JOGEN CHOUDHURY RETROSPECTIVE at SANTINIKETAN

JOGEN CHOUDHURY RETROSPECTIVE at SANTINIKETAN

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Kala Bhavana presented Jogen Choudhury retrospective at Nandan from 11-28 February, 2013, which was further extended for a few days. As Sri Jogen Choudhury is the Professor Emeritus of Kala Bhavana, he graciously allowed Kala Bhavana to host a retrospective exhibition with his works from his initial student days in Government Art & Craft College at Kolkata, i.e from 1955 onwards to right up to 2011, now at the zenith of his journey as a painter. This journey spanning more than 50 years sheds brilliant light on the evolution of the artist.

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Alarmingly, I am no art critique, hence naturally not conversant with the established and professional language of art criticism. I shall rather construct the text on the basis of the personal interaction with his range of drawings and paintings displayed at the exhibition. You may call it a ‘dialogue’ between the paintings and the viewer; after all the net effect of observing a work of art is the impression or ‘dialogue’ created by the artist which is transmitted to the viewer. This particular personal angle of discerning art has the demerit of not following the text book pattern of appreciating art; and perhaps that is also the only merit!

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First of all, after going through the whole retrospective, I realized that like an ascetic, or a scientist, an artist is also basically a seeker. Rather than being a renowned painter, Sri Jogen Choudhury is essentially a seeker, probing deep into his creative intellect, to find a unique language of art. One may call this a kind of ‘Nirvana’ each sage aspires for. The long journey of Sri Choudhury and his artistic evolution has certainly been a very revealing experience for me, as a viewer like many others. The journey, as portrayed in the retrospective exhibition mostly from Sri Choudhury’s personal collection, actually depicts a probe by an artist into the fascinating world of artistic expressions.

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The mastery of the artist in the basic grammars of drawing and painting is remarkable to watch; moreover Sri Jogen Choudhury remained exemplary in all the conventional mediums he touched, be it sketches, water colour or oil painting. His lines at this stage remained exploratory too; he used all sorts of lines strong, soft and illusory to explore and express the subject. His style at times was soft, at times detailed and sharp. The smooth mastery of the basics of drawing and painting built up a strong foundation on which Sri Choudhury initiated his successful exploration. The exhibits of this era reminds us that a new idea can only be built upon a solid foundation and only then the ascetic can start a spiritual search of the hitherto un-realized. It is truly fascinating to watch this journey of a great painter.

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The paintings, in which Sri Jogen Choudhury ultimately touches the truth (maybe just the tip of the truth) becomes a unique world for the viewers. From here on a ‘dialogue’ starts with the viewers; where Sri Jogen Choudhury tells us his story and we listen with apt attention. The most common phrase attributed to this phase by the artistically critical language (i.e the language of art critiques) is ‘eroticism’. Paintings of this era has been described as ‘eroticism of the pleasant variety’ by the art critiques, basically because of the presence of the female figure in his paintings along with the less important man. I would rather not go into this rather fashionable terminology and express that the language of art defined by Sri Choudhury immediately manages to create a ‘dialogue’ between him and viewers like us and he manages to touch a few chords within us. Interestingly those particular chords deep within us are so sensitive and unique that only the artist, Jogen Choudhury can lay his fingers on them and create a symphony. The touch is unique and brings out an inner joy within us; and personally I am extremely thankful to Sri Choudhury to realize such subtle chords of emotion within me, as I never knew before that they existed at all! It is an exploration for the viewers as well, a dive into the inner self of ever churning emotions. As a viewer, I immediately realize that I am into a new territory, complete with its own language into a new world deep within me. It is also an exploration of ‘the self’ for the viewers as well, into the realms of life of which we were never aware.

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Sri Jogen Choudhury, from 2001AD onwards (most probably) is on his second explorative venture; as will be apparent by watching the paintings of this phase as shown below. One thing becomes fairly apparent that he is trying to probe the basics of artistic expressions prior even to the establishment of the basic grammar of drawing. It is amazing to watch an artist, after mastering the basic foundations of drawing, trying to negate that very basics and aiming to find an language of art even prior to any sort of training in art. This is tantamount to find a language, even before defining the alphabet ‘a’. Spiritually, this appears to be a valid path of search for an ascetic- to find the ‘God’ even before any hymn was created to establish the identity of the Almighty. This is in reality the ultimate quest any ascetic should undertake at some point of his journey. I really do not know if such an journey ever concludes; and even it does I really do not know if the message of ‘Nirvana’, if any, ever does reach the mundane world.

Naturally this phase, or the current phase of journey of Sri Choudhury is very interesting phenomenon to watch.

