M.F. Hussain began his life in earnest as a Bollywood movie billboard artist and ended it in self-imposed exile in London. In the years between, he brought vivid colors and a freedom to the canvas not seen before in India, living by the motto that the confines of religion, caste, creed and color should never restrain a painter.
That philosophy led to his exile in 2006, after he painted a nude woman shaped like India’s map, called “Mother India,” which invoked threats by Hindu extremists.
In an opinion article in the Indian newspaper Mint, Salil Tripathi wrote shortly after Hussain’s exile:
As the nation’s chronicler, he has been a laureate, portraying the stark agony of a cyclone; a court jester, like when he painted Indira Gandhi as Durga astride a tiger; a cheerleader, celebrating the centuries of Sunil Gavaskar; an inventive exhibitionist, painting as Bhimsen Joshi sang, painting with Shah Rukh Khan, painting on the body of a woman. He revels in India’s gaudiness, its zeitgeist. He understands the philosophy of nirakara (formlessness), seeing through an idol, glimpsing what he thinks of as divine, and giving it a form that may outrage some, but which is hardly inconsistent with the Indian aesthetic.
On Thursday, Hussain died at the Royal Brompton hospital in London. He was 95.
Below, see some the works of India’s most sought-after painter: