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'I am not painting for buyers or critics'


At 85 (he celebrated his birthday this week), Syed Haider Raza doesn't really give a damn about those who criticise his work and isn't unnecessarily bothered about art reviews. Having explored everything from Nature to sexual energy, spirituality and divinity, Raza is among the few living legends in the Indian art sphere. Excerpts from an interview.

Q. What does an empty canvas mean to you?
A. It represents a nude woman in bed-and makes me want to get active! I'm  
    very excited at the prospect of an empty white canvas. It is an invitation for a 
    new project. On an empty canvas I can see a black bindu on a red ground or I
    can see the kundalini or some other new idea. Even before I was coming to
    India form Paris. I asked my driver to line up four empty canvases for me in
    my studio so that as soon as I get back, I'm stimulated to get to work
    immediately.

Q. There is a lot of sexual energy represented in your work.
A. Yes, that is my interpretation of it. Why must we look at energy in any form as 
a bad thing? I have explored the yogic awakening and spiritual maturation in     the kundalini, the Bindu symbolises the seed bearing the potential of all life...these are essentially Indian concepts. Why must we detach ourselves 
from them?

Q. Do you have friends in the Indian art fraternity?
A. Well, a few of us started together and we've kept in touch with each other in 
our own little ways. My friends are those with whom I feel an intellectual 
affinity. I tend to be drawn to those who are seeking truth in some form or the 
other. These needn't necessarily be artists. I also believe in imparting 
knowledge and am always happy to lend my name to the cause of a talented 
young artist. I'm always open to identifying and promoting new talent in the 
art world.

Q. With this whole art mart boom, don't you think some artists are being paid 
way too much?
A. At a point when Indian art has found a significant expression within the 
country and world over, it is sad to see people equating it with matters of 
finance. One must pay the price for the love of a painting, not on the basis of 
mere speculation. And I'm not saying that those in the business of art (gallery 
owners) must not pursue art as an investment. But in the logic of finance, let 
artists not forget that art is a matter of profound personal reaction...I'm very 
happy that my paintings are commanding excellent prices. But rest assured, 
till date I have never sent any of my work to an auction house. It is collectors 
who own my work and want to sell it who profit, not me.

Q. Don't you think that just about everybody is coming into the art scene 
because today it is lucrative to be an artist?
A. First of all, you can't stop anybody from painting. It's matter of personal 
choice.  And I belive that if we're able to cultivate even ten of the thousand 
who dabble in art, it will be a service to the Indian art world.

Q. There are those who believe that a lot of abstract art today is hogwash?
A. What critics say doesn't matter to me. I am not painting for the buyer or the 
lover of art. Nor for the critics. I paint to go on a journey within myself. At 85 I 
have everything I could ever need. It's not the pursuit of money that makes 
me pick up a paintbrush every single day...it is the hunger to paint. How 
people react to my work is their choice.