Jai Chuhan uses vivid colour in expressionistic paintings that consider the female gaze in depictions of the body seemingly confined and isolated in a room-like space, an arena for exploring psychological tensions in symbioses of male and female, home and ‘unhome’. Anonymous figures observed in the city are complemented by portrayal of people she knows including self-portraiture, re-imagining from a combination of observation, memory and photographs she takes or sees on media platforms. The images reflect transcultural aesthetic influences inspired by her position as an Indian-born British artist.
She immerses herself in the painting process, in how to portray the human form as an organic body with a sense of interiority. The usually female body is presented as a physical and psychological presence, in motion, within interior spaces suggested by simplified geometric areas of colour and lines and shifting viewpoints. The configuration of the body stem from the potency to express ideas in the changing dynamics of how the body is viewed as a kind of spectacle.
The body is presented as contested space, politicized territory for subservience and dominance, resistance and independence, control or being out-of-control, relative to the viewer and the viewed, fractured, tense or calm, focussed or blurrily glimpsed. The images concern the gaze, voyeurism, eroticism, race and cultural interactions. A sense of networks of power is implicit in figures operating as protagonists or recipients within social mores.
The large scale of many paintings creates a frisson, visceral and provocative, a jolt to the eyes through the intense colour, the physicality of paint applied in dynamic gestures. Organic and geometric forms within vibrant colour arrangements suggest the interplay between stillness and movement, in images of the body with limbs and facial features often disfigured, postures and facial expressions in focus or blurred and caught in mid-movement. The viewing creates a sense of disorientation and reorientation, in how spaces are created and how the human form is positioned, sometimes upside down, nearly always centrally located. The painterly exploration veils yet reveals feelings of displacement, conflict and desire, challenging the tropes of exploitation or celebration. The body is exposed as if in privacy or on show, assembled and disassembled, questioning how it feels to be a sentient composite of flesh, with the conscious and the sub-conscious mind as a place of refuge or of confinement, with reference to Freudian analyses of the effects of repressed memories.
The painterly depictions of the body express a sense of dislocations and alienations including self-alienation, questioning stereotypes of gender, but also an assertion of the psyche as a strong force that is almost always inviolable – as in the series titled Dancer (2008-20). A sense of intimacy in the view of the figures suggests privacy, but within wider narrative of contemporary politics of gender, and race. Her figures often reflect the ‘other’ within the Western mainstream as in the use of red as an iconic colour in South Asian cultures symbolising fertility, as in Bride 2011.
The images may seem uncertain and uncomfortable, reflecting how people can feel, navigating the world today. The body may seem obfuscated yet important, often seeming to be on a plinth in a stage-like space. Certain images stem from news stories of violence as in Shadows and the Sea 2018 inspired by seeing images of migrants on boats in the Mediterranean.
The paintings arguably present a female gaze, and Jai Chuhan’s story of becoming an artist as an ongoing process. Often a nocturnal-seeming light suffuses the images with a sense of strangeness and reverie. Her paintings reflect personal experiences, including of embracing transcultural juxtapositions and amalgams in art history and in contemporary art within the British and international artworld.
Jai Chuhan (Jagjit Chuhan) is an Indian-born British artist and studied at UCL Slade School of Fine Art. She lives and works in the UK.
Paintings by Jai Chuhan have been exhibited internationally including in Italy, Sweden, Belgium, China, Singapore and in the UK in solo and group exhibitions including at Tate Liverpool; Barbican, London; Ikon, Birmingham; Arnolfini, Bristol; Bluecoat, Liverpool; Laing Gallery, Newcastle; Tramway, Glasgow; Orchard Gallery, Derry; Birmingham City Museum; Southampton City Art Gallery; The Smith Art Gallery & Museum, Stirling; Aberystwyth Arts Centre; Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea; Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance; Watermans Arts Centre, London; New Hall, University of Cambridge; Commonwealth Institute, London; Horizon Gallery, London; Pitshanger Manor Gallery, London; The Lowry, Salford.
Recent solo exhibitions include at People’s History Museum for Asia Triennial Manchester 2011; Victoria Gallery & Museum, Liverpool 2013; Liverpool Biennial 2014; Gallery Oldham and at HOME for Asia Triennial Manchester 2018. Recent group exhibitions include at ArtANKARA Contemporary Art Fair, Turkey 2020.
Her paintings are in collections including Victoria Gallery and Museum, Liverpool; Cartwright Hall, Bradford; Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine; Grosvenor Museum, Chester; Usher Gallery, Lincoln; Arts Council Collection; Tate Archive.
Selected exhibitions in 2020
Everyone’s an artist, Manchester Open, HOME, Manchester.
Winner of the Manchester Open bOlder Award.
Liv-ing in Contrast, ArtANKARA Contemporary Art Fair, Turkey.
Forthcoming book 2020: Jai Chuhan: Refuge
Distributed by Cornerhouse Publications at HOME.
‘The beauty of Chuhan’s work lies in its simplicity which veils unerring depths of many kinds. At a first glance we see a figurative form in an interior but studied looking reveals the testing of problems of a painterly and philosophical nature. How do we portray the human form which is shaped by its interiority? How can we depict the figure in motion? She captures the enduring problems of painting and presents them in a contemporary idiom.’
- Rina Arya, The Body in Disquiet in J Chuhan: Refuge, Gulab Publications, distributed by Cornerhouse Publications, forthcoming 2020
Jai Chuhan’s paintings show ‘… diverse human bodies distinguished by the intense use of colour and the frequently twisted and contorted positioning of torsos, limbs, organs, raw flesh, and facial features. These are visceral, provocative disfigurings and disembowlings… bold but blurred bodies … with and within stories.’
- Graeme Gilloch, Betwixt Bodies: Reflections on the Art of Jai Chuhan, abstract for Storytelling and the Body conference presentation, Verona, Italy 2019
‘Chuhan’s daily meditative act begins with layering the canvas with a multiplicity of marks concurrently. She then invests her time in reworking each and every individual picture. The mystery of erasing an image, after another image, is an interesting visual configuration, negotiating with time and the image as an act of searching and finding a visual crystallization of ideas. Sometimes it is necessary to apply a thick impasto of pigments, leaving the surface exuberant and very colourful. Other times it is important to erase the thick texture… The skin of the colour can sometimes dictate the final configuration. Sometimes she invests in thin washes that imbue the canvas. Whatever the method, mystery is sustained for a very long time; in other words the appearance of the portrait sitter or a dancer, tease the viewer thus – captivating ones imagination. Ultimately the aim is to ensure that the image speaks for itself; it does with profundity.’
- Alnoor Mitha, ‘Inner Body — Outer Body — The Dynamics of Visual Aesthetics in J. Chuhan’s Work’, in: Chuhan, Jagjit, (2013), J Chuhan: Recent Paintings, Liverpool, Victoria Gallery & Museum