F. N. Souza is one of India’s most revered artists. The title of this work, Trimurti, refers to a Hindu cosmological concept in which the gods of creation (Brahma), preservation (Vishnu), and destruction (Shiva) are joined as a single cosmic force. Here, Souza uses strong contrasts and solid outlines to depict faces. The three heads fan out from the neck—an arrangement often seen in temple sculpture—with each head framed by a different color. They appear to be in motion, an illusion achieved through boisterous application of splotches of bright contrasting colors. White lines break through these color fields, creating pulsating rhythms.
Born into a Roman Catholic family in Goa, Souza lived an artistic life marked by a spirit of rebellion and restlessness. He was expelled first from St. Xavier’s College and then, in 1942, from the esteemed Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay, for his vocal anti-British stance. Galvanized by India’s independence in 1947, Souza founded the celebrated Bombay-based ProgressiveArtists Group. Through this revolutionary association he championed art that transcended regional and national boundaries. But Souza’s career in an independent India was short-lived. In 1949 the police raided his apartment on charges of obscenity; disenchanted with India, he left for London. By the time he painted Trimurti, Souza was residing in New York, where he remained for the next thirty years.