Friday, June 10, 2011

Deceased--Maqbool Fida Husain

Maqbool Fida Husain
September 17th, 1915 to June 9th, 2011

"M.F. Husain dies at 95; artist was called the Picasso of India"

Husain painted an estimated 25,000 works. His epic 'Mahabharata: The Battle of Ganga and Jamuna' sold for $1.6 million in 2008. Angered by Hindu hardliners, he left India in 2006 and later became a citizen of Qatar.


Mark Magnier

June 10th, 2011

Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Karachi, Pakistan, and New Delhi -- India's most famous artist, M.F. Husain, often referred to as the Picasso of India, died Thursday in a London hospital. He was 95.

The cause of death was not immediately clear, although he was being treated for fluid in his lungs.

Husain left India in 2006, angered by Hindu hardliners who condemned his nude depictions of Hindu gods. Last year Husain, a Muslim, became a citizen of Qatar, dividing his time between homes there and in London.

During his lifetime, he painted an estimated 25,000 works that in his later years were commanding record sums in keeping with his growing fame. His epic work "Mahabharata: The Battle of Ganga and Jamuna" sold at a 2008 Christie's auction for $1.6 million.

In the January-February 2011 issue of British cultural magazine Standpoint, critic Nick Cohen said Husain "may be the world's greatest living artist."

"Husain embodies the spirit of his country," Cohen added. "The struggles, the optimism and glories of India flow through his work."

India, the nation Husain felt betrayed by toward the end of his life, offered plaudits on Thursday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed his death a national loss, and President Pratibha Patil said it left a "void in the world of art."

Husain's painting, with its focus on color and lines, inspired by Cubism and the art of Hindu temples, gained wide attention in the 1950s. He received national recognition for his painting "Zameen" that, instead of bemoaning rural poverty and indebtedness, was a celebration of life, a common theme in his work.

As his reputation grew throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Husain showed a talent for hyping his life and escapades, which only raised the value of his work. "Life without a bit of drama is too drab," he said on one occasion. "If I'd been in Europe, I would've been more gimmicky than Salvador Dali," he said on another.

He also explored the film medium. In 1967, his first movie, "Through the Eyes of a Painter," won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival.

The paintings that would cause the greatest controversy and personal pain were mostly of Hindu deities. Although they were painted in the early 1970s, they didn't get much attention until 1996, when a monthly Hindi magazine, Vichar Mimansa, printed them, leading to several lawsuits by outraged conservatives. Two years later, his house was attacked by Hindu groups who vandalized several of his works.

The cases were dismissed in 2004, but two years later more controversy erupted over his "Bharatmata," or Mother India. The painting depicted a nude woman posing across a map of the country with the names of Indian states on her body, leading to legal charges that he'd "hurt the sentiments of people," prompting a warrant and his decision to turn his back on India. In his later years, he expressed a desire to return.

Maqbool Fida Husain was born Sept. 17, 1915, in Pandharpur in the western state of Maharashtra. His mother died while he was still a boy. At 17, he won a gold medal at an art exhibition for an oil portrait and persuaded his father to send him to art school.

Two years later, however, his father lost his job, putting an end to Husain's art studies. At 23, he got his first arts job painting cinema billboards for Bollywood. But, unable to make ends meet, he switched to designing and building toys.

Family and friends describe him as a wandering spirit, at times annoyingly so. His son Shamshad recounted to India Today magazine in 1979 how his father once asked the family to go for a drive, only to wander off for some tea while they were getting ready; he did not return for a week.

"We resented this at first and used to get very upset," Shamshad said. "But now we are quite used to it. He doesn't mean to hurt anyone or upset them. But he needs to be free."

Husain had several instrumental women in his life. Because he lost his mother at an early age, her image infused many of his paintings. "As I do not recall my mother's visage, most of my female figures have no face details," he said in a 2005 interview.

During his billboard painting days in Bombay, he acquired a surrogate mother when a widow, Mehmooda Bibi, took pity on him, inviting him to eat with her family. Eventually he married her daughter, Fazila Bibi, and they had six children.

"My father could not have become what he is had it not been for our mother's support," their son Shamshad, also a painter, once said.

Husain's most passionate love may have been Marie Zurkova, an interpreter whom he met in 1953 on a trip to Czechoslovakia, his first outside India. Husain reportedly gave her 50 paintings and proposed that she become his second wife. However, she eventually married someone else and moved to Australia.

"Maqbool Fida Husain, India’s Most Famous Painter, Dies at 95"


William Grimes

June 9th, 2011

The New York Times

Maqbool Fida Husain, an artist whose modernist reinterpretations of mythic and religious subjects made him India’s most famous painter and, in recent years, a target of right-wing Hindu groups, died on Thursday in London. He was 95.

The cause was a heart attack, The Press Trust of India said, citing family members.

