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Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi has opted to make a rather tough choice
Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi has opted to make a rather tough choice, defined by both his message and his medium, including his pretty pencil on paper renditions. Amidst the cacophony of alternate practices and queer, offbeat visual expressions by his peers, he prefers to tread on a safer ground.

He puts himself on a well trodden path: in a linear arc, which encompasses wonderful Warli folk expressions and beautiful traditional Indian floor paintings, yet carries a contemporary touch drawn from practice by the doyens like K K Hebbar, Achuthan Kudallur, K.M. Adimoolam or M.F. Husain.

His creations resonate in the interstices between these drastically diverse practices, effortlessly striking a fine balance. What sets apart the work of this emerging artist from his contemporaries is his vivid and distinctively futuristic imagination. His engagement with the new-age wired world where communication is superfast, privacy non-existent, is truly steadfast.

Putting his work in context, and elaborating on his artistic inspirations, a note to his 2007 show at The Mint Gallery, noted: “Ours is a time that seemed like science fiction just a generation ago; an age of flux, a century of transitions, a significant era that could well redefine the very essence of a human being. Or should that read ‘humanoid’ or anthropoid? As both pure science and the imagination on overdrive jostle for space, a practicing artist of the 21st century cannot remain immune to these drastic cycles of change; their resonance and origins; his own memories - both received and perceived and portents of the future.

“These crosscurrents of our complex existence touch the core of his expressions through his Anthropomorphic and allied images. His is a sharing of visually-translated perceptions of rites of transition, the catapulting of unknown destinations into our present, the voyage into a surging ocean of possibilities. He fuses the past, present and future into a continuum, which triggers a pulsing, energizing debate. The debate engages with the quintessence of philosophical and artistic issues.”

He was encouraged by his father, a popular Hindi creative writer, and backed by the vision of his mother. So when it came to choosing between the uncertainties of an artist’s life, and a lucrative career in the Indian Foreign Service, he opted for the more challenging path. He did his B.F.A. (Painting) and M. F. A. (Painting) from the Faculty of Fine Arts University of Lucknow. He came into spotlight at the Asian Young Artists show hosted in Seoul a couple of years ago.

His noteworthy participations, apart from the much applauded ‘Hybrid Trend’, Contemporary Art Exhibition, Hangaram Art Museum, Seoul (2006), are ‘Faces’ Lalit Kala Akademi, Regional Center, Lucknow (2007); LKA, Lucknow (2002); ‘Kalarth’ Lucknow College of Arts and Crafts (2002); Paintings and Sculptures exhibition, Lucknow (2000, 01). He has won an award from Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India (2006), apart from ‘Vishishth Prathibha Samman’ from University of Lucknow and All India AIFACS Award, New Delhi.

His art, to put it in his words, tries to address the imbalance or schism between nationalism and globalization, religion and science. Simultaneously, it gives rise to a host of vexing questions: “Does the age-old black-and-white battle between evil and good still hold in today’s psyche? Has the moral ground tended to shift, leaving a few certainties still intact, on the journey to the future?”

Have these issues always been a key thrust for the artist? The cues, it appears, are not self-evident. A drawing done by the talented student of the Lucknow art school in 2001 highlights this: sketched in limbs, sans visage, sans torso, tell a tale of isolation, of desolation, of an endgame, in the narrative tradition. The very next year, another series of works suggests urban angst.

A couple of years later, his vision has clearly shifted ground. Toes, hands, torsos are embedded in a concrete structure, even while heads freely float above the emergent landscape. A statement of detachment, of futuristic possibilities, or a virtual theatre rendition of a soothsayer’s prophecy about the future of humankind, as The Mint essay asks, analyzing his artistic evolution.

Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi’s visual realm skillfully straddles the cusp between fantasy and reality. The protagonists - half-robotic, half-ideational - belong equally to imaginary spaces of nowhere and to our oddball world today. Metallic strips, nuts, and bolts define their very essence, in lieu of tears, blood and sweat. These figures carry human attributes. However, they do not really form part of our plane.

At another level, he dwells upon humanity that appears to be gradually veering towards a self-inflicted extinction, with ‘normalcy’ getting gauged more arbitrarily with each passing day. The artist summing up his philosophy states that his works hum ‘songs of harmony’ in today’s world, highly fragmented by the disharmony arising out caste politics, religious fundamentalism and terrorism.