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Articles on Indian contemporary art by Swapna Vora

Every day, judgment day
Chiru Chakravarty
by Swapna Vora

May 01, 2007

(click on the small image for full screen image with captions.)


Chiru offers limbs, muscles, bones cloned with animals, shards of existence, of disaster. There is anger, suffering and chaos, with no well remembered limits, no recognizable boundaries. We momentarily halt and watch the anguish in his works. Are these responses to catastrophes, humanity's disasters, bloodshed, generated violence, mindless mobs?

Chiru prefers things and words to be short and succinct, like haiku, offering a moment of insight and perhaps chaturiya, the fourth state of awareness. His art has dull vermilion, sepia, sienna, umber in huge blocks. There are bones, twisted muscles, tortured ligaments and sinister, frenzied suggestions of human interiors, all deliberately thought out, very painterly. Art straight from his being, his 'antakaran'. What urges him on is necessity, not making beauty. "Painting is not my hobby or my profession. It is me. This is not for my self expression but my compulsion. It has no other function but that I must, like drinking water or doing yoga, something I must do to exist. It is essential for my being."


A few European classical masters, like Vermeer, Velasquez and Rembrandt, please him. "I enjoy their palette, no primary colors, no shocking pink. I too, am very restricted with colors. There is often lots of temptation to be foolish with bright colors but it is like riding on a mad horse. You can't really enjoy yourself, for there is no proper, intelligent action. Yielding to temptation has no proper result. And there is no end to temptation. Meditation is the next stage and yes, the greatest stage. When you meditate, you are unaware of everything extraneous, including your own external self.”

If you could not be a painter what would you have done?


"Nothing, I could not do anything else. This, this painting, makes my life self-explanatory. If I draw a line, either it is created by passion or else created by habit, by faith or by doubt. This work is just myself, not self expression, my position and my view from my perch. I have found my answer and it does not change, there are no fashions. If you really find your answer, you need not change, maybe cannot change. A particular ideology, my understanding, where I am in the whole cosmos, my relationships with other elements, confirms my place. I do not speak of the whole cosmos but of this time, this space, this geo-physical situation. But in another dimension, you are surely in a state of flux, nothing is fixed, there are no stable boundaries that define one. All is in flux. No difference between a dog and a tree or a piece of rock and me. Why? Because neither knows, really knows anything. I do not know where I've come from and where I'll go. No rationality. When reason has fled, then there is violence and self destruction. Criminal emotions are at work. How are we then different from simply being accidents? We are then nearer to animal existence and hence my paintings are both animal and human. Man still has to find his own position. By being rational, by using his intellect."

What makes you happy?


"Nothing makes me happy. This torment makes me happy. The fight between my faith and my doubt. Painting is a rigid, stationary activity. This is static creativity, no life shaking involvement."

"I have no other purpose. I cannot do any other thing. There is no other bank of the river for me. There is no greener grass elsewhere. While deciding my career, I finished school and declared I wanted to paint. My father, a schoolteacher, gave me biographies of five painters. After I read them, he asked, you still want to be a painter? Yes, I replied. So I dived in. I tried not to be inspired by anyone, by any one-sided view. If you read Marx, the next day you must read Lasky. See the opposite perspective. Alfred North Whitehead said we should not see only what Newton saw, we should also see what the falling apple saw: (Newton probably appeared to be moving up). Gravity and the opposite of gravity! I am very inspired by Nietzche and involved with deconditioning the self. We are conditioned for comfort and hence unable to bypass this human existence and move on to higher supramental realities. Must everything be tied to being comfortable? Be free for and from comfort. By exercising the brain, you see what a lazy person can't see. My painting makes people exercise their brain."


He spoke of how his father pressed a coin in his palm and then took it away. What remained? Nothing, said Chiru. His father said he was wrong because what had remained was the impression, it was not nothing. "Does nothing remain of all our experiences? No, the feeling remains. No love ever disappears because its memory remains. Is this something we come with?"

"What we have come to is the 21st century, at this moment the last and final product of evolution, vilified and glorified at the same time. I agonize that we simply exist, do not know anything more and do not even have the faculty to know anything more."

Is there no entry then to the next stage of evolution?


"Perhaps by really exercising our brains and stretching what faculties we do possess."

I see his work around us: somber often, a dividing line, a ridge, torn borders, a dreadful feeling, a little melancholy. "Life is layers of sorrow. Yes, it seeps in. Is there life after life? The advent of supramental man is very important. Unless we know more, how will we become supramental? Unless we develop, how will we learn that our current faculties are inadequate? We need a 180 degree change." We spoke then about the Buddha for he had left all his karma behind and said, I must know if there is anything more and must know it now.

“Ultimately the main subject of my painting remains the abuse of the mind and body by humans, making us very near to simply existing, very hedonistic, very animalistic. We badly need the next great mutation.”

Do you enjoy being unhappy?


"Yes, because I have realized, (in a very hard and painstaking way), what I needed in life. We should not waste our life just being alive, in conceptual happiness, for then the curtain falls."

I left with the question I had come with: We who come with a death sentence from the moment we are born, how then with willful abuse of our already limited faculties, how then do we go on to becoming supermen?



Chiru Chakravarty is among contemporary India’s most prominent and thoughtful artists. Born in Faridpur, now in Bangladesh, Chiru Chakravarty studied briefly at the Indian School of Art, Kolkata. A disatisfied draftsman with the West Bengal Government, he became a cinematographer in Mumbai and started showing his work. After an exhibition in 1968, he started painting full-time. In 1993, he was invited to participate in Gallery Gaghardi, London, and later in Australia's Gallery Art Sans Frontiere. He has exhibited with Marc Chagall, Picasso, Dali, etc.

Resourcefully, Chakravarty has produced paintings, ceramics, relief in various metals, stone carvings, mosaic, photographs, sculpture and enameled copper and steel: both abstract with lines and raw color, away from perceived exteriors, and expressionist with distorted forms, cataloguing emotion into order.


.... and out of endless conflicting emotional experience of the
Self Searching Self Art emanates
-- and thrives to remain as Assertion Of Freedom --
and that freedom as Evidence Of Life.

Chiru ´86


"My paintings – though often termed as Abstract, Non-representational, Non-objective, Expressionistic etc. by different critics and reviewers at different times and occasions, but I still think and believe that I have always been trying to break these conventional classifications and trying sincerely to create an unparallel visual structure showing the inner world of emotion, something surely unrealistic, maybe visionary, may or may not
have reference to forms and colors exterior to the picture."

"I am not shouting disagreement either to what terminologies people use to describe my work because it is meaningless. I think everyone has his own point of view to judge works of a contemporary Indian painter."

"I paint to expose (not express, please) myself, maybe to draw attention or maybe not but I am bare all the same. Noticing or ignoring is someone else´s problem.”

"I love poetry. It has less limitation then art. A poet does not work under the limitation of an artist. Words have more nobility then images. However realistic a painting, you can not differentiate between a mother and an aunt, unless you name them."


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