Creating an American Dreamscape

Artist Prakash Chandras is living his American dream. As a youth in his native India, he longed for the freedom and opportunity to do what he wanted in life. But first, the dutiful son followed his father's dream: Chandras earned a master's degree in business administration in the United States. Returning home, he handed his father the diploma and declared, ''Now, I'm going to be an artist.'' At 50, the San Jose painter and sculptor looks upon the fulfillment of his dreams with gratitude. "You can go to England and never become English," he says. "But in the United States, you really can become an American." In return, Chandras is painting America's cities in a style he calls linearism, depicting architecture, land and sky in parallel lines.

Some of his American Series paintings are on exhibit through the holidays at Willow Glen's Art Made to Match Gallery. The show, "Architectonic" includes work by local artists Kevin Story and Tym Warren, a former art student of Chandras.

"Prakash uses precise lines with craft and skill," says artist and gallery owner Edward Seichei. "I've never seen anything like it. His use of colors is wonderful."

Chandras who teaches art at at DeAnza College in Cupertino, has shown his work at the Triton Museum, the San Jose Institute of Contempory Art and other local venues. He says, America's cityscapes embody the spirit of liberty. His work "Central Park," on exhibit at the gallery, holds particular significance. I finished the painting on the night of September 10," he says. It was a shock when I found out about the terrorism the next morning. I signed my painting that day on the 11th. The canvas celebrates Manhattan's bold skyscrapers - including the twin towers of the World Trade Center. "If only the terrorists could appreciate the opportunities in our democracy," he says.

"To be able to make decisions for yourself, rather than have them forced upon you, is the most wonderful thing. If tomorrow I wanted to be an astronomer, I would be free here to study astronomy. In America, nobody tries to stop you from educating yourself." When you know you have choices - this is the most beautiful thing I love about this country. I tell my daughters: 'Be what you want to be.'" Chandras and his wife, Karen, coordinator of the disabled students program at San Jose City College, have two daughters: Jessica, 13, and Emalie, 9. "Jessica likes to write," he says, "Emalie likes the performing arts. This is what girls can do in this country."

Chandras was inspired to come to the United States by Peace Corps volunteers who came to his village of Pune. "I tried my broken English on them, and they really liked that. They asked me to interpret for them, and we became good friends. They planted the seed in me of coming to America." In 1970, the volunteers loaned him money for his plane ticket to the United States. "I thought life in America would be like a Jerry Lewis movie. It was fun, but also hard work and studying. Americans were so friendly. I'd be in the wrong line, and they would tell me."

Chandras studied business in Illinois. An art teacher suggested he switch to art courses. "I told her 'I can't.' She said, 'Why not?' Her comment reminded me of the freedom in this country." After earning an MBA, in marketing in New Mexico, he told his father: "If I find out I can't survive as an artist, I can always go back into business - or I can just go into business and be unhappy in my life so you can be happy in your life."

In 1975, Chandras returned to New Mexico, where he did a series of paintings of white flowers in his late mother's memory. In 1977, he moved to New York. There, he studied at the venerable Art Students League and fell in love with the city. "I was immersed in art and in Manhattan Broadway, Galleries, Soho, The Village. Total immersion in your art is possible in New York. "Saturdays, I'd ride the subways to he ast destination to paint. Sundays, I'd go to museums and lectures by art historians. It was a fantastic education."

In 1980, Chandras married Karen in a Hindu wedding in India and in a Christian wedding in Indiana. They settled in San Jose, where he earned a master's of fine arts at San Jose State University in 1983. Their home is adorned with his sheet metal sculptures and his painting of the San Jose skyline. There is also his first linearist painting, which he conceived in a dream during his business school days in New Mexico.
"The dream took me to the art studio of Georgia O'Keefe. She was working on a painting of a mountain, sky and trees made of parallel lines. In the morning, I tried to paint the painting in my dream. O'Keefe never painted in that style, so I figured it was my dream, my images and my style."

His father died in 1978. "My father didn't get to see my success in art, but he did meet Karen and he loved her. He said, "Marry her as soon as you can.' Because he could see I was happy."

Nora Villagran San Jose Mercury News
Native of India Finds Harmony in Painting, Sculpting His Own Visions

Chandras - The Artist

Chandras is a dedicated and prolific artist. He is a painter, sculptor, teacher, father and husband. He resides in San Jose California with his wife and two daughters. Chandras teaches locally at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, CA., Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA., and De Anza College in Cupertino, CA. Originally from Pune, India, Chandras had always shown a talent for art and had even attended the Commercial Art School in Poona, India for two years after graduating from high school. However, his father discouraged him from making art a career. Chandras continued his business education and received a Bachelor's in Communication, Accounting and Auditing in Poona, India in 1970. Chandras moved to Illinois soon after to pursue his higher education on a practical business track.

