Early Drawings 
  F. N. Souza
  K. Laxma Goud
  4th to 13th October, 2004



It seems difficult to believe that Francis Newton Souza could ever have had a quiet moment in his life. Professional adversary of the establishment, febrile anarch and dissident, this founder member of the Progressive Artists Group has come to be associated in the viewerly imagination with his diabolical priests, gross capitalists and thorny kings; or with his gaping nudes and monstrous heads, hybrids of ghoul and robot. Few might think that Souza's heads could achieve an almost classical sobriety, with eccentricity reduced to the merest hint. Or that his nudes could be languid, almost matronly and inspiring compassion rather than passion, instead of appearing electric with desire and being desired. Such, nevertheless, is the testimony offered by the present suite of drawings, most of them rendered during the early 1960s, with a few works that date from the preceding decade.

It is natural that a sheaf of preparatory drawings, doodles and analytic sketches should give the impression of being somehow less than cogent. On the other hand, it is this very absence of cogency, this unpremeditated juxtaposition of diverse elements, which invests such a collation of images with the quality of surprise. These seventeen drawings are asides from Souza's studio, memoranda drafted along the painter's route. Some capture fragile moments of delight, such as the dancing strokes that hint at an excited animal or a gymnast in motion (1960). Others are carefully calibrated encounters with self, time, and the perceived competition. Consider the spare lines in which the 1963 bearded head, almost certainly a self-portrait, is cast. Watch the artist, in another drawing from that year, as he tests his strength against Picasso and Henry Moore through a stylised female figure reclining in a landscape, almost a landscape herself. As we place these drawings against the stray 1951 head of a woman, reminiscent of the same Bengal School style that its author had gleefully reviled not long before, we catch ourselves marvelling at the varieties of distance that the rebel from Bombay learned to cover during his London decades.

The early 1960s were a magical yet bedevilled time in Souza's life. He found himself experiencing a turn of events, the like of which hardly ever takes place outside the realm of fairytale: he entered into an agreement with an American collector, under the terms of which the émigré Indian artist would be paid a handsome fee in return for monthly despatches of work. For the first time in his turbulent career, at the age of 36, Souza knew ease. What bearing, we might well ask, does this circumstance have on these drawings; we are answered by the conflicting emotions coursing through them.

Both the 1961 and the 1963 versions of Souza's favoured motif, the woman sleeping, suggest energy in repose, the gift of comfort. And yet the erotic pleasure of the 1962 drawing of a woman with plaits, pictured in bed, is spiked with unease. Like the two female heads culled from the same year's harvest of drawings, it bears close affinity to Souza's paintings of that period, which are now benchmarks in his oeuvre. The menacing 1963 figure, which compacts Woman, Justice and Death, is unabashedly allegorical, while the frank sensuality of some of these nudes can disturb even the contemporary viewer, inured though he is to the flesh by its all-too-ready display in cinema, advertising and real life. In these gestures, we see the artist, not in his vaunted public persona of master, but in the secret avatar of the apprentice who dedicates himself to his inspirations, looking over his shoulder at rivals on the track, gauging alternatives, engaged in the serious business of rehearsal.

Ranjit Hoskote
Bombay, Autumn 2004

The Writhing Line

Laxma Goud curls his fingers to carve a bone from the air. "I am like a fishbone stuck in the viewer's throat," he says. "I can't help it, if it hurts." Viewers down the years have not been able to digest a Goud drawing or print without being aware of its blistering physicality. Erect nipples and penises, dry scrub sizzling in a heat haze, and the udders of a goat bursting to fullness: these forms have altered and returned in other avatars, like beleaguered seasons coping with the order of nature's calendar.

Goud has always exhibited a devilish irreverence for hierarchies, whether in art or in life. It is reflected in his small-format ink drawings, which affect a monochrome palette but, in actuality, bleed the paper to ambiguous shades of grey. The present suite of drawings is a tight but deftly made selection, ranging from his earliest period, the 1960s, to more recent works. An alumnus of the Government College of Fine Arts and Architecture, Hyderabad, and the M. S. University, Baroda, Goud early on seized the writhing, bleeding line as his defining idiom, in defiance of the long-held Indian market dictum that an artist can be successful only if s/he paints in large-format oils on canvas. 

Goud first employed the dark line as his weapon of affront against the urban gallery viewers' fig-leaf hypocrisy during the 1960s. He hurled his scurf-oozing fractured bodies at viewers more habituated to the gentle dancing line of the artists who were then popular. He made no bones either about his rural origins, the environment from which he drew his imagery, or his metropolitan art background, the site where his sensibility was honed. The viewers were suitably shocked, but the commentators failed to understand the complex psychological landscape that Goud unfurled on paper. They imprisoned him in a rural/urban binary, pigeon-holing his vocabulary as folk-inspired and tribal-rooted. But Goud does not belong to a tribal background: not all villagers are tribals, nor are they all folk dancers! His work testifies to the fact that it is as much inspired by Picasso, Klee and the Neue Sachlichkeit as it is by Andhra leather-puppet theatre. His art must be seen in context with the choices of K G Subramanyan, his teacher at Baroda, and those of M F Husain and the late Francis Newton Souza, figures he admires.

The works on display are marked by an eroticised, ambivalent violence, like the 1968 drawing of a naked couple etched in thickly packed black strokes: it portrays the woman in semi-cubist form, her face hinging off her nose, and her nose ring as much abhushana, ornament, as Souzaesque tubular body-growth. A 1974 drawing shows a sexual encounter between a maimed woman with a prominently displayed vagina and a man weighed down by the burden of myth; despite his many heads and many arms, he rests on the ground like a fallen tree. A 1983 drawing turns the faces of a couple into the shape of a mountain range, their heads standing alone like two peaks never meant to meet; a trace of the woman's hand, clutching at the folds of her fan-like sari, hints at her vulnerability. The 1994 landscapes open out like gaping holes, body orifices full of desire and emptiness. 

Goud's images suggest a universe centred on the phallus; they mount an attack on the senses by brute strength. Yet his protagonists puzzle you with their hesitations, their vulnerabilities, the fortitude with which they hold a wound, the tattoos of oppression with which they adorn their bodies and minds. The black fire that Goud had kindled in the 1960s now blazes with a new maturity, a new candour.

Nancy Adajania
Bombay, September 2004


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