Syed Haider Raza
Syed Haider Raza is active/lives in India. Syed Raza is known for abstract, highly colored painting.
Syed Haider Raza
Biography from the Archives of askART
Syed Haider Raza Alais S.H. Raza (born 22 February 1922) is an eminent
Indian artist who has lived and worked in France since 1950, but
maintains strong ties with India.
Biography from the Archives of askART
His works are mainly abstracts in oil or acrylic, with a very rich use
of color, replete with icons from Indian cosmology as well as its
philosophy. He was awarded the Padma Shri and Fellowship of the
Lalit Kala Akademi in 1981 and Padma Bhushan in 2007.
He became India's priciest modern artist on June 10, 2010 when a
seminal work, 'Saurashtra' by the 88-year-old sold for Rs 16.42 crore
($3,486,965) at a Christie's auction .
Syed Haider Raza was born in Babaria, Mandla district, Madhya
Pradesh, to Sayed Mohammed Razi, the Deputy Forest Ranger of the
district and Tahira Begum, and it was here that he spent his early
years and took to drawing at age 12; before moving to Damoh also in
Madhya Pradesh at 13, where he completed his school education from
Government High School, Damoh.
After his high school, he studied further at the Nagpur School of Art,
Nagpur (1939-43), followed by Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay
(1943-47), before moving to France in October 1950 to study at the
École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSB-A) in Paris, 1950-1953
on a Govt. of France scholarship. After his studies, he travelled
across Europe, and continued to live and exhibit his work in Paris.
He was later awarded the Prix de la critique in Paris in 1956, becoming
the first non-French artist to receive the honour.
Syed Haider Raza, has his first solo show in 1946 at Bombay Art Society Salon, and was awarded the Silver Medal of the society.
His work evolved from painting expressionistic landscapes to abstract
ones. From his fluent water colours of landscapes and townscapes
executed in the early 40's he moved towards a more expressive language
painting landscapes of the mind.
1947 proved to be a very important year for him, as first his mother
died, and this was also the year when he co-founded the revolutionary
Bombay Progressive Artists' Group (PAG) (1947-1956) along with K.H. Ara
and F.N. Souza (Francis Newton Souza), which set out to break free from
the influences of European realism in Indian art and bring Indian inner
vision (Antar gyan) into the art, the group had its first show in 1948,
the year his father died in Mandla and most of his family of four
brothers and a sister migrated to Pakistan, after the partition of
Once in France, he continued to experiment with currents of Western
Modernism moving from Expressionist modes towards greater abstraction
and eventually incorporating elements of Tantrism from Indian
scriptures. Whereas his fellow contemporaries dealt with more
figural subjects, Raza chose to focus on landscapes in the 1940s and
50s, inspired in part by a move to the France.
In 1959, he married French artist, Janine Mongillat, and three years
later, in 1962, he became a visiting lecturer at the University of
California in Berkeley, USA. Raza was initially enamored of the
bucolic countryside of rural France. Eglise is part of a series which
captures the rolling terrain and quaint village architecture of this
region. Showing a tumultuous church engulfed by an inky blue night sky,
Raza uses gestural brushstrokes and a heavily impasto-ed application of
paint, stylistic devices which hint at his later 1970s
By the 1970s Raza had grown increasingly unhappy and restless with his
own work and wanted to find a new direction and deeper authenticity in
his work, and move away from what he called the 'plastic art'. His
trips to India, especially to caves of Ajanta - Ellora, followed by
those Benaras, Gujarat and Rajasthan, made him realise his roots and
study Indian culture more closely, the result was 'Bindu', which
signified his rebirth as a painter. The Bindu came forth in 1980,
and took his work deeper and brought in, his new-found Indian vision
and Indian ethnography. One of the reasons he attributes to the origin
of the 'Bindu', have been his elementary school teacher, who on finding
him lacking adequate concentration, drew a dot on the blackboard and
asked him to concentrate on it.
After the introduction of 'Bindu' (a point or the source of energy), he
added newer dimensions to his thematic oeuvre in the following decades,
with the inclusion of themes around the Tribhuj (Triangle), which
bolstered Indian concepts of space and time, as well as that of
'prakriti-purusha' (the female and the male energy), his transformation
from a expressionist to a master of abstraction and profundity, was
The unique energy vibrating with colour in his early landscapes are now
more subtle but equally, if not more, dynamic. Raza abandoned the
expressionistic landscape for a geometric abstraction and the 'Bindu'.
