Souza was born in the Portuguese colony of Goa in 1924 into a strict Roman Catholic family. His upbringing was marked by what he saw as the conflict between the erotic Indian art surrounding him, and the repressive teachings of the Catholic Church. This duality of what he called 'sin and sensuality' was to significantly shape his art. Souza's canvases alternate from spiky, deformed faceless bodies and violent scenes of Christ's crucifixion, to sensual and statuesque nudes and tender portrayals of mother and child.
Souza's work is often evaluated within the context of his Indian contemporaries, namely the Progressives, of which he was a founding member. Indeed, it is important to recognise the groups shared passion to break free from conservative teachings following India's Independence in 1947, and when Souza's works are placed alongside those of artists such as Raza, Padamsee and Husain the similarities are clear.
However, Souza's works do not sit comfortably within any one frame of thought and critic John Berger's words that 'he straddles many traditions but serves none' rings as true today as when they were first written in the New Statesman in 1955. Souza made London his home between 1949 and 1967, with spells in Paris and Rome, after which he emigrated to the USA, finally settling in New York where he resided until his death in 2002. The balance is starting to be re-addressed between his Indian roots and his place within Modern Western painting.
Likewise, the social context within which Souza lived and painted and his strength of character are being brought into view. From his very beginnings, with the death of his father and sister during his childhood, Souza struggled against adversity. He fought for and achieved recognition against racism, conservatism and poverty to achieve one-man shows and international awards. Souza's energy never abated for new ideas and new techniques, from his use of light boxes to project images onto canvases, to his early experimentation with chemical solvents, acrylics and monochrome painting.
Like other great artists of the Twentieth Century, Souza was neither daunted by tradition nor disparaging of contemporary visual culture. Instead he adopted various notions and visual references from such sources as the old masters, his contemporaries, and commercial imagery appropriating them to create his own distinct works. In no other case is it more appropriate for a new adjective; 'Souzaesque'.
Souza was not only a prolific painter but also a writer, poet and even philosopher. His legacy is only just coming to light and there is much more to research. We can all look forward to discovering more about him in time to come.
We have close ties to the artist and always endeavour to have a range of his work at the gallery. The images on our website give an idea of the sort of work we have handled recently. For details of other works please contact us.