Jogen Chowdhury Curated
CURATED BY :
Are you a happy satisfied customer of life?
Your works exemplify a lot of biting satire. In lot of your artworks you’ve shown gods and goddesses but can humanize. What do you say about that?
What inspired your art work? Which artists influenced you?
: I like Picasso. He may have influenced me on my early works. I have seen his exhibitions while in Paris at the Grand Palais, Petit Palais and National Bibliotheque. Then I would say van Gogh, Cezannne, Paul Klee, Giacomelli, Henri Rousseau fascinated me. Ramkinkar Baij is also another artist whose work I admire besides Rabindranath Tagore. In fact I am deeply inspired by Bengal Terracotta, Patachitra or even Kalighat paintings or our “yatra” form of theatre.
You have donned so many roles. What do you think about diverse experiences and how they contribute to one's work as an artist?
There are so many experiences one has in life and not one is a waste. I have worked as an art teacher in Howrah during my initial days after Government Art College, then in designing textiles with the Handloom board in Calcutta as well as Madras, then working in Rashtrapati Bhavan for 15 years. I really want to write about my experiences and time I spent in the President's house as a Curator and Art Keeper.
Your understanding of the human psyche and portrayal of human condition is noteworthy. Your artworks make powerful social comments. What do you have to say about it?
I am an inquisitive person. I observe people and that is why I have made so many drawings, sketches, doodles etc. in different mediums on people and their lives and have chosen a wide spectrum of subjects with multiple variations in content and form. For example, I have drawn so many different types of couples and over time they have changed and also of so many political personalities.
Any particular issue you are close to?
An artist cannot comment on all the happenings, but his experiences affect his art and for an artist the social milieu, the surroundings do cause him or her to react and I have just done that. I am updated with current affairs not only on matters of social injustices or politics, but also on technology and the latest happenings in the world through journals. But I have worked on refugees since I felt strongly and was deeply impacted by the partition, then on poverty, human rights violations and Gujarat riots.
What is your message to young artists? How do you look at your own images and creations?
What comes from the heart or is an inner calling will be appreciated and recognized but they are based on one's knowledge and experiences of an artist. I wouldn't call them disturbing images, but “beauty” is not what you are looking for when you look at my work but something more profound and sublime as if it “teases us out of thought”.
Tell me about your time while studying at Ecole Superiure des Beaux Arts in Paris.
My work has evolved, it has changed over time, though I have always been influenced by my environment, situations around me and motivated by social and political injustices. In Paris, disturbances, restlessness, differences and surprises of the European way of life, inspired me initially to paint.
What is your opinion on the different mediums used? When is one's work in the 'modern' or 'post – modern' nomenclature?
Material or medium is secondary, for a creative person, it is essential to have a modern mind to create a modern artwork. Art becomes real only with true conviction. It is how one handles a certain medium and what the artist is trying to express and whether he is being able to do so freely or not. An artwork of post modern art surpasses notions of various elemental characters of “modern art”. However no art can really be valid if it does not contain the fundamental elements of art. Post – modernism has only certain outward characteristics cultivated on the basis of new mediums and culture.
Your approach is sublime rhetoric rather than polemic narratives. Your binary pen and ink have a deep didactic impact on the mind of the viewer. Probably gazing upon the images might take the viewer into deep reflection as poetic expressions. You are also a poet, so how would you say visual art and poetry are connected?
isual Art and poetry are connected; my first book published was Hridaye Train Bejey Othey, then in 2003 another collection of poems in Bengali was published. I love writing poetry and reading as well. I read Jibananada Das, Joy Goswami, Sakti Chatterjee, Tagore and many others. I also read and write on several subjects. I also observe human beings. In fact the art of painting and the art of poetry both come from the same sensibilities and aesthetic sense of human mind.
As a reaction to the Gujarat riots, you drew a pregnant woman whose foetus was slit open, called The Unborn Child. Any comments about that.
I feel very strongly about the social injustices in the world happening around me. As a reaction to this horrific event I had to paint it. Abu Ghraib is created out of that reaction. The pen and ink lines make an allegory on the human condition of a prisoner.
Loss and longing in your works is reflective of your time post-partition when you had to leave your village in Faridpur (now in Bangladesh). Where did you begin your journey as an artist?
We were in a despicable state post partition and had to go through many hardships, this is reflected in my paintings. One incident was when I painted a peacock with red and blue pencil in my uncle's home in Calcutta. This is when I became conscious of the fact that probably I have the talent of becoming an artist.
When does something ceases to be called “art”?
Art in the name of protest gets circulation, but not everything is art. When something is a reaction to the environment or as a result of certain experiences then that pertaining to subject, form, emotion, comment which adheres to these elements in art, then it might be called 'art'. Also the viewer should be able to identify with it. But art has a sublime quality. It is transcendental. It connects to the sense of infinity.
What is “protest art” to you?
