Sunday, February 21, 2010

Life as an ever-changing canvas

Sourav Chatterjee has been painting all his life. For him, life itself is an ever-changing canvas painted over with myriad events and emotions from which the individual artist makes his selections.
So every incident, ranging from the trivial, such as a railway journey remembered for a few snatches of conversation between strangers, to the momentous, such as the death of his young wife, becomes material for Chatterjee’s art.
The exhibition of his paintings, Pulsation, which opened at Studio 21 on Friday, bears testimony to the mysterious process of the artist’s imagination that transforms reality into something rich and strange.
Chatterjee, 39, insists that he is not an abstract artist. Rather, he concretises the abstract on canvas. The painting, Touch, shows the fingertips of a pair of skeletal hands joined together, while the human figure to which the arms belong, merges with, almost disappears, in the background of grey and brown. This composition, says Chatterjee, gives form to human thought, symbolised in the fingers touching one another.
Similarly the gash of blue-gold in Animal Within conceals in its depths a supine human figure pinned to the ground by a menacing creature breathing down his neck. The painting seems to be about those unguarded moments when the habitual defences of the mind are let down to reveal the violence lurking within.
Chatterjee “plays” with his colours, splashing, sprinkling or slapping them on his canvases, until they begin to take shape. He does not plan but paints as his passions direct. The finished painting thus carries traces of the workings of the artist’s unconscious, verbalising the unspoken, expressing the inexplicable.
Chatterjee paints his larger canvases in a frenzy of inspiration, submitting his will to the dictates of his paintbrush. The smaller line drawings, on the other hand, are done painstakingly, with close attention to detail. They are like miniatures, painted unhurriedly, and unfolding their meanings gradually in the viewers’ mind.
It would not be difficult to find parallels of Chatterjee’s style in Sigmar Polke’s art. Like Polke, Chatterjee too resists categorisation, changing his methods from one canvas to the other. He acknowledges his debt to Polke while pointing out that his art is passionate, unpremeditated, in contrast to Polke’s “cold” compositions.
Chatterjee maintains that even the colours he uses in his paintings have no significance beyond their immediate context. Paintings such as Blue Breath, Water Bucket, Dance or Bathing might appear to form a series, having in common the colour blue, which predominates in each. But Chatterjee is quick to dismiss such an assumption, saying that blue takes on different meanings in the paintings. If in Bathing, the shades of indigo and light blue divided by two raised human arms hint at a yearning for the impossible, in Blue Breath, the wish for a place called home seems to have been frozen in a cone of icy blue.

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