Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Indefatigable A A Raiba - Fond Memories

IAnD Exclusive

By Shriram Khadilkar

Veteran artist - Late A.A. Raiba
 Veteran artist - Late A.A. Raiba

Veteran painter Abdul Aziz Raiba breathed his last on April 15, 2016. He was 94 and still questing for the unfathomable through his artistic expression He was painting until few days leading up to his end…

“I am not satisfied with the work that I have done so far,” exclaimed Raiba, when I last met him couple of months ago in Nalasopara at his residence cum studio; the nonagenarian nonchalantly referring to his thirst for painting as a neonate’s yearning for milk.

Late A A Raiba at work
Late A A Raiba at work

A. A. Raiba had been expressing himself for seventy plus years through the medium of painting. Till his last days, he thirsted for it. Until a few years ago, he was busy with reading the Quran and painting landscapes sitting in his studio, as responsive and energetic as any young artist waiting to embark on his artistic journey.

Old Bombay series
Old Bombay series

Raiba learned Indian style of painting while studying at the Sir. J. J. School of Art, Mumbai under the guidance of Jagannathji Ahivasi. He was awarded a scholarship by Fazalbhoy trust. After completing his art education, he was appointed as a fellow in Sir J. J. School of Art. In the initial stage of his education, he was influenced by western trends in art. His close associates including M. F. Hussain advised him to visit Europe, but he preferred to go to Kashmir on a tip off by eminent painter Walter Langhammer. He stayed there for more than three years and accomplished a large body of work - a significant addition in his repertoire.  
Landscape & Roti seller by A A Raiba
Landscape                                                                                                                                                                  Roti seller

He largely abided by the Indian style of painting. From Kashimiri women, to South Indian fisherwomen to Goan landscapes to village-scapes in North India and seascapes in and around Bassin, Raiba was at one time called ‘harfanmoula’ (Jack of all trades) because he was painting whatever came his way. The movie Jhansi ki Rani effected a canvas depicting a girl climbing on the trunk of an elephant. He painted a dying horse after witnessing the death of a camel in a painting by Abanindranath Tagore. And then he also painted beautiful blind women, who were selling bread (rotis) in Kashmir… He handled a variety of subjects with aplomb.   

Bold shapes, strong definite lines, beautiful shades of colours with a difference were the speciality of Raiba’s paintings.  The important thing was that he prepared his own canvases. Earlier, he used to prepare his own colours too.  He had a voracious appetite to view and assimilate works by other artists; a variety of styles and isms; yet he made a breakthrough and established his own style of painting.

Death of a horse by A A Raiba
Death of a horse

The series on ‘Old Bombay has been Raiba’s greatest contribution to the world of Indian Art. In this series, he has painted monumental structures of 18th century Mumbai. He did a lot of sketching for many years and painted using perspectives in miniature style with shades like deep reds, umbers, and faded yellows. In the same style, he painted some locations in Bassin village area too. 

After watching Jhansi ki Rani
After watching Jhansi ki Rani

Raiba was also a member of Progressive Group - one of its earliest members after its six founders; but moved away after a show in 1953. He never challenged anybody; except himself.  His close friend and confidant M. F. Husain once advised him to work as an artist in film production and urged Raiba to approach K. Asif, when he was making Mughal- E- Azam. A disciplined Raiba could not bring himself to work in that ambience. Here was a versatile artist, who was blessed by the likes of Charles Gerard, Walter Laghammer and Rudy Von Layden, who were king makers of those days. 

As compared with contemporaries of his time, Raiba was not a expensive painter. One would very rarely see his paintings in an auction. He did not believe in monetizing his art for commercial success. “Work with passion, money will follow you,” he would say. His fans are spread world over with collections of his paintings.     

Late artist A A Raiba flipping through his sketchbook
Late artist A A Raiba flipping through his sketchbook for us

Years ago, he operated from a 10 x 10 ft. home cum studio at Temkar Street in South Mumbai. In his last days, he stayed in a high-rise apartment, which also housed his independent studio space in the whereabouts of Virar in suburban Mumbai.

An artist, who truly valued his priceless creative journey, Raiba was the indefatigable artist, young in spirit and bubbling with energy - a befitting inspiration for young and upcoming artists of today.            

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