Artists

At a time when the loss of values and its concomitant cult of self-indulge is a harsh reality in the art world, it is a rare treat to come across an artist whose works are voyages of discovery in which images constantly evolve, firing the creative imagination of artist and viewer alike. Jayashree Chakravarty is one of those artists who in the years ahead is likely to play a role in defining the syntax and substance of contemporary Indian art. Her works are determined by the interaction of various layers of the mind which so harmoniously balance freedom, accident and spontaneity. She celebrates the poignant connection between time, memory and sensory experiences and brings to life the notions of witnessing, experiencing and remembering. Birds, insects, marine and human life, maps, castles much else are seen through a wondrous gaze which translates private thoughts into exquisite visual revelations.

The central feature of Jayashrees works is the liberation, through her imagination, of simultaneous realities. They do not surrender all their meanings in the first viewing which provides visual stimulation and aesthetic delight; rather, they demand multiple viewings which, in effect, convey the essential secrets of these monumental works. 'The Wind Whispers' demands more than one viewing because the first addresses a visual text which is reasonably straightforward: an artist by the name of Jayashree Chakravarty sequentially narrates an epic tale. The second viewing begins the moment the first ends: the viewer discovers that this epic chronicle was already present before Jayashree put brush to canvas: she merely unlocked it. In that instant, two things happen: the viewer's journey begins once again but this time the sequence runs simultaneously as a mythic historicity.

Perhaps the most striking discovery in Jayashree's works is that of polyphony and with it the realization that they are all, to some degree, anthologies of styles, songs arid stories which use a visual medium to comment upon contemporary issues without breaking the sense of narrative. She establishes a magical atmosphere, at once epic and intimate, absorbing and thrilling. This too is the first of many beginnings and presents a series of oppositions which are mutually dependent: painting and viewing, public and private, image and experience, the self and others. Keeping one's sensations under control is not easy when viewing these works together as they ask the audience to reflect minutely on the very act of looking and observing which most of us take for granted.

These works, combine in a distinctive and fantastic manner the order of the actual - the visual sequence - with the order of the possible - the imagination - so that the former is liberated by the latter. Each bit of imagery is like a fast-revolving axis on which turn all the possibilities which are integral to the whole as well as their imaginings, dreams and fears. One of the most crucial aspects of "The Wind Whispers' is that it reflects Jayashree's deeply-held artistic and philosophical concerns: the tension between Utopia, myth and epic. Salt Lake, the suburb of Calcutta in which she has lived for over two decades, was conceived as Utopia. It was akin to an island of the imagination in which the world could be invented. It was, however, exploited, debased and ultimately ruined by the epic of history: activity and commerce. There remained the survivors whose tale unfolds through the images, whose mythic, simultaneous and renewable nature establishes the frontiers of reality within an image and the frontiers of an image within reality. This symbiosis is perfect.

In analyzing her works, the viewer will find a variety of unplanned and, arguably, unintentional phenomena in the primary layer. The application of rich, luminous paints follows, producing the most evocative and organic fields of colour. The translucent quality of these colours heightens the mazelike reflections as well as the suggestive and sensual shadows on the canvas. Colours are used as much for what they allude to as their intrinsic aesthetic qualities. Implied forms are then selected and enhanced with vigorous lines. From this plasma which, for the artist, implies the yearnings of the soul as well as explosions of memory, emerges a litany of figural manifestations. Jayashree constantly pushes the boundaries of colour, especially with textured, pearly whites and subtle, vivid blues. This technique produces layered, hallucinatory works in which forms - which are the products of both the conscious and unconscious mind - emerge, separate, unite and float freely, utterly indifferent to the demands of superimposed geometry. Understandably there is a marked degree of conflict between the independence of the process and the cognizant handling that orders it into images. These are visions of a world, new yet oddly familiar, which lies beyond that of perception and dreams.

