"RENAISSANCE PAINTERS PAINTED MEN AND WOMEN TO LOOK LIKE ANGELS, I PAINT FOR ANGELS TO SHOW THEM WHAT MEN AND WOMEN REALLY LOOK LIKE."
Souza had sketched his first nude at the young age of sixteen. For him, the body was a means to express both torment and fascination. The extraordinary voluptuousness of the female figures in Souza's Nudes are firmly rooted in Indian art historical tradition, with the perfectly rounded breasts and buttocks recalling an entire history of full-bosomed erotic imagery from the Tantric to the Miniaturist. The female figures of Buddhist and Hindu temple sculpture also reflect in his works. Unlike the languorous nudes of Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse, Souza's figures are somehow both sensuous and brazen.
These works explore a wide range of physiognomies from the most sublime and tender nudes to distorted and grotesque figures, expressing the artist's complex views on the human condition, corruption, sexuality and religion
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Nude with Towel), 1946Signed and dated 'Souza 1946' upper right
Ink on paper31.5 x 19.5 cm
12 3/8 x 7 5/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Standing Nude), 1949Signed and dated 'F.N.Souza 1949' lower right
Ink on paper23 x 15.5 cm
9 1/8 x 6 1/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Standing Nude), 1950Signed and dated 'London 1950' lower right
Charcoal and pastel on paper56 x 38 cm
22 1/8 x 15 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Nude Study), 1950Signed and dated 'Souza 1950' lower left
Pencil on paper56 x 39 cm
22 1/8 x 15 3/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Standing Female Nude), 1956Signed and dated 'Souza 1956' upper left
Oil on paper76 x 56 cm
29 7/8 x 22 1/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaReclining Nude, 1959Signed 'Souza 59' upper right; dated on the reverse bottom right
Ink on paper27 x 40 cm
10 5/8 x 15 3/4 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Couple), 1964Signed and dated 'Souza 1964' upper left
Ink on paper43 x 33 cm
16 7/8 x 13 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Reclining Nude on Magazine Paper), 1965Signed and dated ‘Souza 65’ upper left
Gouache and marker pen on Paper25 x 34 cm
9 7/8 x 13 3/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaThe Invitation Cart, 1967Signed and dated 'Souza 1967' lower right, titled 'The Invitation Cart' lower middle and editioned HC /AP lower left
Coloured lithograph on paper
44 x 66.5 cm (sheet size)
17 3/8 x 26 1/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Red Nude), 1968Collage on paper55.8 x 71 cm
22 x 28 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Seated Nude), 1968Signed and dated ‘Souza 1968’ upper left
Collage, gouache and marker pen on paper40 x 28 cm
15 3/4 x 11 1/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Standing Nude), 1968Signed and dated 'Souza 1968' and numbered 12/14 along lower edge
Etching on paper52.8 x 38.1 cm
20 3/4 x 15 in
“You remember, don’t you, that the picture was at first called The Brothel at Avignon. And do you know why? Avignon is the name that is linked to my life in Barcelona. There I lived only a few steps away from the Calle d’Avignon. That is where I always used to buy my paper and paints under the gaze of prostitutes.” (P. Picasso, Words and Confessions, 1954, quoted in A. Kurtha, Francis Newton Souza: Bridging Western and Indian Modern Art, Ahmedabad, 2006, p. 55)
These words, which give the title’s exegesis for Picasso’s painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), also set the context in which Francis Newton Souza sketched the study for Young Ladies of Belsize Park more than fifty years later in 1962. At that time, Souza was living in Hampstead, London, whose bustling atmosphere and nearby red light area of Belsize Park echoed Picasso’s description of Barcelona. The year 1962 marked thirteen years since Souza left India, and was already established both in the London and Paris art scenes, and was also exhibiting in Rome and Geneva. His art, qualified as too outrageous in India, blossomed in Europe enabling him to explore subjects like the female figure in his work as a powerful and subversive aesthetic tool.
Each figure mirrors the postures of Picasso’s Demoiselles in a simplified style that is almost more primitive. There is a sensuality, however, exuded from these five figures, distorted but carefully assembled, which Souza distilled from his analysis of the voluptuous traditional sculptures of the Khajuraho temples in India. Projecting this brothel scene in his own context, Souza delivers a raw transfiguration of what he sees as contemporary icons.
