Body and Landscape Become One in Works by Celebrated Indian Artist Avinash Chandra
Avinash Chandra grew up painting in India before moving to Britain in 1956 at the age of 25. When he arrived, many artists were focused on expressing the immediacy of WWII, using the kind of sweeping gestures and fragmented narratives that defined modernism. A survey of his work on view at DAG MODERN’s Mumbai outpost shows the compelling evolution of an artist equally influenced by Indian and European culture and the increasingly open attitudes of the 20th century. Though landscapes figure prominently in his earlier paintings, they later radically morph into women’s nude bodies.
Chandra’s paintings, for the most part, are named “Untitled,” save for a few that deliver basic factual information (Woman (1963); Landscape (ca. 1950)) and take poetic leaps (Moon in the Pink (1960); Stars Above, Stars Below (1962)). Though Chandra’s art is not overtly political, it is often formally complex in its perspectives. Sun in Srinagar (ca. 1950), for example, feels poignantly relevant. The work is named for the capital of Kashmir, the territory at the heart of a conflict between India and Pakistan, whose borders had been drawn three years earlier by the British. An expressive, golden Van Gogh-like sun spirals in the background. The trees, bare of leaves, are jagged and lifeless. Two boats rendered from different angles add a disjunctive jolt to the composition. Perhaps this is the moment of silence after a nation is colonized for centuries; or perhaps this is the moment of violence.
The space in which violence and ebullience merge permeates his infamous trove of paintings of women. In works like Untitled (1967) and Untitled (ca. 1970), which show his Post-War, post-Picasso fragmented forms, shifting light, and decentered compositions, Chandra covers his surfaces with an orgiastic array of limbs in motion and bodies colliding. The paintings are erotic and elegant, exotic and everyday, and surprisingly landscape-like, with bellies resembling plateaus and breasts evoking valleys.
In Untitled (1978), the artist used dark waterproof ink to draw the outlines of a party of nude ladies in fluid, wave-like forms, soaking into handmade paper. Though the outlines are bold and graphic, the figures soften into each other until the lines between bodies is indiscernible. A pastel palette of blues, purples, and pinks evokes a sky where the bodies become clouds amid an infinite sunset. The piece reveals an otherworldly, ethereal facet of Chandra’s oeuvre, in which figure and landscape merge as one.
—Himali Singh Soin
“Humanscapes, Avinash Chandra: A Retrospective” is on view at DAG Modern, Mumbai, December 14, 2015–March 10, 2016.