Avinash Chandra

Early Figures

Chandra Early Figures Collection Of The Leicestershire County Council 1500 - © The Estate of Avinash Chandra
  • Avinash Chandra
  • Early Figures
  • 1961
  • Oil on board
  • 92 × 122 cm
  • Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection - © The Estate of Avinash Chandra

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.

Megan Hines

Biography of Avinash Chandra

  • Born 1931 in Simla, British India
  • Died 1991 in London, UK
Avinash Chandra graduated from Delhi Polytechnic Art School in 1952 and taught at the institution from 1953 to 1956. In 1954, he was awarded first prize in the First National Exhibition of Art, New Delhi, and his painting Trees (1954) was acquired by the city’s newly founded National Gallery of Modern Art. During the early 1950s he was also a member of the progressive artists’ movement Delhi Silpi Chakra. In 1956 Chandra moved with his artist wife Prem Lata to London, where he had his first British solo show in 1957 at the Imperial Institute. Chandra’s art reached other parts of Europe in the early 1960s, and he received the 1962 Prix Européen (European Prize). He was the first Indian artist to be exhibited both in Documenta, Kassel (1964) and at Tate Britain (1965). While his early paintings were townscapes and landscapes rendered in mostly intense colors, often accompanied by swirling suns and moons, he slowly moved toward a more sexually explicit style with layered, rounded forms and bodies in the 1960s and ‘70s. After receiving a John D. Rockefeller scholarship in 1965, Chandra moved to New York in 1966. He returned to London in 1973.