Two of a Kind: F N Souza and Lancelot Ribeiro

F N Souza, the “enfant terrible” of modern Indian art, hardly needs an introduction. His less known half-brother, Lancelot Ribeiro, might. As two paintings from important phases in their artistic careers go on auction in June, we look at intersections in their life and art.

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Retracing Ribeiro

Guest contributor Ananya Mukhopadhyay reviews Indian modernist Lancelot Ribeiro’s London exhibition

An exhibition at the Burgh House & Hampstead Museum in London marks the beginning of a year-long programme of events to explore and celebrate the work of the late Indian painter Lancelot Ribeiro. As part of the 2017 UK-India Year of Culture, Retracing Ribeiro is a Heritage Lottery-funded project which will examine the artist’s vibrant and often understudied oeuvre through a series of exhibitions and talks.

Having first travelled to the UK in 1950 to study accounting, Ribeiro quickly became disenchanted with both the London weather and his chosen vocation. While living in London Ribeiro acted as studio assistant to his half-brother, Francis Newton Souza, and also started to create his own works. He eventually abandoned his accountancy course and enrolled in St. Martin’s School of Art. Shortly after his graduation however, the artist was required to leave London for his National Service in the Royal Air Force, somewhat interrupting his artistic development. Following his discharge, Ribeiro returned to India and held several successful solo exhibitions before returning to England in mid-1962.

untitled-blue-and-green-landscape-1961Untitled (Blue and Green Landscape), 1961
Image courtesy Grosvenor Gallery

Renowned gallerist Nicholas Treadwell was to be a great champion of the Indian artists who had settled in post-war London, selling their work door-to-door from his furniture van-cum-gallery space. As part of Asian Art in London 2016, Treadwell gave a talk at the British Museum recalling his dealings with Ribeiro and contemporaries Bakre and Souza as he trundled up and down the country in his mobile gallery. All three artists featured in Grosvenor Gallery’s show Indian Modernist Landscapes 1950-1970: Bakre, Ribeiro, Souza, on view 3 – 12 November at 32 St. James’s Street, London.

rib-untitled-white-landscape-1964Untitled (Red Landscape with Dome), 1966
Image courtesy Grosvenor Gallery

Retracing Ribeiro is a chance to experience the extraordinary range of painterly styles practiced by the late modernist, from rare, naturalistic watercolours of Hampstead Heath, to expressionistic Goan landscapes punctuated with the spires and domes of his childhood. The artist’s pioneering use of PVA mixed with fabric dyes in the early 1960s presaged the widespread uptake of acrylic paints in the years that followed, a feat with which Ribeiro is rarely credited. His careful oil compositions have equally received little attention, in spite of their enduring vibrancy and strength of expression.

The Retracing Ribeiro exhibition will be on view at Burgh House & Hampstead Museum until 19 March 2017, while a heritage display from the Ribeiro archive will be on show at the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre from 6 February 2017 – 31 March 2017. Forthcoming events include talks by David Buckman, author of Lancelot Ribeiro: An Artist in India and Europe, and an evening of lectures and music at the Victoria & Albert Museum early next year. For more information and a full calendar of events, visit www.lanceribeiro.co.uk/news.htm.

Frieze London 2013

Ambika Rajgopal of Saffronart looks at the 2013 edition of Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters.

London: With the onset of the British winter, as the trees of Regent’s Park shed their foliage to assume a structural minimalism, another edition of Frieze draws to a close. Running in its eleventh year, Frieze Art Fair is a conglomerate of art, artists, curators, galleries, collectors, dealers and critics who have a common affinity for art of the contemporary sort. Its younger sister fair, Frieze Masters, now in its second year is just as grand and deals with ancient to modern art.

