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FLORAL SPIRIT

Anju Chaudhuri’s current exhibition, Le Jardin Exotique (till December 11), at the Ganges Art gallery has the freshness of the flowers and gardens she paints, a quality that is suggested by the title itself. Chaudhuri has been based in Paris for more than 30 years, although she visits Calcutta at least once a year, and throughout much of her career, her inspiration has been flowers and plants, their shapes and colours.

She does not paint actual flowers or petals, but she has mastered the art of paring down their decorative forms to their very essence, so that while their colourful presence is undeniable, it is more of a suggestion — a hint perhaps — that pervades the entire canvas or scroll, as the case may be. While Chaudhuri’s works are often a burst of colour, it is not just a soft and pellucid palette that she seems to be interested in. For her works often have a strong graphic element, undoubtedly inspired by the stems and branches of flowering plants. There is little that is ornamental in her work for more often than not, they are jagged or undulating lines that try to recreate the rhythm of nature manifest in all things luscious and green with the sap of life coursing through their stems and leaves.

Indeed, she has chosen not to depict the downside — flowers that are wilting after having spent their entire term on earth which does not last for more than a couple of days, radiating their beauty and spreading their fragrance. For when they have fallen into the sere, flowers look truly ugly, having lost their dainty form, colour and charm. Instead, Chaudhuri depicts them in their prime when they offer the artist an infinite spectrum of tones and textures to chose from.

Chaudhuri uses both canvas and beautiful paper from Japan for her scrolls. Her canvases, particularly the ones with a backdrop of white, often resemble large prints, and the shades of green, yellow and red are in shreds. It is as if she has made cuttings of them and pasted them under glass for display, as botanists do. But the fancy-free forms she endows them with are far removed from nature — they are her own creations. She transforms the petals and leaves into craggy and angular shapes that come quite close to calligraphy. She splashes black paint on the canvas as she deconstructs floral forms.

Chaudhuri is at her lyrical best when she paints the scrolls. The paper background is suffused with delicate shades of yellow or blue with hundreds of petals in darker tones in a free fall. These have the intangible quality of Chinese landscapes. They are the spirit of flowers.