"John Minton committed suicide because 'Matisse and Picasso had done everything there's to be done in art.' Unfortunately he had never heard of me. Otherwise he might have been alive today."
The Grosvenor Gallery and Saffronart are proud to present an exhibition of works by Francis Newton Souza (1924 - 2002). The show consists of over forty works, many of which have never been exhibited before. Highlights include a rare self-portrait drawn by Souza in 1942 while still at art school; Citadel, 1961, a striking example of Souza's cubist cityscapes; and the erotically charged Seated Female Nude, 1962.
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 such artists as Raza 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. The Tate Britain has recently dedicated a room to Souza's works as part of their BP British Art Displays 1500 - 2005. The accompanying text written by curator Toby Treves talks about the parallels that can be drawn between Souza's work and that of European artists like Pablo Picasso, Georges Rouault, Francis Bacon and Graham Sutherland, the latter two with which he was exhibiting as early as 1954.
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.
Souza was not only a prolific painter but also a writer, poet and even philosopher. His legacy is only just coming to light and we can all look forward to discovering more about him.