An oft-quoted axiom in our modern age states that you will find happiness if you can find the thing that you can both enjoy and can make a living from. Released from the restrictions of family and circumstance upon arrival in the US, Chandras developed an unquenchable thirst for frequenting museums, galleries, and art classes. Through these travels he discovered the stimulation and passion of a life dedicated to Art. In 1970 Chandras began a parallel course of education, studying art and business at once. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Business and Economics from Eureka College, Eureka, IL. in 1972 and an MBA with an emphasis in Marketing in 1975 at the University of New Mexico. Chandras also studied art at the Wooster Art College, Danbury CT, the School of Fine Arts, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque and the Sagrada Art School, Albuquerque NM.

Chandras' journey had not only taken him half way around the world, but also to the realization that Art was, is, and always will be, his true passion. Eventually he would make a decisive move to New York City to, in the words of the artist; "to immerse myself for several years in one of the world's most exciting art environments." Pursuing his goal of becoming an artist he initially studied at the Art Students League of New York. It was around this time that Chandras discovered that he had an uncle who had also been an artist, as well as the reason for his father's opposition to his career in art. Chandras' father attributed his uncle's untimely death to his vocation and was convinced that art was not for his seven children. Chandras persisted and earned his Masters of Fine Art/Painting from the California State University at San Jose, CA in 1983.

There is another axiom for success in the world of creative arts. The artist, the writer, the musician's best advice to the serious student is always the same; do it everyday. Paint everyday, write everyday, sing, dance or play the guitar but do it everyday. Chandras is an artist that lives this ideal. To his students, colleagues and friends Chandras' passion for the work and learning are an inspiration. He will typically have several works in progress at once; such as a large linearist cityscape in oils for his 'My America' series, while laboring on several oils of smaller dimension of his family or children. When not painting, teaching, or assisting with the care of his children, he can be found at the sheet metal shop where he quickly and spontaneously constructs elegant arabesques of color and form, three dimensional sculptures he calls 'Visual Chimes'. Since 1989 he has produced more than one thousand of these sculptures.

Today, when one views the varied works of this wonderful artist and teacher a dichotomy of theory and practice emerges. At the start of his artistic career Chandras chose oil paints as his medium. "It suits my temperament as it is slow and theoretical," he says. He deliberates over the stroke, hue, thickness, and blend and analyzes the light and composition each step of the way. Tuned into colors after years of studying effects when he blends and mixes them, Chandras evolved his own theory, "Linearism,' and uses a vibrant palette to recreate landscapes, buildings ands other chosen subjects. His Linearism, while representational, results from years of abstract painting and studies of modern art.

In contrast to this are Chandras' 'Visual Chimes' sculptures. To Chandras creating is a spontaneous urge transcending place and material. Influenced by the art of Vishnu Chinchalakar of Indore, India, Chandras uses whatever he can lay his hands on at that moment in time. Chandras came upon sculpture quite by accident. In 1989, a student of his asked him for ideas for her class project. It turned out that her husband ran a sheet metal shop. "Make a metal sculpture", Chandras suggested. She asked him to show her how. He did, and one thing led to another and he ended up spending more time in the sheet metal shop than he had anticipated. He uses pieces of galvanized sheet metal from the shop floor-some as is, some specially created- to construct his three-dimensional works. Each sculpture is very large and the light bouncing off the brilliant metal makes for an imposing and spectacular effect.

Chandras' art is recognizably contemporary and often abstract. When asked why he doesn't do art that is more recognizably 'Indian,' his response is swift: "This is Indian," he says. "In India, I learned to draw pages and pages of Indian floral patterns and motifs. (He proceeds to demonstrate with pen and paper, expertly detailing a complex pattern in great detail). I am still drawing those, but in abstract form." I can't get away from being Indian. My choice of colors is very Indian-bright, uplifting, cheerful." To Chandras, his Indian background is the source of the spiritual process that evolves in the color, images, and selection of objects in his work. When he travels back to India he paints on locale, often sitting for hours, absorbing the hum of everyday life. When Chandras returns to San Jose he brings with him memories that imbue his work with the vibrancy of that distant continent; memories which contain "the softness of the flowering trees or the vast stars in the virgin skies of India."

Paul Salazar