The South Asian Times

21 October 2018 08:39 AM

Encounters with Husain, Pyne, Bawa...An art critic remembers

New Delhi : He came in a car, sold it and went away in a bicycle. The man was none other than late painter and maverick genius M.F. Husain, recollects writer and art critic Geeti Sen in her latest book.

"He drove to our residence at Nizamuddin. We (my ex-husband and I) told him that we did not have the money ready. He said we could pay him later. And he took a bicycle and rode out. He came in a car and left on a bicycle," Sen, who has been writing on art since the 1960s, told IANS.

Personal encounters like this - the Husain episode dates back to 1969 - with eight pillars of Indian contemporary art now figure in Sen's anthology, "Your History Gets in the Way of My Memory (Harper Collins)".

Part history, part personal memory, part critique, the book puts the spotlight on Ganesh Pyne, Husain, Anupam Sud, Nilima Sheikh, Manjit Bawa, S.H. Raza, Meera Mukherjee and Zarina Hashmi.

Sen recollects that in 2007, Husain invited Sen to his "haveli" in London where the writer stayed for nine days on the top floor "documenting the artist at work".

"He would wake up every morning and paint. I photographed him at work. Most of our conversations were in the car. He owned a Silver Phantom then. At the end of the ninth day, Husain suddenly left for Dubai," Sen recalled.

"The artist lived three lives as he liked to describe: Maqbool - the famous artist, Fida - the romantic maverick, and Husain - the martyr," Sen said.

The veteran art writer is now director of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in Kathmandu. She decks up her anthology with rare photographs of artists at work and their art. The essays read like stories, full of anecdotes and moods.

A self-portrait of Husain as "James Bond 007" from his London home makes up the cover of the volume.

Sen - who began as a critic for The Times of India in Mumbai - remembers each artist in their element, sometime under unusual circumstances.

"I walked with Manjit Bawa in Dalhousie and in Kolkata where he painted 'Kali' (oil on canvas) in 1982, two years before the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 which scarred him. And influenced his work. I stayed in the same hotel as Bawa in Kolkata so that I could know his art," Sen recalled.

Manjit Bawa was involved in rescue operations across the Yamuna river and at the Sikh refugee camps during the riots. It also brought the bull on to Bawa's canvas - to symbolise strength and aggression.

Rain bound Geeti to Pyne. The critic was marooned for five hours with the mysterious Pyne of "eerie lights, fairies and long evening shadows" in his cramped studio in Kaviraj Row in Kolkata in lashing rain. Pyne was a master of light and shade.

"His studio was in an attic room at the top of a flight of wooden stairs. The studio was immortalised in one of his 1994 sketches," Sen said. She has reproduced pages from "jottings in mixed media" - random ink and pen sketches on school book graph paper that later became Pyne's masterpieces.

S.H. Raza's studio was a 15-minute walk from the ancient village of Gorbio in the south of France, high above the coastline and the blue sea of the Cote d' Azur, Sen said.

"You could hear the crickets chirping in the forest and sheep clambering up the hill sides. After coffee, we would walk to his studio stopping on the way at a 12th century church where Raza would pray," said Sen, who has authored a book on S.H. Raza.

She spent time with artist Meera Mukherjee at her estate near Kolkata and visited Zarina Hashmi at her studio in the US.

"The book is about the texture of art as it has evolved in the last 40 years in India - the sources and spaces where it sprang from," Sen said.

The anthology was released by MP Karan Singh, president of ICCR, last week.

Update: 20 Feb, 2012