Srijon Chowdhury featured in group exhibition at Torrance Art Museum 2.10.15
Is there a current resurgence in the notion of the Romantic in contemporary painting today and if so how is it related to bygone versions, how is it different and where is it coming from?
Painting is one of the oldest known expressions of human creativity, from the Lascaux caves through the ancient world, the Renaissance, and into the Modern and Postmodern Ages. It has gone hand-in-hand with our breakthrough’s in knowledge, of philosophy and culture. It is a reflection of us, our hopes and dreams.
Contrary to any ill advised notions of the death of painting it has continued on its merry way, mutating and changing, but keeping also to its own history and discourses. After the cynicism and irony of recent times, the question of how a genuine investment in painting as a valorous and maybe even heroic stance has arisen. In a sense it is a return to the Romanticism of the past, but with an important new take. The naivety has been displaced by the understanding of how things work, in the art world and in culture. The premise of the Genius has receded, without relinquishing the drive for originality, however impossible, of a truth to the artists’ unique vision rather than mimesis. The love of material remains. The belief in the possibilities within painting have stormed back. The fight is on!
Do these (newish) Romantics, while hosting a belief in the act of painting, hold dear to their 19th century ancestors’ radical liberalism or has political apathy led to their version of Romanticism concentrating entirely upon the interior, the Self? Do they share the antagonism to technology and science? Perhaps growing up during a continuous war on drugs, on terror, on whatever cannot be truly beaten. We can identify an aversion to horror with these artists. Does their sense of sublimity subsumed in television and roadside advertising shine through regardless, via their painting? This exhibition addresses some of these questions.
There still beats a heart here I think – one where the value of the personal aesthetic experience reigns over the more culturally shared mass-media ones. Spontaneity and irrationality hold sway. The exotic, the ‘authentic’ (whatever that may actually be), the grass roots and simplified – Rousseau’s agrarian utopia for city dwelling bohemians unwilling to leave the raging city, too caught up in its hard bitten charms and connectivity. The imagination allows us to be anywhere, anytime, both here and there… where to feel is paramount, as Caspar David Friedrich said, “the artist’s feeling is his law.”
Is there a move towards the personal, the intuitive, the local, in a psychic fleeing of this 21st century megalopolis and our news cycle awareness of pain and uncertainty? Is it an escape from the economic, social and environmental instability that seems to pervade all polls about our own sense of well-being? We are Apocalyptic these days so perhaps withdrawal symptoms are bound to appear. Does this ignoring of the world toll the death of any activism for these artists, any attempts to change the world politically, suppressed in favor of our navels? I think not. Do they search for a freedom within that might not exist out here, a present that increasingly mirrors the dystopian worlds of Huxley and Orwell? Perhaps this is closer to the actuality.
Can we detect the origins of a new rejection of science and objective assessment, as we have seen in U.S. culture in recent decades, a rise of a non-specific spirituality, which while anti-tradition is also anti-intellectual? I hope not. I think these artists hold their optimism at the fore, their hope for the future, of themselves and painting. They see the power that painting brings, to those that engage with it, as artists and to those that come to interact with it. It remains. From cave wall to canvas, from nomadic groups to Mega-City dwellers, the act of painting remains, despite problematic areas throughout its history, the premier and most romantic of journeys.