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Study for Young Ladies of Belsize Park), 1962 Signed and dated 'Souza 1962' lower right
Ink on paper
42.5 x 27 cm
16 3/4 x 10 5/8 in
"I treat you like a lady
And I know what’s good for you…
But your face is missing-
And you have no body,
Only a girlish outline In a dreamy landscape
Which smells of your fine scent!
And when I close my eyes,
You are there in flesh and blood,
With children and flowers; and your clean hair
Blowing in the breeze and your bright eyes
Shining in the night sky
Streaked with rainbows !
But when I open my eyes
You’re gone like the illusion of thin air,
And I am rudely awakened by the reality
Of your not being there!'
'New Poems by F.N Souza, Dedicated to Women', Published in London, 1985.
Souza's 'heads' dominated his oeuvre from the 1940s onwards. With distorted features on scarred faces - at times an allusion to the scars he retained from contracting smallpox as a child - these portraits represent both, a sense of self-deprecation and a critique of human society. As Souza's heads evolved, the trademarks cross-hatching technique in his early years, came to be replaced by alien-like loops, whorls and tentacles. These futuristic heads were "a spontaneous re-creation of the world as he has seen it, distilled in the mind by a host of private experiences and associations." (Edwin Mullins, Souza, London: Anthony Blond Ltd., 1962, p. 39)
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Lady with Braids), 1955Signed and dated 'Souza 55' upper right
Ink on paper25 x 20 cm
9 7/8 x 7 7/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Sitting Figure with Striped Tunic), 1962Pen and ink on paper
Signed and dated ‘Souza 62’ centre right27 x 41.6 cm
10 5/8 x 16 3/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Head of Prophet), 1964Signed and dated 'Souza 1964 lower left'
Partial letter to Miss Morton - Evans verso
Ink on paper20 x 16.5 cm
7 7/8 x 6 1/2 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Composition with Figures), 1967Signed and dated 'Souza 1967' middle right
Marker and ink on printed map20 x 25 cm
7 7/8 x 9 7/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Head on Green), 1969Signed and dated ‘Souza 1969’ upper left
Acrylic and pencil on card33 x 20 cm
13 x 7 7/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Cubist Head) , 1985Signed and dated 'Souza 1985' upper left
Pencil on paper22 x 18.2 cm
8 5/8 x 7 1/8 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Head of a Man in Profile), 1989Marker pen on paper28 x 21.5 cm
11 1/8 x 8 1/2 inSigned and dated 'Souza 98' upper right
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Face), 1998Signed and dated 'Souza 98' upper left
Chemical alteration and pen and ink on magazine paper29.6 x 22.3 cm
11 5/8 x 8 3/4 in
By incorporating the spiritual influences of his childhood within tightly ordered compositions, Souza created a body of works where religion and Modernity coexist. After moving to England in 1949, Souza was granted a government scholarship and research trip to Europe. Plunged into the complex and vibrant cityscapes of Rome and Amsterdam, Souza’s experience of various metropoles across the continent was evidently an important source of inspiration.
Souza emigrated to New York in 1967 and while travelling around America in the mid 70s He painted colourful cityscapes and landscapes of the places he visited.
'Souza has succeeded in creating images which are entirely personal, yet recognizable at the same time. They are often distorted to the point of destruction - houses no more than lopsided cubes...but they never threaten to dissolve into formalized abstract shapes. The violence and speed with which they were executed keep these images, however distorted, in touch with the painter's vision of what they really are.' (E. Mullins, Souza, Anthony Blond Ltd., London, 1962, p. 37).
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (City View) , 1958Inscribed on verso; 'Barbeque at the Mill / Saturday 16th August, 1958 / 8:30 onwards / Admission 10/6'
Black ink on card7.5 x 10 cm
3 x 4 in
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Two Landscapes with Churches), 1958Signed and dated 'Souza 58' lower left
Ink on Paper8 1/8 x 10 5/8 in
20.5 x 27 cm
Francis Newton SouzaUntitled (Landscape with Collage and Chemical), 1997Signed and dated 'Souza 97' upper left
Chemical on magazine laid down on paper45.7 x 30.2 cm
18 x 11 7/8 in
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.
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.