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The Artist and His Women

An exhibition looks at the female forms that occupied the canvases of FN Souza.

Written by Vandana Kalra | New Delhi |
Updated: April 6, 2015 12:00:27 am
Works by FN Souza that make up the exhibition  ‘City of Women’. Works by FN Souza that make up the exhibition ‘City of Women’.

As a child, he had bored a hole in the bathroom door to look at his mother bathe. FN Souza shared a rather strange relationship with women; he preferred them voluptuous, just how he painted them.

Anjolie Ela Menon recalls asking why he painted women with such large breasts, and the artist had replied, “If you knew the women, you’d realise this is no exaggeration.”

The Goan artist who was to paint embracing couples based on photographs from the famous Khajuraho temples, early on, also adapted reclining nudes of Italian Renaissance painter, Titian, and depicted the devouring female, the femme-fatale.

“To understand the sexuality, mystery, eroticism and beauty of Souza’s women one needs to have wide open eyes, not a narrow and puritan mind,” says Vinod Bhardwaj, who has curated an exhibition that discusses Souza’s engagement with female nudes, with Brij Sharma.

Titled “City Of Women” based on Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini’s film of the same name, this features a nude sketched by him while a student at the JJ School of Art to more familial settings in the ’50s and distorted figures of the ’80s. There are familiar faces — Nimisha Sharma in paintings from the ’80s, and Srimati Lal in the

Drawing a comparison between Fellini and Souza, Bhardwaj says, “In their art and in their perspective on life the surprisingly common thread is the presence of women in them and the manner and style in which they come to
the fore.”

The curators also make an attempt to unveil the artist through writings on and by him — books, early catalogues, magazines and letters. In a 1962 publication FN Souza, An Introduction by Edwin Mullins, inscribed by Souza, he writes, “My drawings and paintings… are made of a little structure: two parallel lines cross-hatched on either side.”

In a letter he speaks of a Sotheby’s auction where his Beauty-Beast “bid well”, another is addressed to a broker in New York who was apparently trying to extract brokerage from him under false pretexts.

In a letter to SH Raza in 1951, Souza writes, “I wouldn’t mind any man taking my wife to bed, if he is happy to sleep with a beautiful skeleton, and if she is happy enough. Neither am I scrupulous about taking someone else’s wife if she is nice and plump.”

Sharma laments not being able to “afford” a Souza. “By the time I felt I could, I discovered to my disappointment he had become far too expensive. I could just manage to pick from London a Souza drawing depicting a crowned king — done on the back of a sheet which has a partial, perhaps discarded, sketch by Souza.” In the exhibition, he brings together over 60 Souzas, apart from writings by the artist.

At Dhoomimal Gallery, Connaught Place, till April 30.

Contact: 2332 4492

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