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Artist Profile1
Jogen Chowdhury’s art expresses collective consciousness and the Self
Jogen Chowdhury has been in spotlight after an ink and pastel work of his, entitled 'Day Dreaming', fetched a record £3,73,250 (($597,200; Rs 2.9 crore) at the recent Sotheby's sale of Indian art held in London. It bettered his previous record of Rs 1.55 crore.

He has been acknowledged as an absolute master of the unbroken line. His knack of juxtaposing contrary emotions, the known and unknown and the real and imaginary make his practice not only a form of succinct self-expression but a subtle manifestation, of a broader collective and subjective consciousness.

There was a phase when he felt that 'nothing was left for him to do’ as an artist. To put it in his own words 'he quite strongly felt the desire to create something new and original, which could not be created either by falling back on Indian art traditions and or by replication of Western Art alone. The restless artist then strove to discover his own idiom by avoiding the imitation of the influential European and Bengal schools.

Jogen Chowdhury’s career graph has been quite impressive. His early works contain traces of figuration that extend to his later works as well. However, the idea is more to hide some parts than reveal them in totality. Earlier the figures were marked for their natural bearings that largely came through expressionistic stylization. Also, the weight of reality tended to be far greater. He has once stated that the space projected a simple iconic presence in these works.

According to him, a spatial sequence was worked out, but it (the space) was not complex. The artist has explained "Now there’s an effect of distancing. The moment I depict the entire figure, interest in the details would be lost." His figures are deftly woven into a shape with a curious spidery web of dense trademark crosshatched lines, fleshed out with a dash of color subtly added with a soft dry pastel. A distinctive usage of the black ground and cross-hatching mark his oeuvre.

Born in 1939 in Faridpur, West Bengal, he studied art at the Govt. College of Art & Crafts, Kolkata (1955-60), and later traveled to Paris on a Scholarship from the French Government for a stint at L'Ecole Nationale Superior des Beax-Arts (1965-57). He joined the President's Estate at the Rashtrapati Bhavan as the curator, in 1972. A recipient of the prestigious Kalidas Award (2001) by the Madhya Pradesh government, he also received a special award at the 2nd Havana Biennale, in 1986.

His early years in Kolkata resonated with deep influences of intense political movements. These greatly influenced him as an artist. A series of sociopolitical upheavals like the famine and the Partition of India impacted his work, which inevitably carries a tinge of darkness and sadness in it. Yet as well as denoting dejectedness, it also unveils an aura of mystery. The unmistakable effect gets well enhanced even in some of his more recent works, which tend to crop the central image. He has stated regarding his work, “"My background is quite relevant to it. After arriving in Kolkata as a refugee, my family endured a miserable state of living. There was no electricity, and I had to read by the dim hurricane lantern. The criss-crossing lines even may well be carrying vestiges of the environmental and mental challenges of that period.”

The essence of his works spanning close to five decades have been amply captured in a document ‘Enigmatic Visions’ released by Glenbarra Art Museum, Japan. In fact, he is the first artist from India to receive this honor from the famed institution. A solo, entitled ‘Enigmatic Vision’, was curated by its art director Masanori Fukuoka. The paintings were handpicked by the renowned connoisseur of Indian art for the special ARTSingapore Collectors’ showcase.

His other recent solo shows comprise 'A Calligraphy of Touch and Gaze', courtesy Kalakriti Art Gallery at ICIA, Mumbai (2008) and ‘Abahoman: Flowing Life’, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi (2007). He has had solos at Gallerie Foundation for Indian Artists, Amsterdam; the Fine Art Resource, Berlin, and Gajah Gallery, Singapore.

Capturing the core of his practice, Jogen Chowdhury concludes: “My memories, my thoughts, my dreams, and my immediate environment - they could all turn into subjects of my works.”