Qayyum Chowdhury was born on March 9, 1932 in an educated family of Feni, Noakhali. As his father, being a cooperative-bank official,was transferred from one place to another, Qayyum Chowdhury's boyhood was spent in various districts and makhakuma towns -in Chittagong, Comilla, Narail, Sanwdeep, Noakhali, Feni, Faridpur and Mymensingh. Because of his close affinity with the fascinatingly diverse nature of Bangladesh, a deep passion grew in his mind for nature. Particularly, his life in Narail on the Chitra River played a significant role in his study of nature. His interests, inherited from his father, in reading newspapers and books, and his love for music from childhood contributed developing his aesthetic sense and cultured mentality- which gave birth to his love for art. During his fourth and fifth grade in school, he had a keen attraction for the detective book series of Kanchanjangha published by Deb Shahitya Kutir. He said, 'The writing was definitely good, but the cover and the illustrations of those books were excellent. An artist named Pratulchandra Bandapadhyay used to draw those books pictures. There used to be a green pattern on the cover of those books, which was also impressive'. Apart from Pratulchandra, his contemporary artists Fani Gupta's pictures and Samar Dey's illustrations inspired the development of Qayyum Chowdhury's artistic being. Because of his father's interest, magazines like Bangashree, Prabasi, Bharabarsha, Basumati etc were regularly bought to their house. These magazines used to contain Abanindranath and Gaganendranath's illustrations, which fuelled his passion for art.
That is how he decided to study in art school when he was in ninth or tenth grade. Later, in 1949, after passing Matriculation from Maymensing City Collegiate School, when he took the initiative to study in Dhaka Art Institute, he found a supportive attitude in his music-loving father.
Qayyum Chowdhury was student of the second batch of Dhaka Government Art Institute (now Institute of Fine Arts). In an interview with Depart Magazine, he described this period of his life "When we first joined the Art school as students, our goal was mastering the skill. It was in 1949 when I enrolled there with the sole aim of learning the art of painting. We never considered job prospects on completion of the course. There were hardly any professional fields open for artists in those days other than the job of a drawing master and still we came to the art school to fulfill our passion for art through learning the craft. Nothing else mattered to us. We never thought about anything else because we were wrapped up too much in our boundless enthusiasm and craving for art to give time to any other thoughts. The idea was like facing situations and working out solutions as they come."
His teachers Zainul Abedin, Quamrul Hassan, Saifuddin Ahmed and others had a huge influence on him. Besides, his association with a group of talented classmates went a long way in flourishing the artist in him. Rasid Choudhury and Abdur Razzaque were prominent among them. He was also a close friend of Aminul Islam, a first batch student. At this time, his intimacy also grew with poets, authors and musicians. Among them, Shamsur Rahman, Syed Shamsul Haque, Hasan Hafizur Rahman, zahir Raihan, Syed Atikullah, Borhanuddin Khan Jahangir, Alauddin Al Azad, Samar Das are worth mentioning. After coming to Dhaka, passion for movies was added to his passion for books and music. The combined chemistry of all these factors made his study period in the Art institute (1949-54) into a significant preparatory stage of his becoming an artist.
Chowdhury joined Dhaka Government Art Institute as a teacher in 1957 and worked until 1960. Then he joined Design Center as a designer for a year. He took the position of the chief artist Observer group of publications. On 20 October 1965, he moved back to Dhaka Government Art Institute (renamed Government Art College of Dhaka) as a lecturer in the Commercial Art Department. He was promoted to the position of assistant professor in 1970, to associate professor in 1986 and finally to professor in 1991. He retired from the organization in 1994. But he kept teaching in the Institute until 2002.
Qayyum Chowdhury's paintings do not portray harshness or intense sufferings of human life, violence, murder, anguish etc. His paintings are always charming. The beauty of structural formation is the main element of this charm. Not being affect by the momentary is a feature of his paintings.
He was always comfortable in creating representational art. Though he was once attracted to abstract art, it never stimulated his creative being. The kind of crisis and degeneration that occurred in the values of life in the west after the Second World War gave rise to this stream of art; and the artist was conscious about the fact that Bangladesh did not have this context - which prevented him from continuing with this trend.
His favorite color was red. He also had special weakness for ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow and viridian green. One can notice the dominance of these colors in all his paintings. The attraction of pata (traditional scroll) painters of primary colors influenced him. Nevertheless, he was no less interested in creating tones of new colors combining primary colors, In this, the Impressionists of the west had influenced him. He consciously followed the radical attitude of the Impressionists in the use of colors. It may be mentioned here that, after Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, his favorite artists were Van Gohg, Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso.
There were some noticeable turning points in Qayyum Chowdhury's life. The 1950s and 1960s can be marked as his preparatory period. Some of his noteworthy painting of this era are My Sister (Oil painting, 1954), Pawnbroker (oil painting, 1956), Boat in Moonlight (watercolor, 1956),Self portrait (oil painting, 1959) etc. In a hostile state environment, he tried to express himself in versatile ways through these paintings and was absorbed in experimentation in different themes, media and isms. This episode of his life as an artist was distinguished by his attraction towards folk culture and heritage, prominence of nature, rivers and boats as subjects and in hints of Impressionism, Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. Later the Liberation War of 1971 made a significant impact deep within his begin. In 1972, he got the opportunity to truly express himself and conveyed his hatred for the enemies who had humiliated his motherland, and his grief, suffering and love through his paintings. However the dreamlike optimistic period of the country did not last for long; and in another crisis (1976-77), the artist became absorbed in his childhood nostalgia. In this phase, he produced ten oil paintings, titled Childhood Memories, where he aspired to overcome the torments of contemporary life by taking refuge in memories of village communities. Because of this nostalgia, the village landscape is somewhat transformed into abstraction. He kept expanses of open space on the pictorial surface of these paintings - which is a quality of the paintings. The artist's first and second solo exhibitions (1977) were held with these paintings created over the course of three decades.
Then a long trip to Europe and America (1977) enriched his store of experience, enhanced his confidence and made his love for his own tradition and country more intense. Thence he produced the series of paintings titled My village and Village Underwater. From the beginning of the 1990s, the prominence of figures in his paintings is notable. Therefore, in his third solo exhibition (1999), the suggestion of figures was present in the settings of rural life, and colors were given prominence over lines. This exhibition is especially unique by the use of vibrant and primary colors. These features are unchanged in his fourth and last solo exhibition (2004). In the painting titled Abohoman of this exhibition, the diversity of life in the eternal image of Bengal is portrayed alongside the ugliness of contemporary life. However, the artist desired to take his works beyond the contemporary to a state of timeless appeal. This passion turned him into a devotee. He immersed himself in the ocean of forms in search of formless treasure.
Qayyum Chowdhury died on the evening of 30 November, 2014. He suddenly felt sick while delivering his speech on the fourth-day of Bengal Classical Music Festival organized by Bengal Foundation in Bangladesh Army Stadium in Dhaka. His last words were, "I have something to say". But he collapsed on-stage before he could finish his sentence. Then, he was rushed to Combined Military Hospital (CMH) immediately where he breathed his last around 9:00pm.
Qayyum Chowdhury's contribution to pre- and post-independence cultural arena of Bangladesh made him a household name. His almost six decade long involvement with two fields of art- painting and graphic design- made him a prominent figure in the cultural scene of Bangladesh. His use of rural and folk motif in his painting is a testament of his deep sense of patriotism and down-to-earth modesty.
He was a worthy successor of Zainul Abedin and Qamrul Hassan. He will always be remembered for his patriotism and his colorful and vivid depiction of the beauty and essence of folk tradition of Bangladesh through his paintings.
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