Lines merge and separate to weave fascinating narratives in Jogen Chowdhury’s first show in Kerala at Gallery OED

One of India’s veteran artists Jogen Chowdhury is showing in Kerala for the first time. His solo exhibition is on at Gallery OED in Mattancherry. Jogen is known for celebrating the straight line which he stretches to heights of aesthetic beauty. This show is a testimony to that and affords joyous evocation for the viewer.

Commentary

There are 44 works on show, which deal with a host of subjects — political and social. Jogen skilfully uses the line to comment on contemporary politics, social scenario and concomitantly eulogise the beauty in nature. Trees, flowers, the lotus, human faces, the window, Nandigram — animate and the inanimate — all fall in the scope of his vibrant line.

He uses thick lines to tell a particular story and thin, fine lines to narrate another, choosing the girth of the line to comment.

The ‘Bakasura’ series of works are done in thick black ink on paper. The stork (baka) has caught within its bony beak not the dead fish but the dying man, the bird representing the powers that are. Jogen believes visual beauty to be of prime importance in art, even ahead of the story. Hence he handles political hard-hitting narratives dextrously using external embellishments to impart the mandatory beauty in art. In the Bakasura series, he uses thick ornate decorative golden frames that offset the intensity of the narrative but strangely make the works more powerful.

In another series of three paintings, titled ‘Sword’, he has used sequins and glitter in the backdrop to embellish the black and white image of the sword. The background to a point detracts from the pictorial harshness but at another level, satirical perhaps, it raises the pitch of the comment. The use of silvery sequins, the bling of glitter, as part of a serious narrative, is a fresh idiom, true to the times. Some works have backgrounds done in pastel shades in crayons and in some the line is smudged to give a grey effect.

Jogen, who is an art writer, teacher and an artist commanding highest prices at the art market, is one who knows the pulse of the scene. Hence he intelligently uses current lingo to express, connect and remain relevant.

The window with curling trellis is a charming work. Two early works in cross hatch — ‘Woman 1’ and ‘The Couple’ — are exquisite pieces of artistry. Jogen studied the traditional syllabus of art in Kolkata where he went through a very regimented learning of art, something which gives him the strength to use traditional styles with flair.

Foliage is another series on natural beauty like the ‘Lotus’ and the ‘Tree’. There are a few untitled works featuring animals. Four small works — ‘Face in The Mirror’, ‘Face of a Reclining Woman’, ‘Creeper’, and ‘Creeper and Flowers’ — make an eye-catching quartet.

All works except one are medium-sized. The largest is one inspired by Picasso’s Guernica and is a comment on the incidents of Nandigram. Though all works in the show are on paper, done in black ink, Jogen has earlier worked in oil. An interesting feature of the works is the fine melding of the figurative and the abstract, which Jogen handles with the class of a master.

The show is on till May 25.