A solo show of paintings by Jogen Chowdhury

‘A Calligraphy of Touch & Gaze’ is the title of a show by noteworthy artist Jogen Chowdhury. His art has an iconic quality about it. The artist’s expression is universal, albeit reminiscent of a thriving, throbbing spirit of his home state, West Bengali.

In course of well over four decades of sustained art practice, he has made a name for himself as one of the significant artists of Post independent India. Known to be a dedicated teacher with an intense social commitment, his art captures many of his personal and social concerns and predilections.

The solo show at Mumbai based ICIA gallery provides a rare glimpse of his current vision. The works on view are largely from 2000 onwards. There are a few older works done in the 1980s. These comprise his familiar and peculiar wide-eyed figures, drawn with bold lines and infused delicate nuances of color. Some watercolors and sketches are also on display.

The artist is known for his ability to successfully marry traditional imagery with a contemporary touch, in a skilful blend of an urbane self-awareness and a highly localized Bengali influence. His early works show an attention to figuration that carries through in his later works.

R. Siva Kumar of Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, assessing his artistic progression has mentioned in an essay: “Like Ganesh Pyne, he started working in the Bengal School tradition as a student but in his later works, the sinuous figures of his predecessors were turned into an amorphous maze of nervous meanderings, and their romantic idealizations were displaced by an eerie surrealistic clairvoyance.”

In an interview, the artist has mentioned: “In my early works, the space projected a simple iconic presence. A spatial sequence was worked out but the space was not complex. The background seemed to vanish." On the other hand, the artist terms his later works as "more personalized and subtle".

Having studied art at both Kolkata and Paris, his oeuvre straddles effortlessly between the west and the east. Yet, the artist has retained his own inimitable style of work, which remains resolutely individualistic. Even while absorbing the influences of western modernism, he comes up with an application deeply rooted in indigenous sensibilities.

He has once mentioned, explaining the influence of his life in Kolkata, saying: "My background is relevant. Then it (the city) was quite disturbed with political movements, which had a definite influence on my works." During his college days, the artist participated in leftist literary circles, though by and large, he kept himself away from cultural movements. The famine, the Partition, and the food movement all cast a shadow over the works of his formative years. A quality of darkness may be seen in the work from that period.

Yet as well as an indicator of sadness, this darkness can be understood to evoke an aura of mystery. The effect gets enhanced in many of his recent works that, increasingly, crop the central image. Jogen Chowdhury has explains that the purpose is to hide some parts. “The moment I show the entire figure, the interest in the details would be lost Earlier on the figures were observed in their natural bearings which came through expressionistic stylization and the weight of reality was greater. There is an effect of distancing today," the artist has elaborated.

He presented a social satire through art by combining the bold, folk-inspired line work with a sophisticated and subtle blend of media, using pen, ink and pastel in a single work. Rather than attempting a realistic portrayal of his protagonists, he flattened his figures, a facet of his art which is well evident in the works on view.

To view Jogen Chowdhury’s works in the Saffronart catalogueclick here

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