New York

Avinash Chandra, Untitled, 1963, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, and marker on paper, 47 3/4 × 71 1/2 ".

Avinash Chandra, Untitled, 1963, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, and marker on paper, 47 3/4 × 71 1/2 ".

Avinash Chandra

DAG | New York

Avinash Chandra, Untitled, 1963, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, and marker on paper, 47 3/4 × 71 1/2 ".

The work of Avinash Chandra (1931–1991) went through four periods, more or less coordinate with the places in which he lived. Arranged chronologically, this show—billed as a retrospective of the Simla, India–born painter’s art—surveyed these stages via sixty-two works made between the 1950s and 1980s. First, there was the New Delhi period. During this time, Chandra made relatively sober, often gloomy landscapes, typically showing houses in forests. These works were thickly painted and tightly composed, suggesting an insular world and claustrophobic space from which there is no escape. There is a density and heaviness to the painterly impasto, its broad, static strokes conveying the impenetrability of the woods. Then, in 1956, came the London period, during which he continued to paint landscapes, but also made hedonistic, sexually explicit paintings of the male and female body. In these works, the figure would often appear in a state of fragmentation, its parts piled atop one another to form surreally grotesque totemic idols. Elsewhere, in paintings such as Untitled, 1963, female figures are deliriously entangled, as though in orgiastic fantasy, and impossible to distinguish. They are rendered with eccentric lines, appearing extravagantly complex.

The New York period began in 1965; it is usually lumped in with the London period—the works from both are labeled humanscapes. But I think there’s a difference between them, in handling and tone; namely, the New York works are suaver and more linear. Finally, in 1973, Chandra returns to London, and the mood and imagery slowly but surely change: The female figures merge with and metamorphose into beautiful flowers, which finally appear alone in luxuriant profusion. In a wonderful untitled diptych from 1986, huge radiant flowers, often an admixture of blue, pink, and white, one or the other color dominant, dwarf earthly brown figures—not clearly female or male—contoured in ghostly white and seated below them. It is as though the earthbound figures are dreaming of a heavenly paradise, a prelapsarian Eden.

These last works have been called foliagescapes, but the foliage has the voluptuousness of the female figure. In them, several tendencies converge: Chandra’s fascination with moving form, with the female figure, and with nature’s vitality. Feverishly brilliant, they picture the moment of metamorphic excitement. And some, indeed, are nightmarish—bizarrely transformed and condensed. In Chandra’s numerous small works especially there is an intimate intensity: Some are almost completely abstract, the figures no more than forceful linear gestures. One from 1981 shows a fabulous plant, its flowing biomorphic shapes outlining a trio of female forms. Together, they are emblematic of Chandra’s abstract delirium.

Donald Kuspit