Finding its origin in the late 19th century, abstract art was pioneered by many forward thinking painters. Representing a pivotal moment in modernism, this art form has manifested through the years and is widely celebrated for its avant-garde aesthetic.

As a catalyst for the contemporary art movement, abstract artists rejected the rules and techniques of traditional art. Rather than focusing on figurative and representational depictions, abstract artists emphasised on colour, composition, process and emotion of their artwork.

Here, we explore these key Indian artists of this incredibly versatile genre, exploring their unique styles, techniques and enduring contributions to abstract art.

  • S.H.Raza (1922-2016)

Born in 1922 in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, Sayed Haider Raza was one India’s most important abstract artist of the 20th century.

Considered a primer on the Indian Modernist, he is acclaimed world-wide for his richly coloured canvases which fused Western avant-garde ideas with the spirituality and sensibilities of his homeland.

Inspired by expressionism and later by geometric abstraction, Raza  experimented with a variety of Modernist painting styles. It was in 1970 that he was hit upon the ‘bindu’ (full circle) as a motif and appeared regularly in his paintings thereafter. Eventually, this motif was regarded as Raza’s trademark.

                           “It’s the centre of my life”- S.H.Raza on ‘ Bindu’

More than a dozen of Raza’s abstract paintings have surpassed the $1million mark at auctions world-wide. His acrylic on canvas abstract paintings- ‘Saurashtra’ (image below) and ‘Tapovan’ fetched staggering amounts at international auctions setting a record not only for the artist but for any modern Indian artist.

  • Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009)

Born in 1925 in Kapadvanj, Gujarat. Initially working as a film editor, Mehta stayed and worked in Mumbai for much of his life.

He was part of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group and left for London in 1959, where he worked and lived till 1964. During the years spent in London, his painting style was strongly influenced by the expressionist works of Francis Bacon, while his works in New York came to be characterised by elements of minimalism.

Mehta’s signature painting style showcased human form broken into irregular shapes of solid colour bordered by black lines. He later on created the ‘Diagonal’ series with canvases featuring streak running from top-right corner to the lower left, attempting to bisect the scenes of figures with horrified expressions.

Through the 1980s, his paintings grew bolder in style wherein he used the ancient concept of mythological imagery in a powerfully modern way. He painted a series of abstract paintings highlighted by the depictions of royal blue form of goddess Kali and demon Mahishasura.

His most famous acrylic on canvas, often described as dramatic and disturbing art, ‘Kali’ fetched $4 million at international auction.

  • MF Husain (1915-2011)

Born in September, 1915 in Pandharpur town of Maharashtra, Maqbool Fida Husain was considered the godfather of contemporary Indian art.

Maqbool Fida Husain,

India's most prolific, controversial, abstract artist, Husain was a founding member of Bombay Progressive Artists' Group.

His brightly coloured narrative paintings were created mainly by employing a modified Cubist style, but it was his irreverent art subjects that always pushed the limits of censorship in India.

The artist’s later abstract artworks stirred controversy for hurting religious sentiments and led to filing of several lawsuits against him and later his exile, including nude portrayals of Hindu religious deities, and Bharat Mata.

“I think you don't do work for controversy alone, and whenever you do new work which people don't understand and they say it is done to create controversy,”- M.F.Husain

One of the most renowned abstract paintings of Husain which auctioned for Rs.6.5 crores in the international art markets is oil-on-canvas-diptych, titled ‘Battle of Ganga and Jamuna’ (image below).

  • Ram Kumar (1924-2018)

Born in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Ram Kumar was described as one of India's foremost and prolific abstract artists.

He was associated with the Progressive artist's group and worked along with great Indian abstract artists including M.F. Hussain, Tyeb Mehta, S.H. Raza. This deeply influenced his early work and he created paintings featuring human condition mixing and tensing both figurative and abstract art.

He was the first Indian artist who gave up figurativism and chose the conceptual technique of abstraction as his form of narrative. With buoyant golden and blue strokes to melancholic, earthy sweeps of ochre, his canvases bespoke of stories replete with visual metaphors that are transcendental in expressions and  yet deep rooted in his artistic journey.

His abstract art commands high prices in the art global market wherein his abstract painting titled ‘Vagabond’ (image below) was sold for $1.1 million at Christie's, setting another world record for this Indian Modernist master.

The tangible art of these celebrated abstract artists continues to mesmerise us by adding new vistas to our imagination!