Born in India, the young Avinash Chandra witnessed his nation’s independence from British rule in 1947. Although he was already schooled in modernism, when he moved to London he met resistance from critics who questioned an Indian artist’s ability to paint in an original and modern idiom. In response, Chandra refocused inward, questioning his role as a painter and ultimately producing works that reflected his humanist values. For the Indian artist, modernity was not the exclusive right of Europeans, but a common experience around the globe.
Painted five years after Chandra moved from New Delhi to London, Early Figures (1961) exemplifies the artist’s foray into a modified figurative style that combined his training in modern art in India and his interest in works by European artists. In this painting of four figures side by side, Chandra celebrates human sexuality through the vocabulary of geometric abstraction. While the application of rational geometry would seem to preclude the work’s erotic content, Chandra marries the two in this expressive composition, producing a union of opposites. Four totem-like figures ‒ composed of circles, rectangles, and triangles ‒ stand under a grayish blue sky as four small stylized clouds hover above them. Here, phallic forms intersect with abstracted female genitalia in a celebration of differences. Human presence dominates the composition, marking Chandra’s transition from a painter of pure landscapes to a commentator on human relationships ‒ among and between people and the environment.