Frieze Art Fair exterior, 2013. Image Credit: http://www.londonbb.com/frieze-art-fair-london/

Frieze Art Fair exterior, 2013. Image Credit: http://www.londonbb.com/frieze-art-fair-london/

I was fortunate enough to attend Frieze both in 2012 as well as in 2013 and the change within the two years was quite apparent. This year Frieze Art Fair condensed their number of exhibitors from 175 to 150, a move that reinforces Frieze’s emphasis on quality over quantity. Additionally the architectural design was also opened up to reveal a new entrance, floor, a revised gallery grid and a mezzanine café area, rather than the claustrophobic labyrinth of corridors from previous years.

This year the participation of South Asian galleries was lesser than last year, even though South Asian artists were well represented by international galleries. Project 88, the only Indian gallery to participate, has been at the helm of promoting cutting edge contemporary art in Bombay, India. This year Project 88 featured the works of Neha Choksi, Raqs Media Collective, Rohini Devasher, Sarnath Banerjee, Somnath Hore and The Otolith Group.

Choksi, now a regular name in the Frieze line up, concerns herself with the search for various forms of absences. She approaches and represents this absence by appealing to the presence of forms. In Houseplant and Sun Quotation, Choksi correlated the mechanized process of photography to the living process of the plant, both processes necessitated by the presence of light. She placed plants near paper that has been photo chemically treated with palladium salts, so as to expose the non-shadow part of the paper. The resultant effect was that the absence of the plant on the palladium paper was represented through a negative presence of the shadow form. The Burst series featured two ceramic sculptural forms or anti forms, if you will, that adopted absence and suspension in order to initiate her ideas of solitariness and expiry.

Forthcoming Titles, 2012, Raqs Media Collective. Image Credit: http://www.project88.in/individual-work.php?artfair=ARFR0020&workid=9

Forthcoming Titles, 2012, Raqs Media Collective. Image Credit: http://www.project88.in/individual-work.php?artfair=ARFR0020&workid=9

In Forthcoming Titles through referential comparison between influential authors in the canon of Marxism, Raqs Media Collective’s carefully displayed wall mounted library managed to resonate a faux seriousness only to be broken by the anagrammed names of the authors. Rosa Luxemburg, a Marxist revolutionary and a figure who has actively influenced Raqs own collective consciousness, became Luxme Sorabgur.

Sarnath Banerjee’s new series of drawings was replete with the caricatural humour that Banerjee is synonymous with. He made light of contemporary Indian society through symbolic representations and diagrammatic visual depictions.

Trotskyites Anonymous, 2013, Sarnath Banerjee. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5393/3942

Trotskyites Anonymous, 2013, Sarnath Banerjee. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5393/3942

Rohini Devasher’s paper work involved prints of satellite images of the Indian Astronomical Observatory and the surrounding landscape at Hanle, Ladakh, superimposed with drawings. Her project was an investigation of these mythic terrains where fiction blurs the boundaries of what is real and imagined. It was a process of converting the familiarity of geography into one of strange hybridization. The other artists on display at Project 88 were Somnath Hore and the Otolith Group with their newest video essay People to be Resembling.

Dubai based Grey Noise featured the works of Pakistani artist Mehreen Murtaza. Murtaza’s stylistic visual narrative consists of an amalgam of Sufi cultural imagery along with the futurism of science fiction. This odd juxtaposition enables science to question and reexamine religion, myth and superstition. While adopting the critical point of view of Western rationalism, Murtaza does not stray away from the Islamic historical heritage and thus her work operates in a realm where mystical ideas of spirituality synchronize with scientific theories.

Solstice, 2013, Mehreen Murtaza. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5498/3637

Solstice, 2013, Mehreen Murtaza. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5498/3637

In Transmission From A Missing Satellite, Murtaza payed homage to Dr Abdus Salam, a Pakistani theoretical physicist, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979. Though Salam’s contribution to the field of science was remarkable, the memory of the man is tainted by prejudice due to his minority Ahmadi background. The work presented an assemblage of clues such as loose letters, telegrams and even a floating stone reminiscent of the Floating Stone of Jerusalem at the Dome of Rock. Through these artifacts Murtaza used artistic approaches to visualize the adventures in quantum immortality.

