Portland-based artist Srijon Chowdhury creates dreamlike oil paintings that consider the present moment as part of a larger mythology. Moving between a highly stylized approach and startling realism, he brings an uncanny contemporary twist to genres like family portraiture, biblical scenes, and vanitas still lifes. As with historical vanitas paintings, which were meant to serve as reminders of death and the fleetingness of worldly pleasures, Chowdhury’s work is deeply concerned with existential themes. His paintings vividly convey the beauty and magic of everyday life, tinged with apocalyptic angst and depravity.
The artist’s first museum solo exhibition, Same Old Song stages a dramatic climax of Chowdhury’s practice to date. At the exhibition’s core is an installation of six enormous new paintings. Each centers on one sensory organ of the human head, including eyes, ears, nose, and a mouth that is thirty feet long. The central facial feature in each piece frames or incorporates smaller images, which are sampled from Chowdhury’s previous paintings to create what the artist describes as an “alternative retrospective” of his work. Conjuring up a mixture of cultural associations—from Christian church art to carnival attractions—the installation is the latest of Chowdhury’s projects to assume architectural dimensions.
The exhibition also includes a selection of the artist’s more intimately scaled recent paintings, along with the mural-sized canvas Pale Rider (2019) and a sculptural wrought-iron fence composed of text. Behind this barrier, the artist has placed Franz von Stuck’s iconic early twentieth-century painting Die Sünde (Sin) from the Frye’s Founding Collection. The text of the fence also references an artistic forebear, the English poet and artist William Blake (1757–1827), blending Blake’s poem A Divine Image (1804) with a protection spell written by Chowdhury in a monogram-like script drawn from medieval occult practices. Bringing this mystical intent to bear alongside paintings of epic proportion, Chowdhury tests the power of age-old symbols and art forms to compel in the modern world.
Srijon Chowdhury (born 1987, Dhaka, Bangladesh) lives and works in Portland, Oregon, where he and his wife, Anna Margaret, run an exhibition space on their property called Chicken Coop Contemporary. With Amanda Donnan, he co-curated the group exhibition Door to the Atmosphere, on view at the Frye from October 29, 2022, to January 22, 2023. Solo exhibitions of Chowdhury’s work have been held at SE Cooper Contemporary, Portland, Oregon (2022); Ciaccia Levi, Paris (2021, 2018); Foxy Production, New York (2021, 2020); Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles (2019); Upfor, Portland, Oregon (2018, 2016); and Klowden Mann, Los Angeles (2016, 2014).