In many of his paintings in the series ‘Reminiscences of a Dream’ the content dictates Jogen Chowdhury’s linear emphasis. Fish scale, sunflower, gourd, butterfly, and ivy often form the manure of the painter’s imaginative experience. Some of these are recreated in textual terms; say a snake or lizard skin or the bark of a tree are expressed in their linearity, in their rich outer feel. And certainly Jogen’s work is often intestinal, -- appearing in winding and unwinding, roped, heaped up, criss-crossing, heavy, limp or saturated lines. His manner creates a feeling of solidity, of a cold-blooded moonlit world, an enchanting, convincing unreality.
Work in pastel preceded Jogen’s present work in oil on canvas; this practice in a bland and facile dry medium inevitably led him to a certain stylisation and in his later mature period. But the artist’s style is not all linearity; the three-dimensionality is palpable. The illusion of depth and fullness is never missing; the criss-crossing lines fill up the outline to novel effects; and together with broad brush strokes and laborious penmanship, gives a Jogen composition its distinctive manner.
This style, which recreates poetic dream states or still lifes also creates human forms or faces with a singular effect. A man on his back, the portrait of a pensive woman, an elderly man sitting hunched on a broken down sofa, a nude reclining on a spring bed, all have poetic, pathetic and satiric elements, some of these works are full-volumed. The back or white backgrounds of the knitted composition or motif become striking.
There is a surrealist element of dream and memory behind Jogen’s compositions. The memory of Bengal is strong, of depressions, of a kind of damp, this quality emerges most in his aged corpulent figures, and as one goes over his earlier work one notices that he had done quite a number of similar ones. Here then is a continuing thread; these early, rather non-linear compositions are powerful expressionistically, but with them the painter’s style has not yet become personal; he seems to be in line with Picasso’s Blue Period, of much pathos, at another point we have indications of Rouault. Jogen’s stay in Paris does not seem to have converted him to any fatal or total occidentalism. New techniques he certainly acquired but was so well rooted in himself as to retain his feel for the locale of India, especially of Bengal which becomes a kind of underlying mood. We have here a lyrical as well as a human content which no non-objective style could entirely convey. He seems to have learnt the method of abstraction but only to his own purposes. His experiments never became purely formal; his compositions were laden with nuance, and only rarely a nuance which was merely shocking as in many an artist who sets out to achieve novelty. Perhaps one of Jogen’s paintings, “Ganesh” had that shock element, but usually the harmony of sentiment and tone and intent in themselves become absorbing without becoming embarrassing. His content is thus, never far fetched, or purely fantastical, clearly, the painter remains within the bounds of plausibility. His works which are a cross between the real and the imaginative are notable for their craft as well as for their mystery. This last may be considered an element which designates all good art.
Jogen’s stay in Madras at the Weaver’s Service Centre had a meaning for him, it formed his style of weaving or linearity. The woven feel is characteristic of his works from that period onward. The engaging question, however, by what combination of processes did the artist arrive at his style. The part which was played by his stay in various places, was it all? How did the thread and needle style develop in his mind and become the gauze and the graph of the pumpkin?
In his recent work, as in the large studies of a man on a chair, the insistent linearity has almost disappeared though not quite, and we have the feel of black velvet and a less detailed treatment. The new work is starker, less obviously poetic, less overtly laden with strange symbols and is much more like theatre images or stills from the stage. In these the painter is at pains to recreate a human reality directly but with much irony. In his studies and objects and still lifes he is more overtly delectable, lingering over a hand, a vine, a conventional lyrical motif. But in the works executed in 1975-76, the early propensity reappears to capture the complexity of the subject itself. And here the painter simplifies his statement, rococo or baroque richness and decorative delicacy disappears, the goal becomes one of truth telling, or rather the one of a projecting through formal means (of line, dimension and sombre colour, or no colour) the enigma of human reality. Here then is a personal view, a quiz rather than the charm to flower, honey bee and so on.
To repeat Jogen’s style stands out distinctly in collective shows. Some artists who have tried to follow him have not quite managed to shake off his stamp and outdo him. What is important about his line is its clarity; his lines are supported by his understanding of space. This sense of space lets the spectator breathe his compositions. The individuation of each image is standing clear of another is yet in total harmony; seen against the background of generous open areas the motifs implant themselves on the minds’ eye like a fine print.
The painter has both form and content delicately balanced and blended.
Published in Lalit Kala Contemporary, 1976-77