Legendary Indian Modernist SH Raza Is Dead at 94

He founded the avant-garde Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group.

SH Raza at the Delhi Art Summit. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Indian artist Syed Haider Raza has died at the age of 94. He passed away in a New Delhi hospital on Saturday. According to Ashok Vajpeyi, a poet and close friend of the painter, Raza succumbed to old age.

After studying at the Sir JJ School of Art, Raza rose to fame for his vibrant abstract, geometric acrylic on canvas paintings. In 1947, he founded the avant-garde Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, which subverted the mainstream perception of art and ushered in a new era of modernist creative expression in his native country.

According to the Hindustan Times, the artist started out as a landscape painter and colorist, but later turned his attention to “metaphysical ideas and the essence of life.” As such, he began to explore the Hindu philosophies of prakriti (nature), kundalini, (primal energy), tribhuj (triangle), and bindu (circle/dot) in his artistic practice.

S.H. Raza, <em>Patchtatva</em> (2007). Courtesy Auctionata.

S.H. Raza, Patchtatva (2007). Courtesy Auctionata.

Raza adopted a deeply spiritual, meditative approach his creative process. “Art is meditation; it mediates through colors. The bindu provides you with a focus, a locus to concentrate on,” he explained to the Hindustan Times. “Bindu is a source of energy, a still center, a point of radiation. It has immense visual possibilities.”

The artist’s unique approach to painting made him one of India’s most successful artists. According to the artnet Price Database, Raza’s auction record was set when Saurashtra (1983) sold at Christie’s London for £2.4 million ($3.5 million) in 2010. Demand for his work has remained high; between 2006 and 2015, 12 pieces have sold for over the $1 million mark.

Despite his success and awards—which include the distinctions of Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, and the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor for civilians—Raza’s remained unconcerned with the market’s interest in his work or his fame. “What matters is value, not price,” he had said.


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