When a senior artist has a solo show in her home town, it is news. And Anita Roy Chowdhury belongs to that generation of artists who began redefining modern art in the post-Bengal School atmosphere of the significant sixties of the last century. She was part of two major groups: the Society of Contemporary Artists, which she joined, we are told, in 1960, and subsequently, from 1969, the Calcutta Painters. They had one common agenda: the mission to reject nostalgic revivalism and prettified narratives.
Like a majority of Indian artists, Roy Chowdhury started off with figuration. After all, it has a great tradition, not just in mainstream classical art like Mughal miniatures, Ajanta frescoes and temple sculpture — the staple of the revivalists — but also the distilled stylization of tribal imagination. However, somewhere along the way, her art in its mature phase evolved into an abstract and semi-abstract signature. And that is what the visitor will see at her exhibition, on at Galerie 88 till Sept 15. Of the 21 works on view, only a few are in oil; the rest are listed as drawings and done on paper. But the vibrant lines you associate with her art are seen in both.
Interestingly, these lines, in her drawings, refer to the sweeping spontaneity of alpona at times. Supple stems, sketchy flowers and hasty spreads of colour impart a fluent rhythm to her paean to nature. Indeed, nature seems to be her inspiration, even when it isn’t landscapes she’s doing. While her reinvention of natural forms reduces them to roughly-rendered and colourful patterns, shorn of meaning, there’s one landscape that stands apart. Its diagonal bands of colour — mainly blues, browns and greens — and gauche lines that meander like a lazy river or scamper along to evoke shrubs and jagged hills, weave a quiet spell of childlike wonder for those who’ve been long in city pent. Her unformed childlike forms turn a cityscape of rectangles and triangles into a buoyant image.
The oils reflect her mature craft, summary though the application of the medium is, running in swift, craggy strokes or quick, impasto daubs. Indeed, it’s their garbled imprecision that contributes to the ambiguity of the best of the oils. Whether landscapes or cityscapes, the chaotic tumble of inchoate shapes — hills, trees, plants or roofs, buildings, posts — scripts a heave of motions.
The works to cite are Akash Path, a landscape, and Akash Pathey, with its dense carpet of squiggles, smudges and writhing trails of paint. Guest is another work that would interest viewers with its illusion of depth and presiding greys, offset by surprising little interludes of red and orange. What is ultimately suggested is a state of flux without finality.