Presenting, `master` Picasso with `fan` Souza in East-West showcase

New Delhi: A western master of modern art and his illustrious Indian admirer, who virtually followed in his master`s footsteps, have come together to connect with fans in India in a unique East-meets-West art showcase, "Souza-Picasso".

The exposition, with a booty of nearly 50 original drawings, etchings and linocuts by legendary Spanish artist Pablo Ruiz Picasso and an equal number of drawings and paintings by Goa-born Indian contemporary art stalwart Francis Newton Souza, is on in the capital Dec 17-Jan 14.

It is a collaboration between Grosvenor Gallery of London and the Vadehra Gallery in the capital, which earlier held a solo show of Picasso in 2006.

F.N. Souza, known as the `Indian Picasso` for the Cubist influence in his art -- a genre made popular by Picasso -- and explicit nude figure studies, was similar to Picasso in many ways.

"Picasso and Souza were both artists who tore up the rule book and sought to break with what went before them to create a new and dynamic pictorial language. Both were very individual painters and highly confident artists. But our aim was to highlight the difference between them," Grosvenor Gallery director Conor Macklin told IANS.

"Picasso opened the doors to artists like Souza who broke the rules. Both the artists gave up everything for art," Macklin says.

Picasso spearheaded what can be described as the 20th century`s most important artistic movement - Cubism - that deconstructed the conventions of perspectives and space that had dominated paintings in Renaissance.

Souza, as one of the founder-members of the Progressive Artists` Group in Mumbai, sought to free himself of western motifs to draw from the indigenous Indian landscape.

A series of nude drawings of Picasso`s later years of an ugly old hairy grotesque man making love to a beautiful young woman, inspired by the aging artist`s affair with his second and much younger wife Jacqueline Roque, is a witty contrast to Souza`s drawings of a Goan priest groping a nude Indian temple dancer.

Souza`s drawings of the male religious clergy of western faiths and nude traditional Indian dancers repeat in different poses with the man dressed in a ceremonial robe and the buxom dancer with long hair in strings of jewels.

Shocking as they are in their brazen show of carnal passion, an element of humour, fluid lines and mastery over the human anatomical details achieved by both the artists bind their art.

Both the artists "picked up ideas from old masters and classical masterpieces to rework them into their own idioms", Macklin says.

Picasso had once said "bad artists copy, good artists steal".

"The influence of Picasso and his contemporaries is clearly evident in Souza`s works - the fractured geometric landscape, the bold colours and the distorted faces. Both artists` works were not only about new styles and techniques but also new things to be said - from politics and society to sex and religion," Macklin said.

Both artists were "singular, selfish and had several relationships, which suffered because of their obsession with art and outlooks to life", Macklin added.

Consequently, Souza`s studies of nudes on display are more tortured compared to Picasso`s hedonistic images of sexual love ranging from the celebratory to horrific, sadistic, satirical and funny.

Jesus Christ wears an expression of pain in Souza`s Christian sketches while Picasso`s human-scapes show the shadowy face of the demons in the background.

One of the most striking artworks on display is Picasso`s re-interpretation of a painting by Edouard Manet`s controversial "Luncheon on the Grass", featuring two men in formal suits and two nude women.

The Manet composition inspired Picasso into a cycle of 27 paintings in which the figures in the picnic become abstract and cubist beings, unclothed. Picasso`s lined contours set his figures apart from Manet`s detailed 19th century portraits.

"In Picasso`s canvas, `Lunch on the Grass` is both abstraction and classicism, it is a creative urge," Macklin says.

Picasso (1881-1973) is regarded as one of the three artists who helped define the art in 20th century which included plastic art, print-making, sculpture and ceramics art while Souza (1924-2002) was an expressionist, inspired by neo-romanticism of the post-world war period.

Grosvenor Gallery will be back with an exhibition of S.H. Raza`s works at the India Art Fair in January, Macklin said.


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