I was you, 2013, Aisha Khalid. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5424/4225

I was you, 2013, Aisha Khalid. Image Credit: http://friezelondon.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5424/4225

The other South Asian artists on display were Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid at the London based gallery Corvi Mora. Dayanita Singh also displayed her work at Frith Street Gallery. Singh also has a solo show Go Away Closer on display at the Haywards Gallery, Southbank Center till the 15th of December 2013.

In the other side of the park at Frieze Masters, the environment was quieter and less frenetic than it is in Frieze Art Fair. Whilst the older contemporary fair attracted a fair share of curious onlookers who come to marvel at the trends in contemporary art, Frieze Masters took on a more discerning vibe. The lighting was softer, public area was carpeted and the artworks were more traditional.

Untitled (Landscape), 1965, F. N. Souza. Image Credit: http://grosvenorgallery.com/art-fairs/current-art-fairs/frieze-masters/

Untitled (Landscape), 1965, F. N. Souza. Image Credit: http://grosvenorgallery.com/art-fairs/current-art-fairs/frieze-masters/

Grosvenor Gallery’s debut at the Frieze Masters featured a selection of Black on Black Paintings by Francis Newton Souza. This appearance at Frieze coincided with their current exhibition, F.N Souza: Black on Black Paintings on view till 28th October. The exhibition follow the legacy of Souza’s 1966 show Black Art and Other Paintings at Grosvenor Gallery where he presented a series of monochromatic works rendered in thick black impasto oil. Even though the inspiration for Souza’s stylistic turn toward such a dark somber palette is disputed, these works bear reflection to Souza’s state of mind in the 60s.

Difficult and demanding, Souza’s black series is not easy on the eye, but of course that was exactly Souza’s intention. As Toby Treves pointed out, Souza claimed that the visual intensity of his paintings was meant to be a jarring reminder about the visceral consciousness of life. In order for the work to reveal itself, a few moments are required in front of each work. The interplay between the light and the textured brushstrokes, caught by the eye only at a certain angle uncovers a world of forms, textures and worlds inside each canvas.

From the somber monochromes of Souza to the resplendent gleam of the Indian miniature works at Francesca Galloway, Frieze was a complete affair in itself. In conjunction with the fair itself, a host of galleries, museums and artistic institutions opened their doors to patrons by organizing lectures, panel discussions, performances and art projects.

A Scene in a Heaven, Anonymous. Image Credit: http://friezemasters.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5608/4287

A Scene in a Heaven,
Anonymous. Image Credit: http://friezemasters.com/exhibitors/exhibit/5608/4287

My favourite part of Frieze London was actually the Sculpture Park. While most of the public and media attention goes onto the two sister fairs, the Sculpture Park is often the portion of the fair, which has so much to offer. It also provides a nice escape to the bustling fanfare of the tented Frieze Art Fair.  Amidst the rolling greens of Regent’s park’s sculpture half of the fair was Amar Kanwar’s Listening Bench #4 (2013), a part of his The Sovereign Forest exhibition, currently on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The benches offered visitors a place of quietude and contemplation after the influx of so much sensory stimuli.

A Morning with F N Souza’s Daughters

In conjunction with Saffronart’s Francis Newton Souza LIVE Auction on September 11, Elisabetta Marabotto shares an article on Souza by Selma Carvalho

F.N. Souza: Live Auction, September 11, 2013, Saffronart

F.N. Souza: Live Auction, September 11, 2013, Saffronart. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/auctions/fn-souza-sale-2013-3609

F N Souza was born in Saligao, Goa, in 1924. He achieved world-wide acclaim as a modernist artist proclaiming, “I leave discretion, understatement and discrimination to the finicky and lunatic fringe.” He died in 2002.

The house in Belsize Square where Souza and Lisolette lived, as it is today.

