S.H. Raza and Ram Kumar, two contemporaries of M.F. Husain tell us how the master has left his imprint on the world of art for ever.
He brought on canvas the family he lived, the society he lived in a figurative manner, which was not my way of looking at things but I can appreciate it. Nobody had done this kind of work before. We were intimate friends but in the beginning he was very quiet and I was also quite silent. Souza (F.N. Souza) was the most talkative amongst all of us (Progressive Artists' Group). It was an interesting and healthy period for art. The movement was a response by the painters who were working in new directions because European realism and British influence on Indian art was leading it nowhere. We used to visit each others' studios. It was good to see figurative works of significance. Husain was transforming figures of human beings and animals into vital imagery on canvas. Husain was pictorially very sensitive to form and colour. Very often painters did realistic, or they did figurative or abstract work and yet they were so different from each other. There was not much of intellectual talk those days. I think, I last met him at an exhibition in London last year. Since we couldn't really have a personal talk, I told him, ‘Maqbool, I am very keen that we meet again.' He politely agreed and we fixed up a time at the same gallery next day at 6 p.m. I reached there at 5 p.m. and waited for him till 7 p.m. but he didn't turn up. There were notions that there was jealousy between us but we had very different paths and despite that we could appreciate each other's art. I was very sad that he had to leave India. I haven't seen those works but I don't think Husain can depict any god or goddess in a derogatory manner. I quite like his work that he did on Christianity that had emerged out of his association with Mother Teresa. He did his best to integrate influences from different civilisations and produced significant art and not something cheap. He produced some of his best works from the '60s to the '80s. His paintings were linked with Indian art of the past.
The transformation of Husain's figures was really impressive. The facial features were missing because the focus was on the relationship between his form and figure. The eyes, nose and ears couldn't evoke the feeling a figure could. Once we were supposed to show together in London but I couldn't agree to do it because of ill health. Prior to that we had exhibited our works together in London. But I don't own any work by Husain because by the time I had resources at my disposal, Husain was too big and expensive for me to afford.
He was a very versatile painter who didn't stick to one form and constantly experimented. He was like that in life and with his art as well. Even if he thought, he had found something of his own, Husain still explored further. While other painters stuck to one subject or form, he didn't. His figures were not repetitive. He was also a very frank person who would confess everything to his friends. His biggest contribution was that he took art to the masses. He created a conducive atmosphere for Indian art.
I first met him in 1951. We had gone for a peace conference in Moscow and were sharing a room. In the middle of the night, I was scared to see a tall figure lurking in the room. Husain had got up to offer namaz. In 1950s, Husain met one businessman in Bombay who was willing to sponsor lithographs. I went there and together with Tyeb Mehta, V.S. Gaitonde and Husain produced eight lithographs with 400 copies. It was the first time a group of artists had made lithographs. The group was called Shilalekh.
The last time, I had met him was in Dubai three years ago and we spent three days together. He took me and my wife to his studio and his home.
Once, he had come home with a girlfriend who really liked a few works of mine and I gifted those to her. Husain asked me for the price and I said you give me a painting of yours. He later gave a huge painting in return for such small works of mine. (The untitled work of 1998 has been hanging in Kumar's drawing room for long.) Husain also made the wedding card for my son's wedding. He was close to him. (The original work, a sketch, is also displayed in Kumar's house.)
I was not shocked to hear about his death initially but with each passing day, as I realise his absence, I experience this void. That he is not amongst us anymore disturbs me. This is why I was revisiting some of his works in “88 Husains in Oils: 003” from my library.
He was a very generous man and sometimes naïve too. He was cheated by lots of people. A lot of people took paintings from him promising to build museums but they never did that.
Husain counted , ‘Between the spider and the lamp' (a pen and ink drawing) amongst his best works but I really like his work on the theme of Christianity and people never got to see his work on China. A whole box on his paintings just disappeared. His early work is considered to be quite powerful. ‘Zameen' which is in the collection of NGMA is an astounding work. To conceive such a composition was something.
(As told to SHAILAJA TRIPATHI)
Keywords: M.F. Husain