Her works are whimsical, bold, and filled with recurring motifs. As you sift through the layers, trying to piece together the story, you become lost in the colourful constellations that swirl through Gayatri Shantaram’s imagination. As an artist who does not seek inspiration from the outside, she looks within to give life to the illusions that inhabit her inner world. Much like the birds who appear in various forms through her works, Shantaram has spread her wings and taken flight. In a story that reads like a movie script, she moved halfway across the globe to Paris for love, but the books stacked on her bedside table still tell tales from the motherland. Join us as we peek into the inner oscillations of this talented young artist.
The Fuschia Tree: What does the word ‘illusion’ mean to you?
Gayatri Shantaram: I would define it as something that is subtle; something unseen and not easily perceived. Also, when I hear the word ‘illusion’, I go back to the Hindu philosophy of Maya. So perhaps it’s more of an enigma...
TFT: How do you think you incorporate a sense or feeling of illusion in your works?
GS: I incorporate a sense of illusion in the forms of symbols and certain characters that keep appearing and reappearing in my paintings. For instance, I use symbols like a candy cane, a tall black hat, guinea fowls, as characters with individual personalities. Also, certain colours that I use seem to have an enigma that keeps one questioning, such as the metallic colours and the black Indian/Chinese ink that I use in my abstract works.
TFT: Tell us a little bit more about your fascination with guinea fowl and cranes. Your exhibition ‘Fly’ revolved around the forms of these birds…
GS: Guinea fowl have always fascinated me because of their form. I find them almost human-like. The difference between us and birds is that they can fly. Considering that guinea fowl don’t fly, I find it ironically melancholic; but when one looks at them they almost look like they are oblivious to the fact that they can't fly. They are quirky, funny and you can very rarely see them individually. I also love their disprotionately tiny heads to their huge balloon-like bodies freckled with white spots!
On the other hand, I love cranes for their grace and poise. In the exhibition, I chose to depict Japanese cranes because they are elusive as there are very few of them left. Through my work, I want more people to know of these beautiful creatures. Did you know that they mate for life?
So both guinea fowl and cranes represent different sides of my work
TFT: Your works are vivid plays of form, colour, technique and texture. They are aesthetically very pleasing. But are you trying to hide something behind the abstract forms? Is there a message in your works?
GS: I paint very intuitively, so it really depends on the moment I execute my work, which in turn reflects the colours and textures that I use. I don't think I have ever created a piece that has no meaning to me. One series of paintings called ‘Fujiyama’ and another series called ‘Edo’ have a combination of abstract and figurative works in both media which I find quite interesting...
TFT: What are your sources of inspiration?
GS: 'Inspiration' I think is a very dangerous word now in art. Most part of my work comes from the inside, from my imagination. So rather than looking towards the outside for subjects, I look inwards.
TFT: Which artists do you think successfully incorporate a sense of illusion in their works?
GS: Paul Klee, Kandinsky, Chagall.
TFT: The titles of your works are intriguing. Do they allude to particular thought forms which you try and capture in your works?
GS: Yes, they do. It is how I perceive my works. It is how I sum up my piece in one word/a couple of words. It’s a hard thing to do…something most artists would refrain from doing since one cannot ever sum up a work in in a word. Now, I have started naming works in series, like my ‘What dreams are made of…’ series.
TFT: Were your early works also abstract in form? Can you tell us how your works have evolved over time?
GS: My first works were abstract in acrylic. Varied forms slowly started emerging as I started taking my work forward. Then I started working in watercolours side by side and absolutely loved it! I loved how I could convey what I wanted to with the medium. After much experimenting, I now realize that I need both in my creative process. I have two distinct styles and am proud of it.
TFT: Watercolours or acrylics – are you biased towards a medium?
GS: I simply cannot choose – I love them both!
TFT: You live in Paris now after having studied and being based in Chennai. Was it a conscious decision to move?
GS: I moved to Paris for love, like the silly romantic I am. I am now happily married and living in Paris.
TFT: The ups of living and working in Paris as an artist are unparalleled, with cutting edge galleries, iconic works in museums, creative minds and connected people all at a stone's throw...
GS: There are great ups of being in Paris I cannot deny that. I love the constant bombardment of shows of artists that I could only dream of seeing in India. In terms of galleries, since the art market has taken a huge slump in countries like France, Italy and Spain, exhibitions are harder and fewer to come by in what one would call a typical art gallery space. However, to counter that there are several spaces coming up to promote and encourage young artists that are out of the ordinary. Even though they are less glamorous, they are very charming and are great places to meet and connect with other artists.
TFT: Can you tell us about your creative process? Do you have a fixed or even vague idea in mind to begin with which then takes shape in whatever form on your canvas? Or do you put paint to canvas and think as you go along?
GS: My creative process is very spontaneous! When it comes to abstracts, the start of a work is intuitive. I then develop it further and later finish it. I now work only with a linen canvas, so the background is more like my paintings in the ‘Fujiyama’ series. I also love working on paper, so watercolour works are first thought of and sketched unlike my abstract counter parts.
TFT: What is a typical work day like?
GS: My creative process very usually starts at night. I have no idea why, but for the moment I am not questioning it. I start around 10 pm and can go on till 3 or 4 am. I do not paint every single day. I often go through weeks or months without painting, and then suddenly I paint without stopping for weeks or months!
TFT: Which books are on your bedside at the moment?
GS: Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Rukmini Devi's A Life by Leela Samson, and more recently The Storyteller of Marrakech by Joydeep Roy Bhattacharya.
As told to Varsha Reshamwala, an art critic with other interests based in Mumbai.
Gayatri Shantaram has exhibited her works at the Lalit Kala Akademi, and several other galleries in India and France. Her bright and vivid art reflects her peppy personality.
Most of us are perpetually caught up in a hurricane of questions; questions that tease us, haunt us, keep us tossing and turning all night. We chase them around and around, rising and falling in their dizzy dance. At the eye of the hurricane lies a single question, blinking innocently at us in its stillness. As we enter it, all the rest fall away, and we are left with the only question worth answering.Read More
By Varsha Reshamwala, Issue 26, Illusion: Seeing Beyond Seeing.