Francis Newton Souza was a legendary artist and founding member of the Progressive Artist’s group in Bombay during 1947 era, and was a leading member of the Indian avant-garde. In 2008, his painting “Birth” (1955) set a world auction record for the most expensive Indian painting sold till then by selling for US $2.5 million (INR 11.3 crore) at a Christie’s auction. In 2015, the painting “Birth” was resold at Christie’s in New York, fetching more than US $4 million. The Aspire auction beginning today will feature the best of Francis Newton Souza’s works ever to appear for any auction. The auction will hold spectacular artistic work of Francis Newton Souza’s paintings like ‘Lamani Women, Abstract Head 3 and Portrait of Martim Afonso’.
In this regard Francis Patrick Souza, son of Francis Newton Souza, spoke to Team Optimist. Excerpts:
1) What has been the traditional approach as far as mystical expressionism is concerned? How did FN Souza proceed in this regard?
Mystical expressionism was/is a modernist movement founded in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. The style is also applicable to poetry and is used in the case of fine artists to express emotional experience as opposed to physical reality. At least in most of the cases! My father was a complete Teutophile. He adored German culture, classical music, and fine art! And he loved Germany in general!
And I am not surprised by the fact that a great deal of his fine art was initially influenced by mystical expressionism and continued to be influenced by this particular modernist style throughout his career.
2) The creation of the ‘human head’ by FN Souza was unique. What was his approach to creating human forms?
One of my dad’s most famous quotes was “Renaissance painters painted men and women to look like angels, I paint for angels to show them what men and women really look like”. In addition to this unique F.N. Souza style, my father was evidently greatly influenced by abstract art as well as the mystical expressionism we already touched on. And this with the amalgamation of my father’s distinctive and idiosyncratic personal styles became the basis for the creation of his human forms!
3) Modern world and disillusionment have been highlighted in many of the paintings of FN Souza. How are his creations different from contemporary artists in his era?
My father could be very touched and emotionally moved by societal and civil events and history! So I suppose as dad was a quite an impassioned man who had heartfelt feelings about numerous world situations, events, and people, that other fine artists of his day perhaps did not feel so deeply moved by, this was also expressed in his art!
And if you knew him on a personal level, as I knew him completely, these emotional and sensitive qualities were also very much reflected in my father’s persona.
4) When most artists preferred to focus on objective reality, FN Souza didn’t follow the tradition. Was he influenced by a particular incident or his creations depict the time he lived in?
I feel one of the most profound instances of my father’s early life that clearly shaped his character and personality was the untimely passing of his own father and my paternal grandfather Jose Victor Anacleto Piedade Newton De Souza. An extremely prominent Goan and Portuguese African Educator and district and provincial school director for all of South Goa as well as a large part of present-day Mozambique and also a successful writer.
My father’s older sister Zarina passed on a year later. My dad was only 3 months old when his father passed on. I know this affected my father a great deal because even though my grandfather passed on from pneumonia, he felt abandoned by him, which was and is indeed very sad. And I feel due to this feeling of abandonment, it was at times challenging for my dad to actually deal with reality and practical situations in life. And his illusory feelings also crossed over to his fine art creations!
5) From being an Indian artist to an International artist – What was the biggest influence in FN Souza’s artistic journey?
Relocating in the superlative manner that my father did twice, first from India to Europe with his first wife Maria Figuredo Souza and then 20 years later from Europe to America with his second and final wife my mother Barbara Maureen Zinkant Souza. Were paramount to his international success and building his career and reputation as a world-renowned star fine artist!
My mother Barbara was his second and final wife and his first wife Maria were also very supportive of dad’s endeavors both as a fine artist and as a man!
6) In an era where artists are discussing on ‘art of expression’, how are FN Souza’s paintings relevant in present India?
I feel and know that my father’s paintings and paperwork will always have the utmost relevance to all fine art and not just Indian! And dad’s expressionism and abstract figurative style will always have a great influence and absolute weight on all culture universally.