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Francis Newton Souza

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1924, Saligaon, Goa, India
Died 2002, Bombay
Lived and worked in Bombay, London and New York

Francis Newton Souza was among the pioneer members of the Bombay Progressive artist’s association group in the 40s. His works, much like artists of his time are acrylic and oil based, and much later chemical works, in the form of painting. Yet within this limited medium he works on varied dynamics of form and content of the human body.

Education

1945

Diploma in Painting, Sir J.J.School of Arts, Mumbai

 

 

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LIFE AND WORK

UNDERSTANDING Francis Newton Souza

Modernist aesthetic made him an 'international' artist

Francis Newton Souza spent his initial years rebelling against the British in India when he joined the 'Quit India Movement', only to be expelled from JJ School of Art, Bombay and eventually forming the Bombay Progressives along with his compatriots (Raza, Hussain, Bakre, Ada, etc.) to establish a legacy of a new kind of Modern art in India. Soon after, he relocated to England to pursue his work further. Much of his career has spanned across Europe and America, and the artist had almost no physical presence in his home country where he began working and establishing his sensibilities of art. His first bout of success came from Gallery One, North London in the 50s.

Thus, it cannot be denied that this man’s artistic legacy is truly international. His early dispositions in his works cannot be undermined by his much celebrated career later spanning over more than six decades all across the world. His formative years reflect deeply in his works. Much of the same can be said about his influences with Europe and the rest of the world, especially his exploration of the nudes. The ease and efficacy with which he could work and exhibit them , which caused much stir back home with others like Tyeb Mehta, contributed to the larger volume of his work and its style that emerged with it.

Francis Newton Souza, Portrait of Suruchi Chand, 1984

Souza's works convey signs of influences by Cubism

Among the many influences on the artist, the art movement of the early 20th century in Europe, Cubism, with its proponents Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque at the forefront contributed to shaping much of Souza's works.

Portrait of Suruchi Chand, 1984, a much later work in his career, traces the ambiguous tone and the inherent inaccuracy in the portrait, pointing towards a very important marker of the Cubist influence. The breaking down of the canvas into almost unrecognizable work that moves outside of the purpose of representation is what Cubism sought to achieve. Souza shows that he was no alien to this practise.

Green Landscape, 1960, explores a much deeper relation with this aesthetic of Cubism. The canvas is acting as many parts, and in certain areas moving out of the canvas itself. The work is not contained in any sense, and the palette adds to that quality.

Francis Newton Souza, Green Landscape, 1960, oil on board, 30 x 24”

Nudes form a significant portion of his oeuvre

Francis Newton Souza is known for his extraordinary work with the nude. His exploration in that particular subject through his canvases, allowed him to contribute varied and extensive work.

Untitled (Standing Female Nude), 1962, a sketch made out of pen ink, draws on the softness of the nude female body. The erotic charge is tender, charmed with a voyeuristic pleasure via the viewer. The use of an ideal female bodyscape needs to be acknowledged, something Souza was not essentially known for.

Reclining on Odalisque, 1994, however sets an entirely different tone on the range of his working with the female nude. Three decades apart, the nude has evolved into something entirely different. The disfiguration of the body, with the effect of the chemical paint distorts the canvas into grey and brownish-yellow separation. The lines are hard and limbs of her body are left undone in its own defence. This kind of erotic charge is quite distinct from the previous figure, and what it intends on the viewer’s eye. Not only are the images distinct in its affect, but so much has changed in Souza's style as an artist, and what he now wishes his nudes to be.

Francis Newton Souza, Untitled (Standing Female Nude), 1962, pen and ink on paper, 17 1/8 x 9 1/8”

Francis Newton Souza, Reclining on Odalisque, 1994, chemical painting on paper, 11.5 x 15.5”

New auction records achieved in Indian art by his works

Souza’s works in the recent years have fetched riveting prizes in various auctions all around the world. This kind of attention to the modern artists is a much recent phenomenon in the international art market.
One of the most expensive artworks Birth, 1955, sold for a whopping $2.5 million at a Christie’s auction in 2008, setting quite a record of its own.

Much of the international recognition largely helped the Indian modern art market. Its growing interest has also deepened due to the plethora of work attributed to the artist’s legacy. The abstract idealism and a wide variety of influences from various spaces attract this kind of interest. He attaches a curious tension for all kinds of viewers as well as a familiar sense of identification, both reflective and bizarre in his art.

Francis Newton Souza, Birth, 1955, oil on board, 48 x 96”

Bibliography