Protest is “protest art” when it is borne out of experiences from an honest/ authentic interest in social issues, not otherwise. If someone is protesting for the sake of protest in order to create a buzz or attract attention then that is not real, it is artificial. However a right protest for a right cause with a mission is important and essential for a socially conscious person.
Why is that black is dominating in your artwork?
Are you more comfortable with making arts with lines compared to drawing with oil paints on canvas?
What is it that fascinates you about lines and outlines?
You did your first painting on a wall in your uncle’s house. Do you sometimes think about those days?
I miss those days. What I did at my uncle’s house was not an artwork, it was a quick drawing. I used red and blue pencils to draw a peacock. I must have been seven then. I don’t know who lives in that place anymore. Even if they must have peeled off the paint, my drawing would be there.. some traces of it, at least. (Laughs) That’s the power of art.
What do you want to be remembered as?
I’m not so ambitious that I want to be remembered in a certain way. If my work is good enough and is remembered 100 years from now, I’ll be happy. In my heart, I want to make a good society in which there’s freedom of everything, for everybody.
In your personal opinion, who’s India’s greatest artist?
For me, there are three – Tagore, Baij and Benode Behari. I also like Tyeb Mehta. These artists are dead but you can see their influence everywhere in art. (Laughs) I don’t want to talk about the living ones because that’ll not be nice.
Has anyone ever told you they don’t understand what you paint?
Even if somebody does I wouldn’t bother. Einstein invented the theory of relativity. Let’s assume if he were alive and somebody had walked up to him and said, ‘I don’t understand your theory’, would that change his theory? However, those who don’t understand art are not wrong, just unaware.
Do you imply that you’re not as prolific as some of the other artists?
No, I work more but just that I don’t show too often. For instance, Ganesh Pyne must have done only three or four solos in his whole life but does that make him any less productive? I work slow but I work every single day. At the very least, I’ve made more than 5,000 paintings of all kinds.
There has been a strong figurative element in your work. But over the years, the figure has started becoming smaller and fainter. Why?
In the earlier years my works were based totally on reality. So every single detail was captured on canvas. Everything was painted after being observed in their natural surroundings. Now the need to capture images totally in their natural surroundings no longer exist. My purpose is to hide some parts, because if you show the entire figure the interest in details is totally lost. Earlier the desire to show reality was greater. Now, in some parts, there is a certain distancing from reality. Earlier, I would draw even in a crowd. Now, I need to work in solitude. I can't draw if there are guests or relatives in the house. I sense a vibration that is distracting. There is a certain power in the stillness of an object. Stillness is a form of speed while not in force. It is stillness that can create greater tension in a work of art. Life is a mystery and it is inexplicable. A given situation can only be explained. In such circumstances, there is tension that may be apparent, but for me, that is what is real. It is this factor that prompts me to conceive a magical situation which is akin to magic realism.
You do very little of oil painting, unlike several other contemporary Indian artists. Why is that?
Oil is not my forte. I come back to it once in a while, because as opposed to the works in ink for which I have a spontaneous feel, in case of oils, I have to get involved. Also, it depends to a large extent on my state of mind. It is not just making figures or clothes, but making the drawings of figures or clothes purposeful which is important.
Why are there a lot of elements of nature in your art?
Man's conflicting relationship with nature has affected the graceful, symmetrical beauty of leaves and flowers and drawn in elements of violence, threat or aggression. It is this world of arbitrary creativity and vitality of nature that have molded my perception of nature. I take liberties with the shapes and contours of the flowers, creepers and leaves, recasting them in accordance with the dictates of his will.
Do you think the modern art movement was a reaction against the British Raj?
In a sense against Western art. Britishers introduced art training in this country not because of any creative reasons. They wanted skilled designers and draughtsmen for their administrative jobs. They did not really have any clear notion of traditional Indian art, and looked down at it as primitive. Consequently, the western naturalistic art was imbibed through various institutions. In Calcutta, and in other cities, naturalistic or realistic art spread like wildfire. There happened to be some extremely skilled Bengali artists. Some went abroad to acquire more skills. The subject of their works was portraiture and landscape. It characterised the British Art Academic schooling. The urban rich patronised it. The medium was mainly either water-color, oil-color or pastel; however, there also were lithography, etching, wood-cut prints. This schooling intermingled with traditional Indian styles like miniature paintings and folk art and there came to be a hybrid art.
What was the genesis of the Progressive Art Movement in India?
Modern art was invoked because of the British colonial regime. On one hand, the British interrupted the traditional art practice, but on the other hand, the emergent historical, socio-political conditions caused the Western perception and skill to be associated with the Indian creative process. Socio-political reasons affected art in all countries, and India was no exception, though the perception had changed. The social and political thematic content had replaced the former religiosity.
What were the early influences on your work?
You will see a lot of Bengal influence in my art. The leftist movement that was at its peak in Bengal since the 40s influenced my earlier works. There was passion in the air, the desire to change the world. In later years, my art became more personalised and subtler. But in the earlier days there was no way I could escape the political influence of the left movement. There was a lot of disturbance in the air. Partition, famine and the food movement all left their mark.