Raza perceives the Bindu as the center of creation and existence
progressing towards forms and colour as well as energy, sound, space
His work took another leap in 2000, when he began to express his
increasingly deepened insights and thoughts on Indian spiritual, and
created works around the Kundalini, Nagas and the Mahabharat.
Sayed Haider Raza's paintings with herringbone triangles, blue moons,
licks of flame and inner vistas trigger transcendental experiences.
India's beloved Raza was born in central India and grew up among
forests. Madhya Pradesh is far from the sea, it has hills, but
not great mountains, and most of all it has had tribal princes and long
waves of peace. As a child, Raza must have seen nocturnal wild
creatures padding softly and dark birds flitting through damp jungles
and dry forests and his early work was mainly landscapes. It was
later, much later, that his handprint, or dare I say, pugmark became
the 'bindu'. Bindu is the sparkling, infinitesimal dot, the spark, the
blue pearl from which worlds, (and Raza's universe), unfurl and into
which they curl back. And from bindu, says Hindu religious
thought, came energy and time and space, perhaps the first light
followed by the first sound.
Hindus often use the bindu to assist concentration and Raza too, as a
child, was asked by his teacher to look at a dot on a wall. This helped
the child's distracted mind and presumably he never forgot its impact.
Great discerning minds and creative talent want to know things, they
feel ideas, taste cool voyages and touch spirit. They say softly to
themselves: Where did I come from, will I, someday, know what this was
all about? Indians often ponder: Is this all there is to life? How does
one measure magic, alchemy? How does one tell tales of contemplation,
Raza seems to be on this quest, introspective and ultimately joyful for
the hero's quest is always for permanent bliss. His work represents the
origins of life and symbols which tribal painters and highly
sophisticated Indian philosophers have drawn, pondered and mulled over
for millennia. His works resonate like modern tantric tankhas, inducing
wonder, joy and meditation in the viewer. For me, this is not mere
peace but vibration, the throb, the spanda and a peaceful, grateful
homecoming to Kashmiri Shiv darshan, a glimpse of Shiv in the
triangles, the points, the ascent and descent of grace. Yes, there are
miracles of creation, destruction, preservation, everyone knows those.
The other two miracles that Raza has are control and grace. All
we can be assured of is that there is a still small point which begins
and ends and begins again and which will 'Breathe through the heat of
our desire, … speak through the earthquake, wind and fire, oh, still
small voice of calm'. Yes, seeing his work in silence, makes me want to
bow my head and pray and slowly experience other vibrations, other
dimensions. Small irregular temples, with darkened holy of
holies, made long before there were religions, should hold his
paintings. Perhaps these are the earliest symbols: triangles,
man-woman, god, grace from man to God and back again, the six pointed
stars, the vishuddh chakra. These ongoing depictions of reality
streaming from Raza, need new and not so new temples, with scrolls for
contemplation, and walls of carefully painted blues in flames for they
induce a joyous peace and insight, when all is well and there are no
more words. Rather than in a rich home, a far off cold gallery,
his work would be best, to my mind, in a stone temple for us to
contemplate and return peacefully downhill from a yatra, a pilgrimage.
In the beginning was the dot, the unspoken sound, the unfelt, unseen
vibration and we, the gods, began in a spot of light, and evolved into
this wondrous universe and ended back in a dot of dust, a sparkling
A journey which all of us take, sometimes with a talisman, sometimes
fearful and alone, and sometimes tranquil and contemplative. Like the
Magi, like SH Raza.
His Indian canvases and the early French ones were realistic, like the
visible world, resembling what most of us see daily. Later he saw and
painted the bindu and still later entered a white period. His primary
colors of fire and the sea are the color of outer space, dark blue and
yellow wherever light has become matter. Like most Indian travelers,
Raza moves comfortably and familiarly between east and west, for we
tend to see most other places simply as extensions of our home and
Raza's "Cityscape" (1946) and "Baramulla in Ruins" (1948) show his
sorrow and anguish over the partition of Hindustan and the suffering of
Muslims in Mumbai during the riots. To be a minority, to be vulnerable
and watchful, is something many the world over live with daily. Raza's
painting show towns bereft of people, voids populated by buildings and
no bird sings. Lonely cityscapes, peopled perhaps by ghosts,
soundlessly ask dead skeletons: Tell me now, are you still a Muslim?
Are you still a Hindu?
