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Jogen Chowdhury

To engage with Jogen Chowdhuryís art is to draw apart the curtains that veil a poignant theatre of intimacy. The characters who inhabit his drawings and paintings are taken from life, but transmuted into allegory. In Jogenís frames, we are confronted by men sagging into corpulence but animated, in every fold and wrinkle, by lust. We encounter women fatigued by lifeís demands yet charged by a zest for life, overcoming the grey tonalities around them with a flash of almond eye, a spark of bangled wrist. Jogen also summons up chimeras: creatures that are part horse and part wolf, figures that are half human and half bird, each embodying some atavistic instinct towards flight, need or violence.

And at the core of Jogenís pictorial universe stands the couple: figured repeatedly, over the decades, in moods that range from arousal and mutual curiosity to flaccidity and mutual disdain. Bound together in dramas of desire and guilt, acting from scripts dictated by genetic memory and the onrush of blood, Jogenís men and women are locked in an embrace of love and revulsion.

Jogen has long been an ironist, training his sardonic eye on the concupiscence and suspicion that underpin human relationships. His eye is peculiarly satirical in its ability to strip its subjects down to the primal instincts. Yet it is also sensually connoisseurial as it dwells on such details as a tumescent breast or a crimped stomach. It is also compassionate in its evocation of the intricate tapestry of motives and actions that is human behaviour. Oscillating between sentiment and satire, Jogenís attitude suggests a dark romanticism, impelled by a tender sympathy with human fallibility.

Accordingly, his theatre of intimacy is not only poignant, in the vulnerability of its personae, but it is also ambiguous in testifying to the relationships between them. A complex, not immediately identifiable tension grips Jogenís couples; it is compounded from the twin impulses towards rapturously clasping and brutally engulfing the other. This tension records the constant shift of power that takes place in erotic relationships.

If Jogen can put the experience of carnal intimacy to savage use, as when he approaches the flesh of a womanís body, he is also capable of exhibiting a tender compassion while rendering the corporal effects of age, debauchery, disease or labour. A feline grace attends his procedures, a facility with line that does not disguise the hard-won testimony of bodily insight. In Jogenís paintings and drawings, we see a frank enjoyment, and also a perverse interrogation of the human, especially the female, body. It is best not to inquire too closely into the roots of artistic pleasure: you might find sardonic enjoyment at human frailty there, or a sadistic desire to see the female body disrobed of its seductiveness and its machinery exposed, its vitality reduced to a clockwork mechanism, delicate and breakable.

Jogenís figuration is based on the premise that the human being does not essentially change, and is always compounded from the same repertoire of humours: raga, dvesha, lobha and moha, anger, hatred, greed and lust. This is almost a Buddhist description; unlike the Buddhists, however, Jogen holds to the genially stoic view that most humans do not, or cannot, commit themselves to a programme of radical spiritual transformation.

Jogen is, in the highest sense of the word, a fabulist: a storyteller. But his narratives are tightly condensed, implying rather than declaring their meaning; they compress entire social histories into a look or a movement of the hand. The anecdote as a secret, hinted at through the flirtatious, teasing or ambivalent sign, lies at the centre of Jogenís paintings. The concupiscent or estranged couple, the tonsured monk, the dreaming boy, the ageing libertine, the courtesan whose limbs have lost their tautness: Jogenís brush translates all these characters into pure gesture, a physical calligraphy of touch, gaze, wariness and sleep.

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