Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 3, 2007
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
Diane Gordon
Dan Stefik
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Bernard Dubé
Remigio Valdes de Hoyos
Mylène Gervais
Christina Coleman
Laura Hollick
Louise Jalbert
Rosemary Scanlon
Manitoba Art
The Gambaroffs
Francine Hébert
Marcel Dubois
Ruben Cukier
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

the art of



Different sages have different opinions.
An Indian expression

The artwork of Raka B. Saha grabs your attention and heart from the moment you encounter it. Both her portraits and landscapes are informed by her unusual personal history, her intellect and humanity. Despite a chimerical colour palette reminiscent of Fauvism, her paintings remain approachable and still ethereal.

Ms. Saha, a native of Calcutta, India, pursued an education and career in biochemistry and microbiology. Her parents, a cardiologist and a mathematician, were forward thinking individuals. While recognizing their child’s love and affinity for the visual arts, and encouraging it by taking her to art shows and entering her work in numerous children’s art competitions, they didn’t want their daughter to be dependent on a husband’s income. So they decided a good education would the best means to secure that outcome.

Working as a biochemist for most of her life, Saha painted on weekends until she could finally immerse herself in her first love. She says, “I paint like a scientist.” In the book, The Making of an Atom Bomb, she read that the same part of the brain is responsible for stimulating the artistic and scientific imaginations. “I like to experiment with my paintings. I use colours that I like visually. I do not have to know in a painting what is the right way, what is the wrong way. I will just be brave . . . the surface is mine to explore.”

 © Raka B. Saha

Her palette reflects the palpable colours of her native India: the saturated blues, magentas, golds and reds of especially its fabrics and flora. But it was only after having painted for many years it was brought to Saha’s notice that her colour scheme compares to Fauvism, that short-lived movement from 1898 to 1908 that encouraged the aggressive application of colour. “I painted only because colour acted as an emotional force in my vision. Colour created luminous light. Good friends who are artists tell me my colour wheel is slightly turned. But it is too late for me to be confined. I call my style Post Post Impressionism.”

Colour and composition are the two most important elements in Saha’s painting. She says she spends more time contemplating a composition than actually painting it. She enjoys painting on square canvases because the shape acts as a “block out of the main theme,” a vignette of a large picture. Despite colours that are sometimes unrealistic and clashing, tranquility and serenity prevail. Saha explains she achieves this “through simple arrangements of flowers and fruits. Subject matter indicates the ‘atmosphere’ of a painting, along with the colour. A blood red colour on a flower is much more tranquil than a blood red human body.”

 © Raka B. Saha

Her arresting landscapes pit unnaturally calm and blue skies against the almost violent, darkness of the earth, in paintings whose titles presage a looming climatic event such as Storm on the Bend. Having lived in Georgia for 8 years, she became enamoured with the dark red clay of the area and incorporated it into the earth tones of her landscapes, while the technicolour skies were inspired by trips to Provence and from vistas outside the large bay window of her studio in Urbana, Maryland. The idea for Storm on the Bend was born when the artist serendipitously observed a huge piece of farm equipment creating a miasma of dust on the horizon. “I do not copy nature as I see it. I rather get stimulated from it and create my own climates.”

© Raka B. Saha In her still life Saha memorializes the artists she has admired by including a memento or artifact singularly associated with the represented artist. She refers to them as homage paintings. In Lautrec in My Studio we have a figure executed in his style but ensconced in a setting decidedly of Saha’s creation. The viewer will observe that against the artist’s florid colouration Lautrec’s palette seems tame and out of place. The work also includes the iconic can-can dancer reified in the colours of Lautrec’s original, but the addition of cello neck and frets lend a sense of whimsicality to the on-going dance.

© Raka B. SahaGauguin’s Hat shows the artist’s iconic straw boater tossed upon a table. Here the paean to the artist is incorporated in style, colour and subject, an honorarium without distraction. A mini clerestory window to the right seems the only light source yet the table is brightly lit from the left. We await the return of our visitor.

In The Visit from the Gleaners, an homage to Jean- Francois Millet’s 1848 work, Saha wanted to commemorate the hardworking women by inviting them into her studio where their toil is reciprocated and appreciated by the endeavours of the artist. They bend away from the canvas and enter the studio space amid the floating flower pots, red and pink pears, and striped cloths as both foreground and backdrop.© Raka B. Saha The stripes are a recurrent theme that conjures the patterned backgrounds of Matisse’s interiors, himself a Fauvist.

Transmitted Light is both breathtakingly beautiful and haunting. It is a self-referencing, straight ahead still life, but you would be hard pressed to establish the time of day or light source. Is it reflected sunlight through the blue glass that imbues the room with its cast or is it the cold, unadulterated blue-white light of the evening moon? © Raka B. SahaThere is no evidence of any natural light or neutral colour except one lone whitish flower, itself taking on a slight haze. The space is almost surreal as the wall gives way to what appears to be the outdoors, the yard.

Saha brings to her compositions the same instincts that determine her colour choices. By following her heart and muse, this self-taught artist continues to readily engage the viewing public by producing artworks that vibrate with emotion while staying true to her vision. This vision is an amalgam of her scientific study, her rich cultural heritage and innate desire to express herself through painting. Saha says, “I believe that art must show a certain beauty . . . and the essence of beauty is the idea; the vehicle of the idea is the form. My paintings are very personal reactions to what I see; they are visual expressions of my thought processes; they are not direct illustrations of nature. I get stimulated from it and create my own climates. I want my work to be understood by the layman and the cognoscente. I paint for sheer joy.”

Saha’s paintings are currently on exhibition at the prestigious Foxhall Gallery in Washington and the Huff Harrington Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta.


All images © Raka B. Saha



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