The house in Belsize Square where Souza and Lisolette lived, as it is today. Image Credit: Selma Carvalho

As I turn the corner into the leafy suburb of Belsize Square and walk past the quiet of St. Peter’s Church, I hold my breath. Row upon row of neatly tailored period houses stand to attention on either side of a narrow, well-disciplined road. I can’t see protruding flower-beds, tangled bushes, creeping vines, restored pubs or any hint of disorderly Bohemian irreverence, which might have attracted Francis Newton Souza. And yet, this is where the anarchist of the art world, F N Souza and Liselotte de Kristian spent much of the fifties.

I glance up and see Anya, Souza’s youngest daughter by Liselotte waving to me. Francesca, his second daughter by Liselotte joins us. The apartment has an old-world East European feel to it; walls bear the brunt of photographs creeping like vines into every available space.  A pair of ‘Liselotte’ paintings hang on the walls; this is Souza at his most vulnerable, naked self. Smooth, clean lines, no distortion of body parts, no disfigurement of the face, just one line joining another, seamlessly recreating the woman he loved onto canvas.

There is something cherubic about Anya. Francesca’s black hair is coiffed back and her beautiful cheekbones slightly flushed. Somewhere in these women, I can detect steely Konkan determination mixed with the courage of the East European Jew.

“My mother used to have her Progressive League meetings here,” Anya says. “A sort of meeting-up of old-world socialists,” Francesca adds.

Liselotte de Kristian was of Jewish descent, born in 1919 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, to a journalist father and a controlling mother who covered up all the furniture with dust-sheets. Her father died when she was six and her mother’s decline into very bizarre behaviour and constant mood-swings meant a childhood of bribery at times and beatings at others, a childhood which Liselotte knew was not normal. Her entire adult life, in a way, came to be defined by this need for normalcy, which she seldom found. She left Prague, a few days after Hitler’s army marched in and made her way to England where she took up odd jobs. Winning a part-scholarship to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) changed her life. Two relationships followed, both equally bereft of love.

I ask about Souza.

“He was actually acknowledged as a writer in this country before his art.” Francesa says.

Souza's house in Goa. This is his maternal house in Saligao

Souza’s house in Goa. This is his maternal house in Saligao. Image Credit: Selma Carvalho

Souza arrived in England, in 1949, by his own accounts “almost penniless.” England took little notice of this newcomer. Multiculturalism may have been the new Londonism, but it was still a time when landladies put out signs saying, “No dogs, No blacks.” A curious mix of artists, writers, booksellers and gallery owners had established themselves around London’s West End; they congregated, almost like a cult, in Soho. Pasty British poets enjoying the exquisite pain of displaced Jews. They spent much of their time at the French House and Colony Room, watering-holes in Soho, drinking, brawling, dancing naked on table-tops, flitting between squatting and homelessness, fashionably poverty-stricken and flirting dangerously with the law. One of those afflicted with this Sohoitis was the deliciously handsome English poet, Stephen Spender, editor of Encounter magazine who was to form a friendship with Souza.  Souza’s autobiographical essay, Nirvana of a Maggot appeared in Encounter (1955) and was immediately applauded.

“Ida Kar was a great friend of both my mother and father. You must visit the National Portrait Gallery. There is an exhibition on,” Francesca urges.

A few days later, I find myself outside the imposing National Portrait Gallery, the fine streets leading up to it are lined with bookshops. A picture of a young Souza snapped up in black-and-white by Ida Kar takes centre stage. He looks unassuming and unsure.

The Church where Souza was baptised in Saligao

The Church where Souza was baptised in Saligao. Image Credit: Selma Carvalho

Ida was an Armenian, dark-haired and loud-mouthed. She met her husband, Victor Musgrave, twelve years her junior, while in Cairo and they moved to London in 1945. Their house at 1 Litchfield Street, from where Victor ran Gallery One, saw a steady stream of squatters and lovers come and go. Taking lovers never proved to be a conflict of interest. Stephen Spender knew Musgrave, who gave Souza a solo-show at Gallery One in 1955. The show was a sell-out and if it established Souza, it also established the reputation of Musgrave, as a sort of champion of the art world’s voiceless and defiant avant-garde artiste. Musgrave and Ida had a curious interest and sympathy for the inner-city underbelly, keeping close company with prostitutes. Souza was now firmly entrenched in London’s high Bohemia; untethered from middle-class values, spurred on by leftist leanings, sexually unconstrained and seminally creative. This world was very different from Bombay, and one in which no doubt, he came alive.

