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Contemporary Artists of Goa

The historical development of Goa has dictated the predominance of different art forms and the diverse influence of Greco-Latin art and the indigenous Goan culture has found a combined expression in the paintings of contemporary artists from Goa.

The most important artist is unquestionably Francis Newton Souza. In his essay titled The Significance and Originality of Goan Art Jose Pereira comments on the achievements of Souza. The first he says is an artistic “formulation” of Goan life; and the second is the discovery of the functional expressiveness of color.

Souza was born in a Portuguese-Catholic colony in Goa in 1924. And although he had a miserable childhood, the influence of his native land stayed with him in the years to come. He joined the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay only to be expelled four years later. This did not stop him from holding one man shows and being recognized for his work. In 1947 he founded the Progressive Art Group as a platform for new liberal views. Two years later he was accused of painting “obscene” pictures which were seized from his residence in Bombay. Souza has traveled much since then – physically and politically – and is today respected as a serious contributor to modern art in India.

Souza’s greatest challenge to the staid vision of the old order found expression in his technique of painting and choice of colour and images. Bright, striking colours, strong, bold brushstrokes, and a studied lack of detail, lends his canvases a freshness and vibrancy whose first impact is to shock Nudes and self portraits are brutally candid. The frankness communicates in the direct manner of a child – in the manner of an individual close to nature, and to himself. The message is an agitation of creative energies.

The influence of Goan culture has found its place in Souza’s work in a number of ways. Natives of Goa, fisherwomen, children, priests have all been subjects in his paintings. The churches and homes of Goa in his landscapes. On a different plane, primitive Goan traditions and beliefs have been used as symbols to express a spiritual conflict. The conflict between Christian beliefs and the contradictions of city life where the priest is powerless against the forces of evil.

Souza’s experiments with form have been a primary concern through his career. His work is a medium of experience rather than a record of event, and yet simultaneously becomes a critic’s comment of social concerns.

Laxman Pai belongs to the same early period of modern Indian and Goan art as Souza. But as an artist he traveled a very different path.

Born in 1926 in Goa, Pai attended Sri J.J. School of Art around the same time as Souza. Even in the early period of his career, he stayed off the mainstream developments, charting a staunchly independent course. It anything, he probably discovered the miniature style of painting, which was a topic of great interest among his teachers and contemporaries. It gave him a language in which to develop his own personal dialect.

Pai’s style showed no preoccupation with colour, form on structure. Conflicts in traditional forms of expression did not overly concern him. His response to life and its experiences, its richness, is spontaneous and he expresses it is an elaborate, imaginative way stamping it with a very personal signature of style. Fancy and creative draughtsman ship have played an important part in his initial decorative detailed style. Images are graphic and representative of his fantastic excursions. His style reveals a whimsical yet eclectic and serious character of his works.

Pai is strongly attached to his environment. He finds in nature and its creation a perennial source of inspiration. Goa, its verdant landscapes, its joyful, fun-loving people, its culture of colorful festivals have probably spoken through his cheerful carefree style. He constantly returns to his native land for symbols of expression.

In his early career the simple life of his native land became subjects of his work. Though he spent a decade in Europe, Western ideologies do not seem to have influenced him significantly. However, they probable did redefine his earlier style, giving it a stylized discipline with greater attention to geometry and ornate details. The imagery, however, continued to be nostalgically Goan.

His initial interest in costume and details has evolved to pristine forms in a larger world of nature, indicating a spiritual evolution of the artist himself. He carries the Hindu metaphor of purush-prakriti to new imaginative horizons in his rending of creation. Here parts of the human body find their continued existence in aspects of nature – eyelashes in tender springs, and bosoms in blossoms.

While in Paris, in the mid 1950s, Pai took to working seriously with oils. And painting Jawaharlal Nehru’s portrait, he adopted a new “stain and blob” technique. This has become a major aspect of his work.

Having stayed away from academic preoccupation, Pai exercised his freedom in executing his integration of various themes. A folio of etchings on the life of Buddha, a series of oil paintings inspired by Jaydev’s Gita Govind and later, in the 60s, a series on Kalidasa’s Ritu Samhara showed his fascination with Hindu mythology and literature. Pai has also painted a series on the Indian raga interpreting his fondness for song and dance into a graphic form, emphasizing moods in individual ways, using colour and brush strokes to catch the tempo and movement.

Both Souza and Pai have, thus, in their own way brought the spirit of their native soil into modern Indian art.

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