The layers of Jayashree's paintings are of greater significance than the finished works: They sensitize the viewer to both the inner and outer space and form the crucial structural glue that holds the paintings together. The discovery of hidden images excites, stimulates, even amuses, and brings to mind the earliest focused reflection "on the intricacies and details of nature. The fundamental process of her highly original technique is a consistent and apparent one in which the morphology of growth and evolution is of much greater importance-than any single frozen moment. Amidst the myriad, interwoven illusive imagery, a human head or an insect flickers in and out as the eye works its way through the totemic parts of the whole. The overall density of composition is stunning as is the use of devices such as concentric circles which can be interpreted on a number of levels including the feeling of corporal and optical instability, an unlocking of concealed vistas, the suggestion of nests or even magnetic waves. The use of garlands, again, is more than a "mere stylistic device”, it is symbolic of commemorations and points of departure.

With Jayashree, the image is self-genesis. All creation is an enchantment, a myth, a fundamental act: the representation of the act of foundation. On the mythic level, 'The Wind Whispers' is, above all, a permanent interrogation: what does humankind know about its own creation and its environment? The works constitute an accumulative reply: in order to know one has to delve into a pool of collective memory which embraces the whole legendary .past; encompassing dreams, imagination and desires. Like all mythical memory, it is all about the creation and recreation of moments. Memory repeats the models and matrixes of the beginning thereby ensuring the permanence of the world, perhaps even the cosmos. This mythification is the imagination defending itself against surroundingchaos, from the crushing magma of history. Nature hasdominions, humankind has imagination. These works are an amalgam of the two.

An interpreter of myth, epic, memory and Utopia, Jayashree enters metaphorically, mythically and concurrently, the all-inclusive time of the present. In each work the positivist time of the epic - this really happened - and the nostalgic time of Utopia - this may have happened - combine in the absolute present of the myth: this is happening. There is, however, something simpler, clearer and deeper at the same time. The works are also a visual metaphor for humankind's desolation and fear on earth: of initiating a regression into nothingness. The image becomes an act of birth, of creation, a space that is all-enveloping: the seat of time; the enshrinement of all times; the meeting ground of memory and imagination; a common present where everything can begin again; a painting.

Jayashree's conception of time is as layered as her paintings. Time is linked not just to her personal history but also to the collective and is a dimension in which objects and memories are transformed. She creates spaces which simultaneously represent several places and several points in time. Indeed, the experience conveyed by her images is that of a remembrance of things past, of wandering through the nooks and alleys of memory, of spontaneous exhilaration that accompanies the thrill of discovery. As much a painter as a montreur, (one who makes things known) she gives form not just to what is perceived, but also to the forces that act upon that perception. In these works, everything signifies something, but to penetrate these secrets .conventional questions of categories and inspirations need to be set aside. Her visions encompass many layers of space and time; her scale is infinite, but her images rooted. She conveys ideas that can never really be verbalized except, arguably, in a poetic idiom.

What makes Jayashree an artist of such significance? Her art transcends the surface of the canvas instead becoming a conveyor of messages. There is an element of alchemy here, an almost primordial sense of engagement with material, colours and texture and the meanings and importance of these. This blend of the cerebral and the material is what gives her artistic language such energy and, consequently, makes her influential. She is able to relate essence to material and intuition to intellect in a manner which could have a considerable impact on the ways in which subsequent generations of artists view the creative process. Also, she makes contemporaneous all the aspects of the Indian artistic imagination which, for a long time, appeared lost: subject to the heavy tyranny of the so-called 'cutting-edge'. It is not the least of Jayashree's many achievements that she dissolves artificial distinctions and useless a prioris about fantasy and realism, pure art and politically motivated art, cosmopolitan art and national art to proclaim, and win, a right to the imagination, which, for its part, is able to distinguish between mystifications in which the past wants to be the living present and the mythifications in which the present reclaims the life of the past.

Published by Aicon Jallies, 2009 - Essay by Anirudh Chari and Niru Ratnam
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