One hundred years after the beginning of its ascent, abstract art still confounds many people, viewed as manipulative hoax by some, as charlatans' ploy by others. What is apparent in Jayashree Chakravarty's newest works is the long road through realism and mimesis which has led to her current abstractions. Hers has been a patient and delicate delving into the nature of appearances, an achingly slow remove from the figure and its containments of city or landscape or even dream. A process which has brought the artist to paint pictures which feel so familiar, so sure and so patently known (at least to me), that they beg to be questioned as abstractions at all. Are these then not pictures of the new realisms which encompass us all? These are pictures of the body and its energies (seen by both the high-tech devices of medical imaging and the ancient theories of Tantra); of the multi-dimensional flow of information which engulfs us all (from radio waves to the internet to the still-untapped powers of telepathy and telekinesis); to the synergy of all pasts and all futures which converge at the moment in which we are always trapped-the inescapable present. It’s hard for me to imagine a viewer who cannot recognize him or herself in these paintings by Jayashree Chakravarty.
For many years, Jayashree Chakravarty's paintings presented a singular, consistent imagery. From her earliest works of surreal social groupings into her installations of double-sided collage/paintings on paper, the artist seemed entirely whole and focused on a stationary target. Today there has been a shift and one can discern a few different worlds being portrayed in her paintings, a slight neurosis of accommodation, a contradiction of what is to be painted. One of these worlds is easily recognizable as Calcutta, the artist's hometown. This is a logical development as a claustrophobic, intensely urban space filled with traffic snarls and crumbling architecture has been part of Jayashree Chakravarty's repertoire of images for a few years now. The feeling is even more oppressive in these recent paintings in which a thick, dark and smoggy rain seems to blanket everything and snow flurries of the type resulting from bad television reception could be a calligraphy as seen through static electricity. Sometimes a hint of blue sky peeks through all this gloom but these are paintings smothered by the weight of population, industry and commerce.
Another world far from that of Calcutta will be immediately apparent, a world which could not be more different in feeling and mood. Jayashree Chakravarty visited the island of Mauritius, an equatorial outpost in the Indian Ocean, and this has had a radical effect on her colour palette. The dirty browns and greys have been replaced by a panoply of blues and greens, sparkling whites and crackling crisp blacks. Yet this oceanic idle and its underwater realm seem a comfortable fit with the artist's style of painting and though the colours may have been transformed, her brushstrokes have not. For what Jayashree Chakravarty found in Mauritius was a formal complexity and a visual syncopation to match that of her hometown. Just beneath the rippled surface of the ocean lies a domain inhabited by vines and tendrils, barnacles and crustaceans, clouds of plankton and schools of fish. Seaweeds, those species of organisms which ride the cusp between animal and vegetable, come in a myriad of forms, from spaghetti to wide ribbons to necklaces of burstable globules. All of this is orchestrated and arranged by the ceaseless push and pull of not only currents and the tides but also the temperature fluctuations of the open sea and the foam of air bubbles ascending to the light. Jayashree Chakravarty has had a field day capturing these sensations in paint. Just as the Dutch Masters strove to accurately portray the fuzzy sheen of velvet alongside the brash metallics of armour, Jayashree Chakravarty has luxuriated in the challenge of capturing stippled against creamy, stringy facing spongy, the ghostly as it wraps around rock-solid, the essence of a phantom inhabiting the real world.
Calcutta and Mauritius: what two places on earth could possibly be more different? The monolithic city and the immeasurable sea: yet both possess a visceral, visual quality which commands the artist's attention. And how is the artist able to negotiate such ineluctable difference, such sublime contradictions, and the simple fact that she can pass from one to the other and back again and still be the same person, the same artist, still be the same two eyes connected to the same brain? The artist's skills, her cohesive vision and the adaptability of her pictorial language have been put to their most strident test. Jayashree Chakravarty has risen to the challenge by recognizing in these two very different realities a similar sense of abstraction. Is it the static of human vision, the hum in the ears of existence, .or the spark which renders cold matter living? Whatever we may like to call it, Jayashree Chakravarty has found through her paintings a balance between a natural order which defies the cultural and a cultural order which consumes all that is natural.
Travel has always been important to artists, a source of inspiration as well as education. Jayashree Chakravarty's attempt to convey the experience of traveling, her sense of liberation from the confinements of habit, routine or locale and the nudge towards introspection, have coaxed her to push beyond the two-dimensional painting or drawing. In works which have come away from the wall and now stand firmly upright or stretch across the floor as if a cat soaking up the sun, Jayashree Chakravarty challenges the parameters which separate artistic disciplines. Now a drawing/painting/ disciplines. Now a drawing/ painting/collage which is worked on both sides of the host material (so that the front knows nothing of what the back may be doing) curls in on itself to become independent and obviate any notions of verso and recto. Freestanding, this drawing/ painting/collage folds in on its imagery, its information becomes secret and unseen, hidden and elusive, silent yet knowing. A grove of nautilus shells which feels rich with the memories of experiences, like returning home after a long trip to a distant land. Other works have taken on the form of a caterpillar book, which zips and zags to mark distance and reminds one of the difficulty of folding up a cumbersome map which zipping down the road.
These sculptural forms complement deliciously the images of Jayashree Chakravarty's drawing/ painting/collages. Long-distance vistas and airplane views chart the topography of the land, its circulatory and nervous systems, the earth's changing seasonal palettes (tobacco brown, mustard yellow, or a blue-lavender delicacy of a monsoon's morning light). Jayashree Chakravarty's style of mark-making adeptly mimics the haphazard planning of villages and the dotted clustersofcantonments, the scars caused by railroads and industries. The rolling switchbacks of roads which snake through the hilIs are softened by smoky showers and often the most weighty element of a picture can be a curl of mist which swirls between bosoms. Sprinkled in for calculated effect are the free-floating mantras of place names and directions: "Phool Bagan," "Tala Tank'', "Turn Left”. The signposts which offer no help, no backwards, no forwards, no up nor down. These are the impotent signposts which do the artist and traveler no good at all, provide no real aid nor guidance on the solitary endeavour of finding one’s way as well as finding one’s self.
Published by Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2000