Saturday, January 14, 2012

Picasso Souza exhibition: First rate Picasso, second rate Souza

Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi has come up with '(Pablo) Picasso (Francis Newton) Souza' exhibition, and to be fair to whoever has curated the show it has been pitched as Souza being a fan of Picasso. The Spanish artist is older to him more than a generation, and the Indian artist must have been in sheer awe of Picasso. But the problem is when the works of two artists are juxtaposed, we do not really see the work of Souza as a tribute to the modern European master. It comes off in a rather bad light, with Picasso as the undoubted master and Souza as a not very able apprentice. One of my friends, Chandrika Mago, commented softly that this is being unfair to Souza. She could not overlook the fact that next to Picasso's drawings those of Souza appear that of an imitative teenager.
There is a certain lyricism in the drawings of Picasso, and he infuses romanticism, laughter and sensuality into the lines that form the contours of his nude women. Even M.F.Husain, who is a competent draughtsman, does not reveal the same mastery over lines that Picasso displays. They are utterly captivating. Turn to Souza and you find a certain awkwardness and an unintended ugliness compared to the beauty of Picasso's figures.
There have been some elated reviews of this exhibition which seem to have uncritically accepted the assumption of the exhibition that Souza is a worthy fan of Picasso, and some writers have even sought to see certain parallels in the work of the two artists, forgetting that there was a huge artistic gap between the two, and Picasso was way above what Souze could ever hope to achieve.
Picasso does not stand much of a chance compared to the other European masters of earlier periods. Matisse has an edge over him, and Dali despite his surrealist limitations shows that he has a mind of his own. Picasso remains a rustic in intellectual terms and there is a roughness as well as an undeniable robustness to his lines and colours. Souza fails on every count -- thinking, mastery of line and expressive colour schemes.
The exhibition turns out to be a disaster because it shows that the comparison between the two does not withstand scrutiny, and that Souza is a loser in this juxtaposition with a superior artist like Picasso.
No harm is done. But it would seem there is need to realise that Indian painters responding to western ideas and trends in art do not come off well. They are not even on the second rung.


Jugu Abraham said...

A great commentary. How I wish I was in Delhi to see the paintings. I have not seen a single original Souza to date though I have seen some original Picassos outside India..

Jugu Abraham

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