risk of entering existence is that there is no coming out of it alive.
Once enmeshed in existence, we find ourselves harnessed to the yoke of
survival and plowing relentlessly through the fields of convention.
Fear, diligence and piety keep us on course and orient us to
conformity. Materialism, valor and the mythical, allow us to
transgress and hopefully establish our place in time's hierarchy.
Francis Newton Souza's myth began before he even took the first
existential gulp of air. According to him, he was painting murals in
his mother's womb. Interestingly enough, this feat was earlier
eclipsed by Salvador Dali, who reputedly began the tradition of
decorating the maternal cavern. Such foetal prowess certainly defies
the natural, overlaps the supernatural, and leads the rest of us to
seriously probe the anonymity of our own foetal endeavors!
Gentleman, 1955 - by F.N. Souza
the village of Saligao on April 12, 1924, Souza's coming was without
any celestial signs or manifestations. The loss of his father at a
ten2der age and a personal bout with smallpox, virtually obliterated
the Catholic seal of faith he was imprinted with at the baptismal
font. Disillusioned with the significance of Heaven versus the painful
realities of the present, he vowed to go about life his own way. He
was no longer going to wait in line for a piece of pie in the sky.
Whatever it took, he was going to aspire for the whole pie, and that
too, here and now!
Souza, reality was merely an infrastructure that could be broken down
- and which one needed to hastily break down - in order to accommodate
one's insurmountable needs and aspirations. In that context, he was a
gun-toting maverick, gunning down customs and dogmas with his
rhetorical brush and pen. At other times, he would transfigure himself
into a bulldozer, leveling down friends, relatives, foes and anything
else that stood between him and his next landmark.
- An avid reader,
his mind became a sleepless foundry, churning information into
thoughts, and thoughts into diatribes. He loathed the smug
banality of the bourgeois, took pungent delight in exposing our
vulnerable addiction to the hallucinogenic effects of faith and
hypocrisy, but was quick to self-absolution when he caught himself
snorting some of these very same banalities.
- Dom Martin,
1980 - by F.N. Souza
autographing lavatory walls to going communist and getting discharged
from the party for being a misfit, Souza was not at all coy about
giving his personal credo a public altar. The good, the bad or the
perverse, he indulged in them, with uneasing candor. In his earlier
years, he fervently believed in hunting with the pack. But when the
opportunity would arise, he had no qualms about abandoning the pack
and going solo for the prize.
lust for life was entrenched in several failed marriages and the
rearing of progeny he remained alienated from. His pursuit of fame
took him through many alleys, crossroads and continents. He was widely
acclaimed for his earlier works, both at home and abroad. In the end,
as with other mortals, his waning brush was an unmatched weapon
against death's staggering scythe. He died in Mumbai on March 28,
2002, in the very city where he first sowed the seeds of his
creativity and over the years watched them bloom and spread, some
becoming incorporated in the garden of Indian art.
Berger, a noted art critic said of Souza: "He straddles many
traditions, but serves none." Max Sequiera -- an art collector and
former manager of the Roopa art gallery (now the Taj art gallery) --
was even more concise in his summation of Souza: "A cartoonist in
oil". Souza's historic 1963 art show at the Taj was put together
by Max Sequiera.
1955 - by F.N. Souza
However, unlike Picasso who spent his last years doodling, and Dali,
who wound up signing blanks -- Souza in the end was "surrounded" by
fakes . Word is hobnobbing around that the workshop for these fakes is
situated in Goa! Perhaps, subdued by age or wisdom, Souza refrained
from using the trademark of his fame and influence to send the Bin
Ladins of the art world into exile and extinction.
interview in Goa - two months prior to his passing - Souza remarked to
journalist Fred Noronha that he "wasn't amused by the fakes". He went
on to state that in one house, he encountered a roomful of "Souza
fakes", and the gullible owner of the art works was very "proud" of
aside, one will never know if Souza ever acquired and devoured the
illusive pie in the sky, or shared it with others. He chose to leave
no glossy footage behind. I recall him being somewhat damningly
critical of his peers and contemporaries, and particularly bitter in
his assessment that recognition in his instance was afflicted with
Alzheimer's disease since birth -- or that it wasn't proportionate to
his creative genius.
was not alone in that bickering regard. As human beings, we aspire for
success and recognition. As artists, we tend to take it one step
further and aspire for immortality. The span from life to death can be
as stretched with illusions as it can with truths and pitfalls.
Ultimately, as always, the onus is upon death to sort truth from
fiction, and thereafter, for time to immortalize that which is
infinitely true. At the time when Pablo Picasso passed away, Souza was
preemptive enough to assert: "I am the next greatest living artist
Martin, 1980 - by F.N. Souza
retrospect, whoever Souza was and whatever he became, one will
continue to hear his footsteps in the corridors of Modern Indian art.
And for those who knew him personally, it isn't without the tacit
admission that the likes of him are quite an uncommon occurrence in
the grand scheme and theatrics of existence.
Ben Antao's Francis Newton
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