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'It is tragic that Husain had to die in a foreign country'

June 09, 2011 14:52 IST

Friends and admirers of M F Husain were on Thursday at a loss of words at the demise of the painter, famously dubbed 'Picasso of India', and angry at the fact that he had to die in a foreign land.

From contemporaries Kishen Khanna and Anjolie Ela Menon to younger artists like Jitish Kallat, a sense of shock, disbelief and grief prevailed among the art fraternity which mourned the death of the 95-year-old painter. Many said they found it difficult to visualise an art scene without the maverick.

"I knew he was in hospital for some time but am very sad to hear about his demise. Husain was a very, very close friend. I knew him long before his first exhibition in 1954," said Khanna, a close friend and fellow painter of the Progressive Art movement.

Husain, along with F N Souza, had founded the Progressive Art movement in India in the 1960s and had invited Delhi-based Khanna, who worked as a banker, to be a part of it.

"He had given me several paintings and we had exchanged our paintings. After I left my bank job we used to meet often and talk. He used to visit me in Kanpur and in Chennai," Khanna said.

Jatin Das, who has known Husain since the 1950s, remembered the barefoot-bohemian painter as his "very dear friend", but said the people of India should be sad that his desire of returning to India remained unfulfilled as the government did not assure him about his security.

The artist was living in exile after death threats were issued to him for his controversial paintings of Hindu deities.

Well-known painter Anjolie Ela Menon could not hide her shock when she heard the news.

"I have known him for 55 years. He has touched my life in so many ways and so often. It is difficult to visualise that he is no more. I had never realised that he had aged," she said.

Menon said, "After his so-called exile, people who revered and loved him had made it a point to go and meet him every year. Last week, when I was in London, his sons Shahbad and Shamshad had said that he was out of trouble but I now realise that he was ill. I met him in London and Dubai every year."

Contemporary artist Jitish Kallat said it was tragic that the painter had to breathe his last in a foreign country.

"It is a huge loss for anyone related to the arts and also as an artist, I almost feel if a huge canopy has been blown away from us, extinguished. I feel a sense of huge loss," he said.

"It is also a tragic feeling that he had to die in a foreign country. I think it a black mark on the Indian state which has not understood the immensity and the relevance of Husain," said the painter.

Kallat describes Husain's paintings as "a unique artistic talent which merged European modernism with the textures of post colonial modernism."

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