Francis Newton Souza

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Francis Newton Souza

Francis Newton Souza, born on the 12th of April 1924 in Saligao, Goa, was the founder member of the Progressive Artists Group who is largely responsible for shaping the Modern Art movement in India. He was brought up a strict Roman Catholic under Portuguese Colonial rule and later a member of the Communist Party. In spite of the confusion of names, Souza was entirely Indian by blood. The name Newton came into the family because his father - also Newton - had an English godfather. The name Francis was added a little later by Souza’s mother, in thanksgiving to Goa’s patron saint, St. Francis Xavier, for having rescued her son from an attack of smallpox. She vowed not only that she would rename her son after the saint, but that she would do everything in her power to encourage him to become a Jesuit priest. He has written a lot about these early years in Words and Lines:
“I was born in Goa in 1924. My grandfather and grandmother were both chronic drunkards. Grandfather was a principal of a village school on Assolna, Salsette - a school his forefather had founded. My father, as a reaction to their bibulousness, never touched other liquid than water. He became a chronic teetotaler. On his wedding day the toasting wine was poured over his head, since he would not drink it. But it is said that the progeny of bibulous progenitors are highly imaginative people. By atavism, it seems, the visions of a tipsy grandfather, pink elephants, and the rest of the menagerie are transferred to the grandchildren, who see similar visions without being tipsy. You’ve only to see my paintings to know whether this is right or wrong."
Brought up a strict Catholic, Souza admits that it was the Roman Catholic Church in Goa which gave him the first ideas of images and image-making. In 1937, he was sent to a Jesuit school in Bombay as his mother had promised. It was scarcely a success. Although he was thinking seriously of becoming a priest and was studying Latin to that end, the Jesuits who ran the school did not find anything godly in his indifference to school discipline, nor in his aptitude for drawing. He was often suspected as having done the drawings in the school lavatory which after examining, Souza would find badly drawn and even correct it. After two years, he was expelled as undesirable, and that was the end of his brief career as a budding priest.

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