“Your mother was the love of his life,” I venture into more disquietening territory.

“There’s a quote in Words and Lines, a dedication to her. I think they were just very intellectually compatible,” Francesca says finally.

Liselotte met Souza in the December of 1954. He was unimpressive, wearing a suit three times his size with intensity to his eyes and a persistence which scared her. He asked her why she didn’t have children and told her she must be barren. When she said she hadn’t wanted children, he replied, “I want you to be the mother of my children.”

The narrow road across from Souza's house in Saligao, a road he would have walked on and the neighbourhood he would have known quite well.

The narrow road across from Souza’s house in Saligao, a road he would have walked on and the neighbourhood he would have known quite well. Image Credit: Selma Carvalho

Ida Kar, Victor Musgrave, Liselotte Kristian, F N Souza; all these disparate lives had serendipitously intersected in London, only to discover they weren’t disparate souls. They shared a sense of dispossession and a reformer’s zeal, which at times bordered on the anarchic. Both Musgrave and Souza were deeply disturbed by race riots in fifties Britain. In a departure from his usual subject matter, Souza painted Negro in Mourning, 1957.

Negro in Mourning, F.N. Souza

Negro in Mourning, F.N. Souza. Image Credit: http://www.bmagic.org.uk/objects/1999P10

Souza was married to Maria Figueirado. Liselotte had never technically divorced from her marriage to Richard. Souza and she proceeded to Paris, in what was to be their honeymoon, living for 2 months on £100 between them, cooking on a spirit-stove in their hotel room. Liselotte had worked in television and had played a small part in a film. She fell pregnant while in Paris.

Do you remember him as a father or an artist? I ask.

“He was very affectionate… There are certain artists,” Francesca says to me, “their entire life and their work, their life’s mission, it’s inseparable.”

Souza was totally consumed by his art. His relationship with Liselotte swung between euphoria and despair. Almost overnight and unannounced, he sunk into the oblivion of alcohol. The normalcy of family, which Liselotte had so craved for, dissipated into an unpredictable and often violent relationship.

Despite the drinking, the next few years proved to be enormously successful for Souza. He had five shows at Gallery One. The last one in 1961 at North Audley Street, where Musgrave had shifted the gallery, was hugely successful and in many ways marked the pinnacle of his career. But his relationship with Liselotte had all but collapsed. (Although in a 1958 letter to Victor Musgrave, he still writes lovingly of her). Shortly afterwards, Souza married Barbara Zinkant. In 1967, he left for America.

I bid farewell to the sisters and climb down the old-fashioned stairwell, contemplating what Francesca said, “He was a genius…what he will end up being remembered for is his work, that’s what will stay.”

Selma Carvalho is the author of Into the Diaspora Wilderness, and Project Manager of the Oral Histories of British-Goans Project.

Subodh Gupta’s Massive Boat Docks in London

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart on Subodh Gupta’s exhibition at Hauser & Wirth and a talk by the artist at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London

What does the vessel contain, that the river does not, Subodh Gupta, 2012

“What does the vessel contain, that the river does not”, Subodh Gupta, 2012. Photo by Elisabetta Marabotto

London: Following its success at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Houser & Wirth, London, decided to showcase to an international audience Subodh Gupta’s installation “What does the vessel contain, that the river does not”.

Subodh Gupta found inspiration for this work in the words of the famous Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi:

“What does the vat contain that is not in the river?

What does the room encompass that is not in the city?

This world is the vat, and the heart the running stream,

This world the room, and the heart the city of wonders.”

In this poem, Rumi embeds among the lines the idea that the entire universe is contained in our soul. Gupta was touched by this concept, and chose to visually express Rumi’s words through an art installation that drew parallels between an individuals’s life and a boat.