Mr. Husain, who developed his sweeping brushstrokes and bright palette when he painted movie billboards in Bombay (now Mumbai), applied the formal lessons of European modernists like Cézanne and Matisse to scenes from national epics like the Mahabharata and to the Hindu pantheon.

He also painted, obsessively, two women who were, in very different ways, his muses. The first was the 1990s Bollywood sex symbol Madhuri Dixit, also known as the Oomph Girl. The other was Mother Teresa.

Indifferent to both religion and politics, Mr. Husain, a Muslim by upbringing, treated the gods and goddesses of Hinduism as visual stimuli rather than deities, depicting them unclothed and often in sexually suggestive poses. This cavalier treatment earned him the bitter hatred of Hindu nationalist groups, which beginning in the 1990s mounted a campaign of intimidation and violence against him.

In his later years, Mr. Husain spent much of his time defending himself against court actions aimed at the messages in his artwork, and in 2005 he left India and became a citizen of Qatar.

He cut a dashing, highly eccentric figure. Dressed in impeccably tailored suits, he went barefoot and brandished a slim cane that, on closer inspection, turned out to be an extra-long paintbrush. He never maintained a studio. Instead, he spread his canvases out on the floor of whatever hotel room he happened to be staying in and went to work, splashing paint with abandon and paying for damages when he checked out.

“I am like a folk painter,” he told the BBC. “Paint and move ahead.”

He was enormously prolific. He once claimed to have produced some 60,000 paintings. A gifted self-promoter and hard bargainer, he amassed a fortune but maintained, he insisted, a bank balance of zero. Revenue from his sales, including the $2 million that a private collector paid for his painting “The Last Supper” in 2005 — a record for an Indian artist — went to support the four museums he created to showcase his work and to his collection of classic sports cars.

Maqbool Fida Husain was born on Sept. 17, 1915, in Pandharpur, in the central Indian state of Maharashtra, and grew up in Indore in Madhya Pradesh. His father was an accountant. Rather than become a tailor’s apprentice, he decided to try his luck in Bombay, where he found work as a “graphics wallah” painting the vibrant billboards advertising Bollywood films. He also designed toys and children’s furniture.

He remained a film fan throughout his life. After seeing Ms. Dixit in “Who Am I to You?” (1994), one of the most successful Hindi films ever made, he adopted her as his muse, painting hundreds of portraits and directing her in the 2000 film “Gaja Gamini,” which he also produced and in which he invested $2 million. He later directed the Hindi star Tabu in “Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities” (2004). Neither film was a commercial success.

In 1947 he was invited by Francis Newton Souza to join the Progressive Artists’ Group, an organization that encouraged embracing modernism and breaking free of traditional painting styles, especially the classical miniatures favored by the Bengal School.

After winning a prize at the annual exhibition of the Bombay Art Society, he began showing his work throughout India and abroad at international art fairs. In 1971 he was given a major exhibition at the São Paolo Biennale. In 1967 his film “Through the Eyes of a Painter” won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival.

Among his best-known paintings are a series based on the Ramayana and Mahabharata and a series of 45 watercolors, completed in 1975, “Passage Through Human Space.” His political troubles stemmed from a group of paintings, made in the early 1970s, that included a depiction of the goddess Durga copulating with a tiger, the goddess Lakshmi perched naked on the elephant head of Ganesh, the god of success, and a nude Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge. They were reprinted in 1996 in the Hindi monthly Vichar Mimansa in an article titled “M. F. Husain: A Painter or a Butcher?”

In response to the article, eight lawsuits were filed against him for “promoting enmity between different groups.” Although the Delhi High Court dismissed the complaints in 2004, Mr. Husain became a lightning rod for political and religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims. An angry mob ransacked his gallery in Ahmedabad, and members of the far-right Hindu group Bajrang Dal invaded his house and vandalized paintings.

The lawsuits kept coming. Mr. Husain observed the turmoil with a cool eye. He once invited a panel composed of an art critic, a lawyer and a Hindu nationalist to review his work. If they found any of it offensive, he said, he would throw it into a fire in a traditional Hindu sacrificial rite.

Despite his talent for provocation, Mr. Husain received many official honors. In 1986, as a reward for his status as a national treasure, he was appointed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to the upper house of the Indian Parliament. He attended sessions for six years and never spoke a word, preferring instead to make drawings of his fellow legislators, which he published in the satirical “Sansad Upanishad: The Scriptures of Parliament.”

Mr. Husain shrugged off widespread criticism of his performance in government service. “I’m concerned with my country, of course; and to be there inside the corridors of power, I was learning so much,” he told The Daily Telegraph of London. “And I got free public transport, and a lifetime pension. It’s still coming!”

After leaving India, Mr. Husain, whose survivors include six children, divided his time between Dubai and London. “They can put me in a jungle,” he told The New York Times in 2008. “Still, I can create.”

M. F. Husain [Wikipedia]

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