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Right at the start of this article I coined the phrases ‘dialogue’ and ‘nirvana’. The painting of the current phase (I really do not know if this is a correct terminology, however) has got the unique signature style of Sri Jogen Choudhury, and is quite visible in the art circle. It appears that Sri Choudhury is actually enmeshed deep within himself in these paintings; so deep that he is almost completely hidden from us- into his sole pursuit of an illusive image. This phase, to me, appears to be a ‘monologue’ in contrast to the ‘dialogue’ of the earlier phase. The truth is yet to be spelled out in clear terms, ‘Nirvana’ is either elusive or too exclusive and hence the knowledge gleaned by this fascinating ascetic is yet to reach the mundane ‘us’. Well, this is a highly personal experience from my part as a viewer, and hence cannot be taken as an expert view by any chance. The point is I failed to reach into any kind of ‘dialogue’ with the paintings of this phase. Listening quietly to the paintings I could only anticipate an animated ‘monologue’ within the artist; I could anticipate a journey of a seeker into a world of unknown-yet the erstwhile flow of the ‘dialogue’ was lost into an unknown query. This is also definitely a valid expression, it is not always possible for mundane people like us to follow the ascetic to the remotest corners of his journey of self realisation, and perhaps he is destined to travel that path alone. It is actually the exclusive prerogative of the artist Sri Jogen Choudhury to charter his future path after a long travelogue shared elegantly with us. It might be a solitary journey, or rather an astute pilgrimage of his own choice.

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The retrospective exhibition was an eye-opener for me, and it was simply wonderful to experience the journey of an artist. I have learnt many important lessons of life by watching this exhibition and do not possess adequate words to express my gratitude to Sri Jogen Choudhury for passing on his immense realizations to us. Sri Choudhury, being a seeker, can always teach even to students not belonging to the Fine Arts stream; and as an ex-student of Santiniketan I profoundly thank the organizers of this wonderful retrospective exhibition of the artist.

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Profile of Sj. Jogen Choudhury

1939             Born in Faridpur (presently Bangladesh)

1960            Graduated from Govt College of Art & Craft, Kolkata

1963-65     Awarded French Government Scholarship for Higher

Study in ‘Ecole Nationale Superiere des Beaux Arts, Paris and Atelier 17 of William Heyter

1968-72     Art Designer Weavers Centre, All India Handloom

Board, Kolkata & Madras

1972-87      Keeper (Art) Rastrapati Bhavan, New Delhi.

1987-99     Principal & Professor, Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati,

Santiniketan. At present Professor Emeritus, Visva

Bharati, Santiniketan.

Exhibited in various cities of India, France, Germany, Singapore, Holland, Japan, USA, UK, Bangladesh, USSR, Turkey, Iraq, Dubai, Hongkong, China, Brazil, Switzerland, South Korea & Poland.

Important awards received include Prix Le Franc de la Jeune Peitere, Paris in 1966. Award in Second Biennale of Havana, Cuba, in 1986. “Kalidas Samman’ from Govt. of MP in 2001. ‘Banga Bhusan’ award of Govt of West Bengal.

Founder member and Secretary of santiniketan Society of Visual Art and Design (SSVAD). He lives and works in Santiniketan. He has also remained actively engaged in environmental issues in and around Santiniketan for quite sometime now.

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14 Comments

  1. Srila Chatterji says:

    Dear Bhaia, What a lovely review. You amaze me.

  2. “It is amazing to watch an artist, after mastering the basic foundations of drawing, trying to negate that very basics and aiming to find an language of art even prior to any sort of training in art. “…………..bhishon bhalo legeche ei katha ta. Thik eikhan thekei ekjon shilpir chabi ba shilpa shrishtir sange onyanyo manusher jogajog bichchinno hote shuru kore.

  3. mistunee says:

    jogenkaku bhishooooooooooooon bhalo hoeche

  4. Geetarashmi Basu says:

    “….wonderful to experience the journey of an artist.”.. an excellent review by an born artist sukul!

  5. swati ghosh says:

    Where ‘dialogue’ ends, silence begins… the silence is also a journey for us the viewers..

  6. Dasu says:

    A monitary artist ‘ Jogen Chowdhuri ‘.

  7. Shubhashis says:

    Well, I think the correct spelling should be ‘monetary’ rather than ‘monitary’ if the sense involves ‘money’! I do not know if artists making money is an undesirable property when everyone else in society is perfectly eligible to make money. Well, I would rather leave the argument on this line for other interested ones to tread on.