He has spoken of our collective anguish during and after Partition, "On
the one side there was a national tragedy. As personal history for my
family, these critical years of 1947 to 1948 were those of tragedy and
separation. In July 1947 my mother passed away in my house in Bombay;
early in the next year in 1948, my father died in Mandla. Linked with
this period of riots and killings and hatred there was my private
history and my personal sense of loss." (quoted from Geeti Sen in
Bindu, Space and Time in Raza's Vision). His paintings of Paris "Black
Sun" (1953), "Haut de Cagnes" (1951) have close clusters of homes and
workplaces, hot, uncomfortable and lonely. France taught him techniques
and gave him space. However his work is, was and continues to be
remains distinctly Indian. His new works over the years, show the
spirit's lunar and solarscape, the eternal round, the spots, triangles
and induce contemplation, serenity, tongues of flame. Always one knows,
remembers pralaya, and that everyday is perhaps judgment day.
Syed Haider Raza's art was rooted in the twenties, a time when
Hindustan had been colonized, was totally impoverished and people
yearned for freedom. Artists were tired of being told that Victorian
ways and the Slade school were the correct path for them. With tribal
symbols, dreams of Paris, philosophies of freedom and colors, Raza and
others in the Progressive Arts Group shuffled off colonial gallows and
gave birth to modern Indian art. Ancient techniques and symbols,
scorned by the British, were once again surfacing and shaping India's
artists. France was valued as a teacher of technique.
S H Raza travels to India regularly to remember and drink again India
and its life, its many lives. For most Indians, mainstream Hindu ideas
and Muslim beliefs are everyday aspects of faith and reality, one is
not alien to the other. Hence Muslims like Raza, Husain, Ghulam Rasool
Santosh use Hindu symbols fluently and naturally, it is what they
experienced daily. There are no strangers here or foreign issues,
simply shared knowledge.
Raza spent one summer teaching in California and saw the lively delight
of Pollack and the mysterious works of Rothko. However one searches in
vain for any discernible influence.
He goes on the human's heroic quest: why am I here, where am I going,
why, what is this amazing thing called awareness, consciousness. If we
hang around, will we somehow learn what it was all about? Raza paints
the Bindu as the birth and sustainer of creation and existence and
moves towards shapes, geometry and colour and onto two dimensional
depictions of space, sound and time.
Quotes: "My inspiration has been the ideas of writers or painters and
even musicians such as the Ustad who said, 'See with your ears, hear
with your eyes.' -Sayed Haider Raza
"My work is my own inner experience and involvement with the mysteries
of nature and form which is expressed in colour, line, space and light".
"The quest of the essential obsessed me. The revelation of Indian
concepts, iconography, signs and symbols fortified the search. Nature
as 'Prakriti', the supreme generating force, the embryonic energy
contained in the seed, the male-female polarity, the ever present
phenomena in Nature - germination, gestation and birth - transformed my
concept of 'nature-seen' to 'nature-imagined".
"I went to France because that country taught me the technique and
science of painting. The immortal artists of France like Cézanne knew
the secret of the construction of a painting…. But despite my French
experience, the substance of my paintings comes straight from India."
Notes: Sotheby's Mar. 29 sold Indian and Southeast Asian art for
$13,633,820 with mostly modern Indian art. Tapovan, (1972) by Sayed
Haider Raza (b. 1922), sold for $1,472,000. In December 1978, the
Madhya Pradesh Government, India, paid him special and grateful homage
and now houses a permanent collection in Bhopal.
He has also founded 'Raza Foundation' in India, promotion of art among
Indian youth, which also gives away, Annual Raza Foundation Award, to
S. H. Raza married Janine Mongillat, his fellow student at Ecole de
Beaux Arts in Paris and later became a well-known artist and sculptor.
They married in 1959, and at the request of her mother not to leave
France, Raza chose to remain. Janine died on April 5, 2002 in Paris.
* 1946: Silver Medal, Bombay Art Society, Mumbai
* 1948: Gold Medal, Bombay Art Society, Mumbai
* 1956: Prix de la critique, Paris
* 1981: Padma Shri; the Government of India
* 1981: Fellowship of the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi
* 1981: Kalidas Samman, Government of Madhya Pradesh
* 2007: Padma Bhushan; the Government of India
* 2010 Flora Jansem Gallery, Raza Ceramiques, Paris
* 2010 Akar Prakar Art Gallery,Kolkata, Ahmadabad, Jaipur INDIA in 2010
* 2008 Art Alive Gallery, Delhi, INDIA in 2008
* View Exhibition Magnificent Seven at Art Alive Gallery
* 1997 Roopankar Museum of Fine Arts, Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal
* 1997 Jehangir Art Gallery Mumbai
* 1997 National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.