The artist filled the vessel, a traditional fishing boat from Kerala, with common objects that he found in Kochi and Delhi, carefully piling them into the vessel. Chairs, beds, a bicycle, window frames, fishing nets and cooking pots are among the objects Gupta has used to represent our cluttered lives.

Detail of "What does the vessel contain, that the river does not", Subodh Gupta, 2012

Detail of “What does the vessel contain, that the river does not”, Subodh Gupta, 2012. Photo by Elisabetta Marabotto

Through this work Gupta also raises questions about cultural dislocation, feelings of belonging and displacement, movement and stability, which are symbols of the current epoch. Hence the boat acquires both positive and negative connotations. The fact that the boat is displayed with one end raised up from the floor gives the impression that it is floating, and transmits positive energies. At the same time, however, walking underneath the raised boat generates feelings of anxiety and discomfort.

Verso of What the vessel contain, that the river does not", Subodh Gupta, 2012

Passing underneath “What the vessel contain, that the river does not”, Subodh Gupta, 2012. Photo by Elisabetta Marabotto

Last Tuesday, in conjunction with the exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, the Courtauld Institute of Art in London hosted a panel discussion titled ‘The Routes of Success’, between Subodh Gupta, Jessica Morgan (the Daskalopoulos Curator, International Art, Tate Modern) and Deborah Swallow (Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art).

From the left Jessica Morgan, Deborah Swallow and Subodh Gupta at the Courtauld Institute of Art

From left: Jessica Morgan, Deborah Swallow and Subodh Gupta at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Photo by Elisabetta Marabotto

The panel discussion was preceded by a presentation by an unexpectedly shy Subodh Gupta, who discussed his major works of which you find a selection between the text below.

29 Mornings, Subodh Gupta, 1996

29 Mornings, Subodh Gupta, 1996. Image Credit: http://www.aaa.org.hk/onlineprojects/bitri/en/gallery.aspx?eid=A010.04

After the presentation, a more confident and very entertaining Gupta had a very interesting exchange with Morgan and Swallow. The artist revealed his past as an aspiring actor, a career that was derailed once he started painting film posters. In fact, he only joined art school because he was convinced by his friends. And now he is one of the most acclaimed Indian contemporary artists in the world!

The scale of his artworks was also one of the topics tackled in the discussion. Although slightly shy on stage, Gupta is not shy at all in his artworks’ dimensions! The artist however stated that the creation of large artworks wasn’t premeditated; it just happened. And once it started it became a habit, and now he can’t stop it!

Gupta also discussed his love/hate relationship with painting. It is something he doesn’t feel confident about and that is one of the reasons why he often “secretly” embeds photography in his paintings. He said: “painting is hard to make, doing a good one is like reaching nirvana”!

Aam Aadmi, Subodh Gupta, 2009

Aam Aadmi, Subodh Gupta, 2009. Image Credit: http://www.hauserwirth.com/artists/11/subodh-gupta/images-clips/63/

The artist also added that he doesn’t intentionally make political art, but art comes from where you live, from what surrounds you, and so that is why politics and social issues cannot be taken away from it.

His main influences are to be found in the work of some of the Indian masters such as M.F. Husain, Jagdish Swaminatan, Francis Newton Souza, and more recently in the Khoj Workshop that freed him from any kind of restrictions on his creativity.

E tu, Duchamp?, Subodh Gupta, 2009

E tu, Duchamp?, Subodh Gupta, 2009. Image Credit: http://www.hauserwirth.com/artists/11/subodh-gupta/images-clips/61/

I would like to conclude with an interesting question/point of discussion that came up during the talk about whether it is always possible to transport art outside its country of origin. This was discussed in respect of Spirit Eater, one of Subodh Gupta’s latest works which is deeply embedded with cultural references and traditions which make it extremely difficult to be understood. The artist was reluctant about the idea of compulsorily bringing his art out of India, because sometimes it could be misunderstood and its original message lost.

I’ll leave you reflecting on this topic, and encourage you to visit Subodh Gupta’s exhibition in London. Click here for more information on the exhibition.

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