    But I want to focus on the other angle which defines who are the artists whose works sell, and who are the artists whose works can not demand such market price as the establishes sellers, or in short who are the artists whose works do not sell. The art market should also have some basic principles on which it operates as we find, the market is pretty well established outside India for many long years; and has made a definite footprint in India for more than a decade now.
    In case of other kind of products which sell in the market, it is quite apparent to us that the ‘quality’ of the product is the benchmark on which it survives the powerful and unmerciful forces of the market and becomes popular among the buyers. Often it is the plain case of survival of the best and the fittest; like in all other avenues of human enterprise.
    Going by the same logic the principles of Art Market can not be much different either, sale-ability would ultimately depend on some sort of ‘quality’. Similarly, as in every other field, Sri Jogen Choudhury’s works must be having some ‘quality’ which makes them attractive to the Art Market; a market which is apparently a very active field developed by professionals and art critiques with fair amount of documentation and volumes and volumes of print!

    Being a person, no way related to Art & Art Market, I am naturally intrigued on the ‘quality’ factor on which the Art Market defines the sale-ability of an Art Product? It would be nice if someone can shed some light on this!

  8. Soumik says:

    Shubhashis-da,
    A great pleasure to read such a thoughtful and candid review. Thank you…
    Myself enjoyed the show a lot and felt rewarded in many ways.

    In connection to the issue of art-market vis-a-vis Sri Jogen Choudhury, raised by you in the comment above, Sri Choudhury seems to have earned critical acclaim around late sixties and early seventies, much before the appearance of a robust ‘market-force’ in the art-world in late eighties. From what I have gathered he was a much sought-after artist among the learned collectors and a handful of gallerists (almost all of whom were informed those days). The ‘neo art-market’ simply appropriated the already celebrated status of the art of Sri Jogen Choudhury and his likes. Needlessly and shamelessly the market began to hype their ‘commodities’ and efface the possibilities of all critical and informed discourses. However, the scene is not as gloomy any more. Aggressive art-market has received a jolt (due to world wide economic meltdown?), critical interventions are back and art-values are once again being examined in terms of its intrinsic values — art is about to loose its commodity fetishism !
    Having said that, why Sri Choudhury’s art is such a blue-eyed darling in the art-market is a vexed question. Will come back with some observations soon, Shubhashis-da.

  9. Shubhashis says:

    Soumik,
    Thank you for your learned observations about ‘Art Market’.

    Being someone, not related to Art Market in any way, and not being a practitioner or researcher on Art, still few points are easily conceivable to someone like me.

    1. An individual Artist’s ability to create a distinct artistic language (or style) has now become a hallmark; whoever manages to create that unique language is usually hailed as an prominent artist of his era. This has been the general condition for quite sometime now (at least). In this respect anyone with a slight discernible eye can easily spot the unique qualities of Sri Jogen Choudhury’s creations. Naturally that makes him a prominent artist of his era. Recently he has gone for another style or language shift, which is again unique. So, basically I find it quite natural that Sri Jogen Choudhury is widely recognized as a prominent artist in the learned Art Circle.

    2. Now the usage of the term ‘product’ or ‘commodity’ is actually a very generalized term, used for any other product which is sold in market. Perhaps the language creates a funny resonance with say a painting or a sculpture. But as an organized market, the Art Market in this case, comes into the picture very strongly, naturally such words will also squeeze in. One may change the terminology, but the essence will remain the same. These days Paintings, Sculptures etc are traded in the market like any other product of value. Even the renowned collectors do get engaged in such tradings. The point is when a high value market sets in, such things are bound to happen and an artist can not be blamed if his works are traded- it is a purely market operation. Interestingly in most of such cases the traders make much more money than the Artists!

    Looking at history, barring few exceptional cases like say Van Gogh, all famous artists from Da Vinchi to M F Hussain were highly paid either by the Kings, the affluent collectors or by the Art Market as it is now. So, being well paid can not really be considered as a negative quality for an Artist. The crux of the matter is the publicity generated, which usually remains biased towards the general views of the Art Market and big galleries for obvious monetary reasons. Here I feel the art scholars have a great role to play to bring out to public the works of worthy but unsung Artists. So the whole problem of Art Market or Neo Art Market (if it is at all a problem) can only be tackled by the Artist fraternity only; outsiders like us is bound to remain mute spectators till then!

    What is your observation?

    (I am enjoying the thread, and it can be very illuminating for people like us who are basically non-conversant on such matters.)

  10. Tapas Basu says:

    Jogenda’r chhobi bishon upobhog korlaam to botei kintu Sukule’r monoranjan lakhat aamaay ekebare kat kore dilo…. SADHU ,SADHU , SADHU…….

  11. Anonymous says:

    Oneek oneek kichu sikhlam…Mon bhore gelo dada

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