Artist Dr. Nalini Bhagwat remembers painter A. A. Raiba as a painter of varied expressions. While discussing about Raiba after a few days of his demise, she shared her memory of personally meeting him a few years back. She had conducted his interviews which were published in newspapers. She showed one of the published interview in the Marathi newspaper Lokasatta. I requested her to let me edit, translate and publish it as our heartfelt tribute to the great artist. Dr. Nalini readily agreed and gave me the briefed article that is substantial to know the life of Raiba which was initially full of struggle for living and self-identity, his unicity and his achievements as an artist.
|Artist Dr. Nalini Bhagwat(Image Google /youtube)|
Raiba had confessed that before being an artist, he was a proud Indian. He was grateful to his homeland for nurturing him and his art. He never desired to leave India and settle in any other part of the world. Living in poverty, he completed his studies with lot of difficulty but his passion for art and painting was undeterred by these conditions. He wanted to pursue education in Art from the Sir J. J. School of Art, but couldn’t afford the fees. His problem was solved by Fazalbhai Trust Scholarship.
His paintings were so impressive that he was admitted directly in third year painting class. Raiba had the opportunity to work in guidance of Jaggannath Ahivasi and he developed liking for miniature painting. During this time he also got 20 rupees scholarship! This scholarship may seem so less to us, but back then it was a big amount for Raiba because he was so poor that he was not even in position to bring wholesome tiffin to college, so he did not mix up with other students. He would buy Indian gram flour noodles (gathiya), go to nearby masjid and eat with the dry bread (chapaties) that he carried to the college. He never regretted this kind of lifestyle, and never felt ashamed in his future life to tell the truth because poverty did not hamper his passion for painting. He concentrated only on his paintings and was determined to make his work more and more effective. His passion paid off so well, that he passed with flying colours in 1946 and Principal Gerard offered him the Fellowship.
While in the Sir J.J. School of Art, he never missed the opportunity to visit various places and paint his experiences there. These paintings based on the real life experiences were liked by people. To name a few: ‘Forgotten Gothic Cathedral’ painted after his visit to Calicut and Pondicherry, ‘Ruins of Aundha fort’ were his Goa’s memories, remembering Sikkim- Bhutan and Nepal he painted ‘No man’s land’. In1948 he received bronze medal from Bombay Art Society for the painting ‘Shringar’. The following year he received silver medal for ‘Glory of India’. In1950 he got an opportunity to visit Kochi and based on his experiences at Kochi he painted ‘Lullaby’, which again fetched him a bronze medal.
|A A Raiba / facebook: Najeeb Raiba|
From 1940 onwards, with the help of Art Director of newspaper group ‘Times’ Raiba’s paintings were published in ‘Illustrated Weekly’. Observing his passionate work from 1940 to 1950, the then art critic Rudi Wan Lyndon, proposed to include him in ‘Progressive Group’. Raiba joined the group, but as a matter of fact, his thought process was completely different from the other members of the group. In1956 he participated in ‘Progressive Artists’ Group’ exhibition, but his paintings were totally of Indian style and there was no rebellious and distorted theme in it. Newton D’Souza who was the Founding member of the Group, was his classmate in the Sir J. J. School of Art and was also the member of the Progressive Group. But Raiba did not remain in the group for long and soon he resigned from the group. In 1955 he exhibited his paintings based on Kochi’s experiences, at Delhi. The painting ‘Cochin Fishermen’ is presently in museum at Nagpur. Another painting ‘Green Lagoon’ fetched him Gold medal from the Bombay Art Society and he got lot of recognition.
Raiba’s sketching was very impressive. He also had his own style of painting. Impressed by it, Souza invited him for commissioned work of painting Ashoka hotel in Delhi. The work was completed with the help of three to four more painters. The money was equally distributed among them. After giving some amount to his siblings, Raiba spent the remaining amount to fulfil his wish of visiting Kashmir to experience its vast beauty. He stayed there for three years from 1957-1959, but during this period he saw the pathetic condition of people over there. He could sense the dissatisfaction and sadness of people to such an extent that he did not feel like painting beautiful miniatures. He felt the need to show the pathos of these people in his paintings. Maybe, here his experience of Progressive Group must have helped him. He used charcoal and white colour and without minute detailing painted deformed paintings. Not a single painting of this series was sold, but Lord Harrison’s aged wife appreciated the paintings. While painting landscape at Nagina Garden, in Kashmir painter Bendre happened to come there. He saw the painting and appreciated it a lot. After two year when Raiba sent it to annual exhibition of Lalit Kala Academy, in 1961, he won National Award for it. After this year, he flourished as an artist. In 1963 he participated in exhibitions at Egypt, Rio de Janerio and Paris. ‘Genealogical tree’ and ‘The King and the Queen are dead’ were his most sorted paintings of that period.After coming back from Kashmir, Raiba developed interest in Occult science. He studied the subject and we find there after he had developed too much realistic style in his paintings. The mysterious aura was projected by mixing colours.
From the year 1945 till 1965 there were many dramatic changes seen in his paintings. He had realised that the external appearance of the person and the inner self are totally different. He noted this difference. He painted self- portrait in which he showed the mask of his happy face displaced a little and under that was a sad, gloomy face. He presented this painting to Langhammer, which may now be with Keku Gandhi. While going back to Europe Mrs. Langhammer gave the painting to Keku Gandhi, requesting the assurance from him that the said painting would be given in charge of the National Museum that was supposed to be built in Mumbai.
Human figures were prominent in his paintings. ‘Barahmaas’, nine painting series ‘Nav-ratna’ and ‘The other side of moon’ were prominently human figure paintings.
Raiba’s style got a different angle (nature painting) with exhibition based on experiences of Vasai. The exhibition was a big hit. All the paintings were sold. So, this was a major phase of change in style and movement towards nature painting.
After 1983 there was yet another revolutionary change in his style of paintings and that was in the material that he used for painting. During this period he experimented with glass painting and enamel painting and gave layer effect on one of the part of glass. Cry Foundation used this artwork for their greeting cards. In1985 he set glasses in such a way that enamel on every part of the glass projected as one whole painting the layers of glasses produced single plain effect. Raiba also worked on canvas. He painted cityscapes with the top view, capturing the houses, roads, sunrise and sunset. He painted these like miniature painting instead of filling colours that gave photographic effect. The plain strokes like calligraphy was the USP of Raiba.
Raiba’s contribution to Indian Art is praiseworthy. He left this world on April 15, 2016 but will always remain alive in our hearts, because Artist never dies!