Family, friends recall Husain, colossus of Indian art

New Delhi: Family, friends and associates relived memories of India`s most popular face in contemporary and new media art, MF Husain, as the spotlight turned on his artistic legacy on his 96th birthday Saturday.

While family and friends recalled the colossus that Husain was, an auction of south Asian and Indian contemporary art at Christie`s in New York this week reinforced that he was still the top draw.

One of his works, Sprinkling Horses, a composition of horses with human figures, alone sold for $1.14 million at a auction in Christie`s early this week, a spokesperson for the auction house said. Twelve other masterpieces fetched high prices too.

The artist, who died in London June 9 this year, was born at Pandharpur in Maharashtra in 1915.

"I miss him. Last year, we celebrated his birthday in London," son Shamshad Husain told IANS in the capital. "The family had gathered to greet him. It was a big celebration. The year before, we were in Dubai."

"He never thought he would be famous," Shamshad reminisced. "Our family was poor and my father`s relatives were poor. He rose virtually from the street as a film billboard painter. He was simple man at heart despite his colourful lifestyle. To us, he was more of a friend than a father. We could agree or disagree with him. The family has scattered since his death."

Shamshad described Husain as conscientious. "He built homes for all our relatives and doled out cash to his family and relatives in India," he said.

According to Shamshad, Husain paid Rs.21 crore in income tax every year, more than many Indian film stars. "He will continue to be a market favourite," he said.

Husain`s greatest contribution to contemporary Indian art was "internationalising Indian iconography", said art historian Tanvir Ajasi, who teaches at the faculty of fine arts in Jamia Millia Islamia.

"His passion, the energy with which he worked, influence in the world of art and lifestyle at 95 set him apart from the rest. Even Mirza Ghalib left poetry after 60. Husain claimed that he had created 60,000 works of art in his lifetime, a benchmark which very few artists have scaled," Ajasi told IANS.

"In the decade before globalisation touched the east, he was one of the most visible contemporary figure in Indian art," the art historian said.

The theme at Jamia Millia Islamia Saturday was Husain.

More than 400 paintings -- mostly portraits of the artist and his art motifs, small installations and graffitis -- adorned the campus and M.F. Husain Art Gallery in a mega exhibition commemorating his work and life.

The fine arts faculty has organised special birthday celebrations with the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHAMT).

"There is a lot of interest in his works in the galleries. I am in London currently and everyone says `Husain is Husain`. He cannot be replaced. Collectors miss him," Ajay Seth, CEO and founder of Copal Art, an art promotion platform, told IANS from London.

The CEO of Copal Art said he was planning a major Husain showcase next year in India, London and Dubai to bring out works from private collectors that have never been exhibited before.

"He had created hundreds of signed prints of his art during his lifetime to be sold at affordable prices. But his original works are fetching high prices at international auctions," recalled designer and activist Ram Rahman, a close associate of Husain.

More of Husain`s works will go under the hammer at Sotheby`s this weekend.


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