‘Whatever happens in the world is the result of a tension,’ so wrote Vyasa in his magnum opus the Bhagavad Gita. Other poets have written that these fervors of man are the most precious assets that life can offer. A painter's, scholar's or writer's quest is the result of a tension, an imperative, an internal need that drives them to search and work. It is a period of gestation and intense activity; the purification of matter by fire. Raza gave expression to this experience in L'Orage, 1975 and two other paintings: La Nuit (The Night), 1972 and La Terre (The Earth), 1977, which portray passion, turmoil, tension and anxiety as a body in the center of a furnace, burning in order to refine the essence of his experience. Raza considered the L'Orage, 1975 a masterpiece. He gave it to one of his most important French collectors, Pierre Repellin, who hung the masterpiece in his home next to the other significant work in his collection, Tapovan, 1972.
“This consecration of space, I tried to introduce it in the same way a musician plays the râga of the morning, of the evening, or of the night. The painting must express an experience. I tried to reproduce the feeling given by the day, by Rajasthan, by a festival, by a storm, by a church…”
- S.H. Raza
L'Orage was realized in Raza’s studio in Gorbio where, in the 1970s, the artist spent much of the year from May to the end of October. His studio was annexed to his house in the beautiful French village, where he enjoyed a view of the surrounding mountains that reminded him of his native country. The lines and masses of these contrasting mountains are found in the paintings from the 1970's and are particularly well-balanced in this rendition of L’Orage.
Gorbio overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and is subject to frequent summer storms that have weathered the surrounding peaks. These storms can be particularly violent and are known to obscure the sky. This disturbing atmosphere is captured with great precision in this picture – namely, the intense tension between brightness and darkness.
L'Orage is an important representative work of a time when Raza was working with color to express a plethora of sensations and emotions associated with a predominant theme in his work - nature. The rectangular-shaped canvas is divided into two parts separated by a vertical band. On the right we see a narrow light mass that widens towards the bottom; to the left, a circular mass unfolds towards the lower part of the painting. The painting is dominated by the contrast between light and dark masses: light parts encapsulated by tenebrous forms. The contrasts reflect the natural force of the Orage, reinforced by the play of the vertical lines at the center and by the curved lines on the left - lines that enhance the effect of agitation.
“My work is my own inner experience and involvement with the mysteries of nature and form which is expressed in color, line, space and light.”
This canvas illustrates the force of the natural elements that at the time were at the heart of Raza's studies. It lays special emphasis on the life-giving quality of water and, in particular, on the source of the Narmada River, on whose banks the painter spent his childhood. The impetuousness of this painting not only conveys Raza's compelling desire to return to his roots, to the primordial source of his origin, but also the duality of his sentiments, the vertical lines on the right standing for calmness and the curved ones on the left for his state of turmoil. Perhaps, L'Orage, 1975 is a representation of the artist’s wavering between France and India. An important rendition, in which the spiritual and aesthetic inflows from India and France meet, confront each other, and then blend.
Raza devoted long hours of work to this painting, punctuated by readings of Indian sacred texts that accompanied him throughout the creative process. He took great care of the details that make this work an amalgamation of his research and which links his occidental influence to his Indian tradition. It took him several months to complete the painting, and he then kept it in his studio to constantly improve the rendering of colors. L'Orage represents a privileged moment for the artist where he could, in the tranquility of this Ligurian village on the French Mediterranean coast, surrender to creation without worrying about time, being limited by no other constraint except the creation of a finished work that was supremely important to him.
“I didn’t become a French painter or a European one. I remained an Indian painter through the years. That was always in my heart and I am very glad that I was able to come back here again.”
- S.H. Raza
About the Author:
Michel Imbert is one of the foremost experts in the world on S H Raza’s art. He has written a definitive text on the artist, Raza, An Introduction to his Painting, Rainbow Publishers, 2003. He co-curated 'The Year of India' – a show of works that in part came from Raza’s collection of art that the artist found inspirational. The show was presented at the Tour Lascaris in Gorbio. Born in Sartourville, Menton in the South of France, close to the artist’s summer home, Imbert was particularly close to Raza and his wife, the artist Janine Mongillat, having known them for almost fifty years. In particular, Imbert offers a perspective on Raza which is singular. His family took in Raza and Mongillat as boarders when the couple first started spending three months in the summer in Gorbio in 1956, and the artists continued to room with Imberts’ parents till they bought their own house and studio in 1965. It is that studio in which L’Orage was painted in the summer of 1975. As Imbert has said in an interview in Nice Matin, dated July, 2017, “His (Raza’s) most beautiful paintings, were painted in Gorbio. Because he was there outside of time.”