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Innocence and beauty in Husain’s art

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

M.F. Husain was immensely pleased when I told him that in all his creations, there is innocence and beauty. Husain laid great emphasis on aesthetics. Whatever the style he adopted, there was finally an emphasis on beauty. He moved away from the traditional art in the beginning of his career and went for the abstract in a big way. But some of the traditional values were not abandoned by him. Actually one of the big attractions in Husain’s paintings is the high caliber aesthetics.

Husain was not an intellectual. He used to cut a sorry figure whenever he ventured into this area. Instinct played a big part. And it is rightly said that instinct is the highest form of intelligence.

It is all bunkum – he did not know a thing about Hindu philosophy. He had only a superficial knowledge. He was not interested much in Islam either. He did not have much knowledge about any religion, he was not a religious person. There is hardly any painting which is based on religion. He did a painting of Mother Teresa only because she was a much discussed, pious woman. I have not seen a single painting of his based on Islam.

He always wanted to do something new, something different. Some of his attempts in this regard was a pathetic disaster. I think then was an installation by him entitled “Shwetambar” which he exhibited at the Jehangir Art Gallery – in all the galleries. There were folds and folds of white cloth all over the place. What he was trying to say nobody – including perhaps himself also – understood.

Husain had abundant creative energy. To paint, he did not require an easel. Any surface was good enough for painting. He would often squat on the floor and paint.

For almost half of his life, Husain was unknown. He was a shy person then. He was a shy member of the Progressive group. He was not assertive at all. He was silent most of the time. The members who were full of confidence and who were quite “alive and kicking” were Souza and Ara and Raza. Husain of course was totally convinced Indian art must proceed on a new course.

Husain was a bit dumb those days. He went to China and when he came back I did an interview of him. I wrote both the questions and answers for the interview.

Husain was poor those days – till after 30 – like a church mouse. I went and saw him once at his “residence”. It was an 8 ft. by 8 ft. room with a ladder leading up to a small attic. All his paintings were stacked there. He could not sell his paintings even for Rs.200. I remember seeing his paintings in group exhibitions at the Chetana Art Gallery and the Artists Centre. At the end of the exhibition, they had remained unsold.

I decided to do something for the artist in whose works I saw high-calibre values. I went to his “residence” at Grant Road and told him I will sell some of the paintings. I put them in a taxi and took them at least to half a dozen consulates. Nobody was interested. I came back and told him how I had failed. Then he made an incredible offer. He told me to take all the paintings. He wanted to give them all for free.

I should have taken the paintings. Today I would have been a multi-crorepathi.

It was Peerbhoy who brought about some change in Husain’s life. He published a book on Husain and did some promotion for him.

Husain has been referred to as Indian Picasso. He and Picasso are poles apart. There is no comparison between them except with regard to a common perception about promotion of an artist instead of his art. Husain was quite impressed when he learnt that Picasso had employed two writers – one of them to praise him and the other to strongly criticize him. What was necessary was to get attention – good or bad.

Husain embarked on a promotion mission.

He went one evening to the Willingdon Club without shoes. He was not allowed to go in. This happening was grabbed by the media. Later Husain walked barefoot all the time. He is reported to have said he wanted to show sympathy for the poor. He is also reported to have said that by walking barefoot he could get feel the earth beneath him.

Husain began to attract attention. Then his paintings too attracted buyers. He once told me, “I am doing the same work now as before, but it is interesting I am selling now but I could not sell a single painting before.”

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal were unfair to him. Husain’s gallery in Ahmedabad was smashed. They said he was insulting Hindu Gods. And a painting of Bharat Mata – which showed innocence and beauty – got him into trouble. There were more angles and points in the painting than anything real – it could not be called a nude at all. And all those artists who created immortal works on temple stones must have shed tears when they saw the trouble in which Husain found himself.

Husain had no go but to run away. A case against him was decided in his favour.

After he decided to stay abroad, Husain must have led a good life. He had money and he had zest for life. I don’t think he missed India much. Even before, he was going abroad all the time and staying there. That he missed, among other things ‘falooda’ is a big joke. One can get excellent falooda in Indian restaurants in London.

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