Syed Haider Raza sits in his whitewashed studio, carefully lined with colourful canvases that he has painted in the past. He is at work on his next painting. The master painter’s signature motifs of dots, triangles, circles and squares fan out on the canvas in front of him in shades of the pancha-tattwa, and the ‘Razabindu’ rests right in the middle, yet to be painted in black—‘the mother colour’. Raza is 93. He has been painting for the last 81 years of his life, and his urge to paint is undiminished. “I don’t work as much as I would like to, sometimes an hour, sometimes more, but I cannot not work,” he says.
It is this undying drive to keep creating that makes the surviving quartet of old masters—nonagenarians S.H. Raza, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna and K.G. Subramanyan—still pick up brush and palette, get coloured with smears and smudges and serve as guiding lights for generations of painters. Their long journeys as artists are but a brushwork of many triumphs and a few failures, a chiaroscuro of happiness and pain. The past exerted influence, credos changed, dominant styles emerged, hardened, then liquefied into something else. The only constant was artistic evolution.