Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi’s art is a search for balance between nature, man and machine—a response to what the artist sees as a rapid transformation of his surroundings. In a wide-ranging interview with Saffronart, Chaturvedi elaborated on his work, We Who Live By Myth, which will be on auction next week. Edited excerpts from the conversation, conducted in English and Hindi, are presented here.
Can you tell us what this work is about?
The central figure is a figure of beauty. My choice of donning him in a corporate suit and tie represents the beauty I associate with confidence. The wings represent a different beauty: of unbridled freedom, of living life on one’s own terms.
I made this right after my daughter, Paaninidhee, was born, in September 2014. She, my wife Parul, and my mother are at the centre of my life. Paaninidhee’s birth was a magical, transformative moment that brought me great joy. I wanted to create something beautiful, something to reflect my most treasured experiences and joys. This work was born of that impulse.
The use of pencil for the central figure creates an interesting contrast with the vibrant red butterfly wings. Can you tell us more about your choice of medium?
Grey is made up of a mixture of colours. The figure carries his life experiences within him, so I used a pencil. The wings were created in a moment of spontaneity, so the choice wasn’t as deliberate. I wanted to use colours freely. The entire work took me a month to complete, but I made the wings in one night. I decided that night that I wanted to work on the wings. I was so impatient at that moment I couldn’t wait until the next day to colour them. So I chose dry pastels. I wanted to use bright colours, and I think this urge came from the freedom of working in my studio.
Can you elaborate on your use of multiple panels, and the visual impact you think this creates?
I began working with many panels because I couldn’t find large papers to work with. I still continue working with multiple panels. I enjoy them visually, but on another level, I think they symbolise life’s many chapters. My figures are constantly changing and evolving, and the panels represent this aspect.
Could you expand on your interest in the theme of nature, man, and machine, with reference to this work?
I portray my immediate surroundings. Nature remains a common theme. Growing up in Benaras and Lucknow, I was always close to nature. But life as we know it now is impossible without mobile phones and the internet. I’m dealing with trying to balance these contrasting elements in this work.
Has anything changed about your artistic process since 2014?
Yes, definitely. Before Paaninidhee was born, I felt a lot of frustration regarding social problems. This reflected in my choice of colours, which were darker and harsher. I’ve moved to softer, lighter colours now. I appreciate and see beauty in everything, whether good or bad. I think I’ve begun using more colour in my work.
I am also refining my composition by discarding elements that are no longer essential to my work. Sometimes this is the figure. I don’t miss the theme of “man as a robot”, and I find myself moving closer to depicting more of nature. My work environment also reflects this discarding of unnecessary elements. I’ve thrown away a lot of things from my studio. I’ve gone with a minimalist approach, with plain walls and only art supplies. No distractions.