Bangalore Artist: Aarohi Singh

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profile Aarohi

Aarohi Singh is an artist based in Bangalore. She is well-known for her line of art on products, which she started in 2008 at a time when desi kitsch was a little known concept. A self-taught artist, she has pioneered an entire trend in the design world. Here, she talks about her journey as an artist, the world of design blogging and the changing mindset of consumers in India. Bangalore Artist

My day job for the longest time was that of an information architect, before I decided to devote my time to art. All of me and my back ground finds a place in my art- my forces background, patriotism, the diversity and richness of a multi-cultural environment…all of it.

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I started painting in school. My art teacher, Shri Nakul Sinha, insisted I take it as an elective subject and I ended up topping the national rank in both art and history. I continued to paint and held my first solo show at Triveni Kala Sangam in Delhi — straight out of school. I got a very positive response from everyone — critics, patrons and art lovers alike. That encouraged me to continue painting even though I pursued my studies in history and ended up in an entirely different career.

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I was lucky that most of my work always got sold almost as soon as I finished painting. These were more traditional pieces in pen and inks and oils and acrylics on canvas. On the insistence of the late art critic- Mr. Krishna Chaitanya, I even did a lot of dry/chalk pastel portraits.

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In early 2008, after my daughter was about a year and a half and my son almost six, I decided enough was enough.and went back to doing what I love.

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At this point, I also found myself in a creative rut of sorts. A chance trip to the streets of Ulsoor and Russel market led me to buying a couple of kettles and then painting them in a more direct and less traditional style. I wanted to communicate a thought, a feeling, a metaphor — without worrying about the rules of painting so to speak. Which led me to use bright colours and a graphic style that was very in-your-face. However, I was aware of what constitutes good colour sense, graphic style and fundamentals of art. I kind of de-constructed my own art to come up with something new.

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It started with one kettle –’The kiss kettle’. And then I was hooked. My mind was full of a multitude of ideas just waiting to be painted. I could not get them out fast enough. My husband was abroad and so I painted a kettle with a couple about to kiss!

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Then there was a letter box I painted with the same theme while waiting for a response to an email from him.

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People have always told me to put a ‘kaala teeka’ on my kids. That is where the idea of the ‘Nazar batoo’ kettle was born.

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‘Singh is King’ kettle was born out of the fact that I am half a sardarni married to a sardar. The ‘Levitate’ balti was inspired following a conversation with a friend who owns a store called Levitate.

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Each piece that I paint is a reflection of who I am and what has touched me at a given moment of time. Which is why my work is a very personal expression.

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I decided to have an exhibition at the Cha Bar in 2008, for the more kitschy and quirky pieces.I sold everything and also got a truck load of commissions that kept me busy for the next six months!

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Since then, I have held some minor exhibitions in select places or sold directly from my own website and studio.

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The Blogging Adventure: It was wholly inspired by Archana Srinivas of Rangdecor. I loved her blog and actually sent her a set of images and asked for her opinion. I had an exhibition in November 2008 and started my blog with images from that show. Archana was very kind and generous in her response and actually posted a small write-up on me. It went viral from there.

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I am not as regular as I would like to be in my blogging endeavours. But, I do try and post something at least once a month. Sometimes of course there are multiple posts in a given month. I have to say, the blog has given me a platform to meet like-minded souls and that interaction is invaluable.

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The internet and social media allow me to connect directly with a lot of people. Not just future patrons but other design enthusiasts, bloggers, creators, designers and artists. My blog has played a huge role in helping me reach wider audiences.

It is a great measure of faith that most clients for custom commissions have never told me what to do beyond the obvious of something like “I want a trunk for my cousin”. After that, it is entirely up to me to do the research and decide what to create.

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The Power of Kitsch: I am not too sure about that actually. When I started in 2008, there was hardly anyone doing it. In fact, my mum actually asked me if I was sure about putting up an exhibition. She said, “Who is going to pay you money for this?”

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Now, I find that it has a life of its own and is spreading like wildfire. I think it may have to do with the fact that it is something that connects us all – the colours, the tongue-in-cheek humour, the Indianisms and so on. We no longer seem to be afraid of ourselves as a people and are happy to celebrate our uniqueness.

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There is a big market for this everywhere. The best part is that it is now available in every price range. From a mass produced key chain that costs a few hundred rupees to a custom designed piece like mine that sells for thousands. In my case, it is an artistic expression using a style and imagery that captivates everyone and yet is solely identified by its creator. Thus making it a work of art with kitsch as a theme and not necessarily as the end product in itself.

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I work in isolation but I follow the work of many gifted artists abroad. Strangely enough, they are all portrait and figurative painters employing a very traditional style. Today, many independent designers are creating unique objects because there is a market for their designs and many who are willing to patronise art and design. As long as that continues, I think we will continue to see avant-garde design.

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My journey into blogging started with a desire to have a repository of my work online. It allowed me to interact with like-minded people across different geographies. However, a disastrous fallout of this has been that many people are” inspired” by my work to the extent that they end up making almost a copy of it.

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I also find it sad that so many are willing to curtail their own artistic expression and possibilities in order to make a quick buck by copying mine. I can understand finding something so inspiring that you want to tweak it. But to do this repeatedly goes beyond inspiration and crosses the boundary into plagiarism.

I am now working with a group of bloggers on a new forum where such issues can be discussed and solutions found. It will hopefully lead to a better environment where designers like me will not be reluctant to share their work.

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Today, the earning capacity of young individuals is higher and so is the disposable income. Add to that a global outlook and outreach. People are actually willing to try new things. Which results in more in-your-face quirky interiors and design sensibilities as opposed to tried and tested beige neutrals. From an artist’s perspective, this means that there is place for everyone’s point of view or design sensibility.

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I paint on anything and everything. My work for the last three years has mainly been on metal and wood. With some work on canvas and paper too.

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