Artist interview between Shannon Skye Robinson (Curating Futures Project Coordinator), and Nandita Chaudhuri (Curating Futures Artist).
Date of Interview: 22nd of July 2021
Participants: Shannon Skye Robinson (SSR) and Nandita Chaudhuri (NC)
SSR: What is your background?
NC: I am a British Asian artist based in London. I have an MA in Fine Arts from UCL, Camberwell, University of Arts, London where I have worked extensively, along with my practice; with the Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation (TrAIN). Prior to this, I have also studied Fine Art at Slade and UCL, Chelsea School of Fine Art, London. I produce works that are distinctly non-conformist, reflecting my poems and my internal journey; of both ecstasy and pain. My works are displayed as permanent collections of major global hotel chains, collectors and various museums such as the MOSA. I have shown my works at the Royal Academy, Saatchi Gallery, various Biennales globally, at the China Art Museum, Shanghai, several Elephant Parades and other outdoor installations. Predominantly a painter, I have also been working with installation and video in London, Singapore and Mumbai.
SSR: How did you get into art/ creativity?
NC: My mother was an artist. She continued to paint till she was 90, even when her eyesight was faint. I grew up with the smell of paint, watching her paint in her studio. Several thoughts or observations that enter my mind, are produced with an enhanced and altered pictorial way of representing themselves. And then there is this urgent need to express it. It’s in the fibre of my being and engulfs me like a cloud at all times. I did not seek it or want it. It is just there. I have a heightened sensitivity and pick up threads of energy, with a potent need to translate them into a visual format. These observations are not transcribed literally, but in various illusory ways. Other than painting, I also translate thought processes into other media like film and poetry.
SSR: What do you get out of producing work?
NC: When I work, it’s a release. I have a very specific capability; to see a situation and ascribe a variant or alternative way to see it in a visual format, while capturing the essence of that in esoteric ways. I do not make photographic impressions of what I see around me. I see things in a different way, .eg: if I saw a window, I would not paint the window. It would signify imprisonment or freedom, or maybe something else like war or isolation, to me and I would then represent that thought in my work. That then allows release to the sensitivity and patterns that draw me in.
At that point in time the audience or the market bears no relevance to me. Hence I do not understand works that are Xerox copies of earlier works. It would surely suffocate me to be able to do that.
SSR: How do you want your work to be perceived by an audience?
NC: When I am working, the audience does not come to mind. I am completely consumed by my work. I very much prefer if the audience can connect and converse with the works in their own way and translate them for themselves. That would make the works come alive, and the conversation can deepen. Of course references in the imagery are subjective, for both me as an artist, and the viewer. Hopefully the audience will make its own interpretations following which I would love to have a conversation very much like discussing a book and analysing the emotions of the characters.
SSR: Who are your biggest inspirations?
NC: When I started my practice almost 20 years ago, I had been largely influenced by the techniques adopted by Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly and my works emerged with very gestural methods of application. I was drawn to it, as my style was typically hugely instinctive and gestural. A few years later, I worked with collages and was drawn to Gerhard Richter’s overpainted photographs. Although I was painting in the new Millennium, the works of American artists of the 1940s, Gerhard’s paintings of the 1990s and Robert Rauschenberg haunted me. I have also drawn inspiration from Biblical paintings from the late 13th Century and Byzantine art. The various timelines sit comfortably astride influencing the rendering of my works. Closer to time, I am very inspired by the works of Lincoln Townley and Christy Lee Rogers.
SSR: What are the main concepts or themes you explore within your work?
NC: The imagery of celestial beings or monks and the vibrations in the universe seem to creep into my work consistently. The vibrations symbolise and contain both the Yin and Yang. References to socio-political issues and gender bias issues are also drawn into this. My works have also always reflected my current emotional state, this being no exception. All energy patterns stem from the cyclical motion of thought and action. Auras are sucked in, churned and then expelled or emanated, dissolving into other energy fields creating altered states of being. The continual use of spiral and circular patterns try to chalk out the attraction and dissolution of energy fields between any two entities, whether metaphysical or celestial in esoteric energy patterns. It forges and infuses an aura of positive energy into the stratosphere. The open safety pin symbolising possibilities and eventualities that hang unanswered. I would like to produce more technology-led art and am working on that at the moment.
SSR: What is the main thing you have learnt through your creative practice?
NC: I do not typically work with the method of first painstakingly practicing or laying out a drawing on paper and then translating that on a canvas. My works are more instinctive, flowing and gestural. It cannot be bound by the limitation of too much pre-formatting. Knowing this, my preparation starts by immersing myself in my imagery completely, maybe for hours and then it unfolds with ease.
I find a certain unique richness in hybridity. I don’t see it as a displacement from any one point to another. There is a certain integrity in negotiating collective experiences and creating works that are rich in transnational references. Something that transcends the linear vision. I find sometimes that the viewer wants to box you into a category, either in terms of expected repetitive art iconography, or regional references. I have learnt to keep working till the works evolve into higher levels of both craftsmanship and authenticity. It’s vital to be innovative so that the works can question something or provoke. There needs to be some response. Typically the works done in a shorter time, with no struggle, like the flowing of a great orchestra are my best works.
SSR: Who is your work for? Yourself? A small community? A specific sector of society? Or is it for everyone?
NC: The audience is hopefully global. Lines are blurring and the thick divide between localisation and globalisation is on the wane. Having lived in London for as long as I can remember, after spending my earlier years in India, my works have a distinct transnational residual by-product. I recognise that the viewer has to make his/her own interpretations according to individual subjectivities. The imagery that is presented within the composition constantly seeks to escape the narrowness of both the local and the global contexts, keeping the authenticity intact. The language of a silent film or a strong human emotion is universal, and I would like my works to occupy that space. Belonging to boxes or compartments would be very stifling.
SSR: What is the best piece of advice you could give to another artist, or someone just starting out in the creative sector?
NC: To keep working consistently, as the practice develops and matures with time. To stay authentic and produce works that are rich in contextualisation. To not make works for the market, for good art will always find its audience.
SSR: Why did you decide to join the Curating Futures community?
NC: It is a great initiative, and very timely. It gives me an opportunity to contribute in various different ways. To lend myself in enhancing the art community in every which way. To also build bridges with fellow artists, so that we can exchange ideas and learn from each other. To join hands and create some really innovative and creatively stimulating projects together.