Mashiul Chowdhury Investigates the City
Mashiul Chowdhury has shown his art work at Cerulean Arts and other venues throughout Philadelphia for some years. Presently, he is having his first solo exhibition at Cerulean Arts Gallery and Studio from March 28th – April 21st. Called “Urban Perceptions” the exhibition of small size but powerful scaled works can not rightly be called landscape nor cityscape. “Perceptions” is exactly the word for these paintings as they seem to both record structures in the city and record the details of the city’s surfaces as well.
In general, the paintings are made through the layering and scraping of paint. A few have incised lines and scratches can be seen along with thickly applied overlays of paint. The paint can be glazed or scumbled, some appears as though it was mixed right on the surface. The colors are pretty and vivid as even the grime feels more burnished than dirty. But the surface itself is matte, not shiny, feeling dry, more like cement or plaster. It is as though each painting is a section of a fresco. All of this leads to several different and interesting outcomes.
First, the paintings have weight presenting themselves more as a “wall of” rather than a “window into” reality. The figure-ground relationship can sometimes slip making it appear that light and space encroach on objects, that is, what I can read as objects because they are the more defined shapes or contrasted colors. I find myself not attempting to read the art works as pictures of places, although I am often reminded of places and the titles reference places, but more as films and coats that have been applied and picked away. And I want to touch them.
Second, the light in them is strange. It is not exactly like light at all as it is not atmospheric but solid. And like the light in the early morning or the late evening, it creates a world that is shrouded. Not unclear as much as mysterious and pulsating. (To be “shrouded” which speaks of death yet “pulsating” which speaks of life is a very arresting sensation!)
Third, these seem to be relics both because there is a speed and preciseness in which the paint is handled. They attest to an observed moment. And the layering in them builds up a sense of the past to the present. Additionally, two of the pieces have written material in them. One has numerals while another has a section of newspaper collaged in. I say “in” because they have paint on them and they are well-integrated creating a sense that they are some part of a previous existence.
I have been careful not to engage in naming exact paintings as examples for each of the descriptions I made. Part of that was that Mashiul Chowdhury has a visual language that is consistent throughout his work yet changes circumstantially. Still, to end this blog I am going to give this one title because, I think, there is something in this work—the subject, the process, the name, the object itself—that ties everything up in a bow. The work is “Lancaster 16”.
“Lancaster 16” is a mostly green painting with dabs of bright yellow and accents of dark. The upper portion of the painting could be called a warm gray or a light purple melting into a creamy white. Some areas in the painting are scratched into while others are dabbed and brushed. On the one hand, ths appears to be an abstracted scene of the country. On the other hand, this appears to be a masonry or concrete surface that has been painted and scraped and worn and abraded. This is not dissimilar to “Lancaster” which to anyone who knows Pennsylvania refers to both Lancaster County, known for its Amish farms, and Lancaster, a city in the same county. Somehow “Lancaster 16” seems to be able to depict both of these places—a section of the terrain and a section of wall, building, or sidewalk, simultaneously.