* 1994 The Art Rental Corporate, Group Michael Ferrier, Échirolles, Grenoble
* 1992 Jehangir Nicholson Museum, National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai
* 1992 Courses Arts Lalouvesc, France
* 1991 Gallery Eterso, Cannes Retrospective: 1952-91, Palazzo Carnoles
* 1991 Museum of Menton, France
* 1990 Chemould Gallery, Bombay
* 1988 Chemould Gallery, Bombay; Koloritten Galleri, Stavanger, Norway
* 1987 The Head of the artist, Grenoble
* 1985 Galerie Pierre Parat, Paris
* 1984 Chemould Gallery, Bombay
* 1982 Gallery Loeb, Bern, Switzerland; Gallery JY Noblet, Grenoble
* 1980 Galleriet, Oslo
* Passion: Life and Art of Raza, by Sayed Haider
Raza, Ashok Vajpeyi (Ed.). 2005, Rajkamal Books. ISBN 8126710403.
* Raza: A Life in Art, by Ashok Vajpeyi, 2007, Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi. ISBN 978-81-901844-4-1.
* Bindu: Space and time in Raza's vision, by Geeti Sen. Media Transasia, 1997. ISBN 9627024066.
* Raza, by Alain Bonfand, Les Éditions de la Différence, Paris, 2008.
A founding member of the Progressive Artists' Group in 1948, Syed Haider Raza was a pioneer for the cause of Modern Indian Art. His abstract oeuvre, spanning over six decades, is a study in the possibilities of color and formal relationships.
Biography from Allen Lin
His best-known works are densely geometric, reminiscent of abstract pioneers such as Wassily Kandinsky, inviting viewers into complex spatial and emotional interactions with his canvases.
His life and work took a decisive turn in 1950, when he won a French Government Scholarship and left to study at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he was greatly influenced by the coloration and composition techniques of the Post-Impressionists. It was also his first exposure to the country that would later become his second homeland. Still, his work changed throughout his life, evolving toward greater and greater abstraction.
In 1962, he was invited to teach at the University of California in Berkeley, where he worked with Sam Francis and fell in love with the work of American Abstract Expressionists, particularly Mark Rothko. "Rothko's work opened up lots of interesting associations for me," he has said. "It was so different from the insipid realism of the European School. It was like a door that opened to another interior vision."
In addition to numerous solo shows in galleries around the world, his work has been included in international exhibitions in cities like New York, Washington D.C., and Oxford, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi, and in the Biennales of Venice, Sao Paulo and Menton (France). He won numerous international honors along the way, including the Prix de la Critique (1956), and the Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian honors awarded by the Indian Government (1981).
In 1983, he was elected Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi.
Born in Barbaria, in Madhya Pradesh, India, Raza studied at Nagpur and at the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, before he left for France. For about 60 years, he stayed mostly in Paris and in Gorbio, in Southern France. In 2010, he moved back to his native India where he lives and works today, in New Delhi.
S.H. Raza, who was born in the year 1922 as Syed Haider Raza, is an Indian painter. Although he has resided and worked from France since the 1950s, he maintains close association with his motherland. He began doing figurative paintings, but gradually moved on to abstract. Today, all his works are abstracts in either oil or acrylic with normally use of very vibrant hues.
** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
Raza attended the Nagpur School of Art and then the Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai before shifting to France in the year 1949 to study at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts at Paris. In recognition of his contribution in the sphere of art, the Indian government gave him the Padma Shri in the year 1981. SH Raza is also a Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi at New Delhi in India. Further on, the state government of the place of his birth, Madhya Pradesh, awarded him the Kalidas Samman.
Raza is married to a French artist, Janine Mongillat. An active member of the revolutionary Bombay Progressive Artists' Group, SH Raza has a career of painting on themes related to Western Modernism. Then he slowly shifted from Expressionist towards the abstraction mode.
Presently his works feature elements of Tantrism inspired from Indian scriptural texts. In other words, his paintings showcasing landscapes and townscapes during the 40's gradually metamorphosed to become expressive abstract works.
In the inception, SH Raza was very impressed by the picturesque countryside of rural France. His work 'Eglise', thus, captures the undulating terrain and exotic village architecture of this region. If his landscapes earlier were very vibrant looking, now they have donned a more subtle tone. With time, Raza discarded the expressionistic style totally and instead settled for the geometric abstraction and the Bindu or dot.
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