaches this lesson not in so many words, but by its openness of gesture, as its uninhibitedness. Of course, doing so, he often leaves his flanks open. But he could not care less. By his mad throwing of caution to the winds, he shames the cowardly among us. That is artistic service enough, one should think.

New Delhi, Oct. 9,1999
Keshav Malik


SOUZA is an image-maker- like Rouauft and Francis Bacon. His art lies in his power to strengthen the eye's image of this world by distorting it, until it becomes merely the language by which his own mental images are expressed, and the common ground on which we may come to terms with them. For although Souza is a figurative painter, nothing about his art is descriptive; there is no celebration of nature, no attempt to capture the effect of a sunset, no concern whatsoever with what is "particular" in life. Above all, there is nothing romantic about his paintings. "I hate the smell of paint," Souza has written in his brilliant autobiographical statement, WORD AND LINES; "Painting for me is not beautiful. It is as ugly as a reptile. I attack it."

It is not a critic's job to ask why an artist paints as he does. At the same time, one cannot walk into a roomful of Souzas without at once being forced to participate in certain passions and fears which make these violent distortions of the visual world explicable and sympathetic. Frequently these passions are not only violent but destructive, as though each painting liberated the artist from a nightmare. His art is full of strange perversities and contradictions, too. On a superficial level this has led him to paint landscapes on cheap, tarty fabrics picked up from the outsize department of a women s dress shop; or to paint a portrait over a colour-photograph of the Canadian prairies or the House of Parliament. But the contradictions go deeper than this; all his most successful work seems to contain something of an emotional clash - vulgarity and tenderness, or agony and wit, pathos and satire, aggression and composure. They have some of the sheer inventiveness of Picasso - specially Picasso's late graphic works - and the same unresolved tumult.

Souza is an Indian, yet to explain away his paintings in terms of an Indian tradition is to explain it away. He has lived in this country for thirteen years, and before that was educated in a Bombay that was "more Victorian than Victoria," as he describes it, and whose intelligentsia thought more highly of Royal Academy bluebell woods than their own mighty sculptures of Khajuraho. If one looks for the true roots of Souza's art one must look towards Rouault and Picasso, and more particularly towards Spanish and Portuguese Byzantine imagery, which made up a deep impression on him in the small Catholic enclave of Goa where he was brought up. Much of his art still retains the stiff, hieratic quality of Byzantine church imagery.

All the same it would be foolish not to recognise some debt to Indian miniatures, bronzes and stone carvings; the emphasis on definitive line to trace the twist and movement of the human body; the ritual treatment of the erotic; and the intuitive understanding of a flat surface and what it demands - these have their roots in classical Indian art. Yet no more than Mario Marini has his roots in Donatello.

London 1962
Edwin Mullins
Born at Goa, India, 1924
Studied at J.J. School of Art, Mumbai; Central School of Art, London;
Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris
Founded Progressive Artists Group at Mumbai, 1947
Guggenheim International Award 1958
Kalidasa Samman, 1998-99
One-man Shows
Indian Embassy, London, 1951
Gallery Creuze, Paris, 1954
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1954
Gallery One, London, 1955, '57, '59, '60, '61
Kumar Gallery, New Delhi, 1962, '63, '65
Kumar Gallery, Calcutta, 1963
Taj Gallery, Mumbai, 1965
Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1966
Arts 38, London, 1975, 76
Dhoomimal Gallery, New Delhi, 1976, '83, '86, '93
Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai, 1985
Art Heritage, New Delhi, 1996
L.T.G. Gallery, New Delhi, 1996
Julian Hartnolls Gallery, London 1997
Bose Pacia Modern, New York, 1998
Copeland Fine Art Gallery, Columbus, Ohio, 1999
Kumar Gallery, New Delhi, 1999
Group Shows
Progressive Artists Group, Mumbai, 1947
Indian Art, Burlington House, London, 1948
Venice Biennale, Italy, 1954
Commonwealth Exhibition, Commonwealth Institute, London 1962
Exhibition of Drawings: Delacroix to Souza, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1964
Kumar Gallery, New Delhi, 1966
Commonwealth Artists of Fame, London, 1977
Modern Indian Painting, Hirschorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 1982
Contemporary Indian Art, Royal Academy of Art, London, 1982
India: Myth & Reality, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1982
The Other Story, Hayward Gallery, London, 1989
The Modern Inaugural Show, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, 1996
'Six Modern Masters', Kumar Gallery, New Delhi, 1997
Select Bibliography
Autobiography, 'Words & Lines', F.N. Souza, London, 1959
'Souza' by Edwin Mullins, London, 1962
F.N. Souza, Edwin Mullins, Kumar Gallery 1962
Six Contemporary Indian Artists, Geeta Kapur, Vikas, 1978
The Critical Vision, A.S. Raman, Laiit KaIa Akademi, 1993
A History of Indian Paintings, The Modern Period, Krishna Chaitanya, Abhinav, 1994
The Flamed Mosaic, Indian Contemporary Painting, Neville TuIi, 1997 - Heart
 
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