Studio Visit: Srijon Chowdhury – Color as Spirit, Matter, Emotion
By Gary Brewer
“The artist who paints the emotions creates an enclosed world… the picture… which, like a book, has the same interest no matter where it happens to be. Such an artist, we may imagine, spends a great deal of time doing nothing but looking, both around him and inside him.”
“I have always believed that art should be a deep pleasure…There is always, everywhere, an enormous amount of suffering. But I believe that my duty as an artist is to overcome and alleviate the sterility of despair…New ways of seeing mean new ways of feeling…I do believe that painting can change the world.”
Origin myths, the birth of the world, our primordial ancestors in a sea of becoming; Srijon Chowdhury’s “Garden” series was a vision of the mythic beginning of life, the deep saturated reds and magentas the color of flowers, viscera and Muladhara– the root chakra. “ I wanted to make a series of paintings that engaged the idea of an origin myth, I used red because it is the color of the root chakra that grounds us to this world and it is the color of the inside of our bodies. I wanted to create an immersive experience as though one were in a sea of red, a part of the origin of life and as though the paintings were also looking back at the viewer.”
There is a swoon one feels while looking at these works; vast canvases that undulate with the rhythmic tidal flow of the sea, the heart beat of the world. These works are lush, romantic, emotive. The anemones, flowers and other life forms move in the rich chromatic pulsations, deep rose and plums, the scent of magenta within a sea of blood. They are immersive experiential works, paintings whose meaning is embedded in the paint from the hand, eye and heart of the artist. These paintings are sincere efforts to connect directly with the viewer and to have a shared experience of meaning and emotion in the universe that this artist creates.
Following the “Garden“ paintings Srijon created a series titled “Arches” that spoke of how a religion will embellish an origin myth, ornament it with symbols and narratives creating a system of meaning around this primal myth. He used an arch motif within which he painted the imagery from his ‘Garden’ series. “ I used my muscle memory to create these areas allowing the imagery to emerge naturally. I then wiped away the image leaving a ghost of the painting, surrounded by an arch like structure. These arches were a reference to my great, great, great grandfather who built a Mosque in Bangladesh.” In this series Srijon planned to create a circular structure of these works leaving an opening to walk in and be surrounded by the delicate imagery with the architectural element creating a feeling of being within a sanctuary. These works have delicate color gradients, the ghostly imagery like a memory of the world as though in a dream, the arches creating a frame through which one sees the evanescence, the delicate scrim of the shadows of our ancestors.
While working on this piece he noticed that the shadow play of the stretcher bars was creating another layer of architectural design elements. This inspired Srijon to think about a more elaborate environmental work, one in which he would use the play of shadows more completely. He built decorative stretcher bars that were referencing again the lines of arches within a Mosque with delicate linear elements suggestive of Islamic design. He created “Memory Theater” (the title a reference to the ideas of Giulio Camillo a 16th century Italian architect/philosopher/mystic), in which he built a structure from the stretcher bars with thin linen on them that one could walk into. Outside of the canvas ‘walls’ he invited friends and former teachers to exhibit works, small sculptures that were placed on pedestals of varying heights. Looking at the gallery through the storefront window it looked like a group show of sculpture, which in part it was. When one walked into the structure the shadow play of the stretcher bars combined with the shadow of these sculptures became a theater piece; the shadows of the sculptures were the actors in this narrative. These were important people from Srijon’s life: mentors, teachers and friends each person a universe of memories and shared experiences. This is a beautifully conceived idea, the works animated by the light, as if by the light of mind. The echoes of memories embedded in each object, weaving the makers into a narrative of memory makers, each artist embedding their life experience into the objects they created; part Plato’s cave and part magic lantern.
The newest works are portraits of friends, people important to Srijon, who are part of his life as an artist. He wanted to convey in these paintings the romantic aura of blue. One feels the metaphoric emotions of Picasso’s Blue period echoing in the deeply saturated hues emerging from blue blacks. These works came out of a series of painful events that made Srijon question who he was and what was important to him. He created a series that reflected his life by portraying those closest to him, often in scenes from life where they were helping hang a show or just hanging out at an event. “There were the killings in Orlando Florida, along with the rise of Trump which led me to question myself, to want to surround myself with people who are a part of my life. I started painting these portraits in deep blues, an emotional color that has the weight to convey the darker emotions, the feeling that something else was lurking, hovering just outside the frame.” One senses an existential unease to some of these works the deeply obscured spaces convey a darkness, one that bears weight on the atmosphere.
Srijon said that with each series he uses a single color theme as a way to deepen his understanding and to immerse himself in the color, to create a color theory unique to himself. With the current series he started premixing blues, creating as many as 40 different shades that he would put on his palette. He forced himself to use all of these variations, an experience that sensitized his eyes to see color sensations that were new to him. “As I pushed myself to explore these subtle color chords I could feel my body changing. My ability to see these delicate nuances was in fact a change in my perceptions. I wondered if others looking at my paintings carefully would experience this change as well; If we would have a shared experience in sensitizing our vision to perceive these delicate color sensations. Something about that intrigued me and was deeply satisfying.”
Art can change the world. It changes the world by re-presenting the world we know through the vision that the artist sees. When novel experiences enter our consciousness it alters us changing our brains, rewiring them, an adaptation that allows us to continually grow and morph into each new phase of existence. To imbue objects and images with meaning, to give deeply of oneself in the pursuit of some kind of truth that shatters the nullifying and mind numbing banality of tragedy, this is the power that art wields at its most profound.
We as artists are on a path, following a river that flows from the origin of language, meaning, myth and consciousness. It is a journey that Srijon Chowdhury is on giving deeply from his life experiences weaving his family history, cultural histories and of the closeness of friendship into emotionally beautiful works that seek to remind the viewer to awake, to see and feel this fleeting garden, this sea of memories.