This episode is a long, meandering conversation, the sort you would have with an artist who thinks deeply about art and life. Girija Hariharan spent a decade and a half in the IT industry before taking up painting full-time in 2015. She began her art career as a muralist, painting walls at the homes of friends willing to let her experiment, but these days she uses any medium that catches her fancy, including cardboard from discarded boxes. Her art conveys an intriguing mix of mythology and anthropology, often with clear feminist echoes.
In our conversation Girija talks about balancing the artist’s and the business-person’s sensibility — her right and left brain at work, as she puts it. What also emerges is her deep-rooted desire for social development and her inclination to stay grounded in reality. She speaks about the importance of going with the flow in both art and life, and about what separates a hobbyist from a professional artist.
This podcast is hosted on Buzzsprout and is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast players.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
I’m going to start with simple and perhaps naive question. You have this website called 2flatbrush.com and your Instagram handle also follows the same name. What’s behind that name 2flatbrush?
It is a very quirky little thing. I usually have size 2 flat brush in my handbag since my college days — I’ve always carried it around anywhere. So when I was trying to keep a name for my business, I asked a couple of my friends and they gave some ideas like mural, something to do with the word play around murals, some very weird names. And then I looked into my handbag and I saw this brush, and I said okay it’s going to be 2flatbrush. Probably there is a reason behind why we have such keepsakes; this size 2 flat brush has been with me since 1997.
You call yourself an artist and a muralist, and your work spans different themes from mythology, feminism, nature among others. It also spans different styles: you are right now into abstract impressionism, you work also consists of realist portraits with abstract backgrounds, you’ve also experimented with word art, you want to do graffiti. Can you tell me what you are working on right now?
Yes, I am working on my current series called deka. It stands for 10 and is loosely based on Dashavatara — the ten avatars that Vishnu took to sustain or nurture the world through different stages of evolution of mankind. People equate Dashavatara with Darwin’s evolution; some people equate it with Noah’s ark. There are so many parallels between this Dashavatara and the history of the world. So I wanted to look at all of it from a feminist perspective because sustenance and nurturing comes naturally to women, and I wanted to hunt for these unknown figures in human history who have contributed towards nurturing the earth through different stages of human civilization. I plan to paint each avatar as a woman loosely related to the ten avatars of Vishnu.
For example the first one is Matsya, which is fish based and I am actually going to paint Ama divers. I don’t know if I am pronouncing it correctly, it is a Japanese name. Basically these female Japanese divers were the first pearl harvesters of the world and they did deep diving without any scuba gear or oxygen tanks. They do free diving and they bring all these oysters. They put a small irritant into the oysters and once they mature into pearls they go and harvest it and come back out. Apparently there were 6000-7000 Ama divers, and as little girls they are trained to expand their lung capacity in order to learn this kind of diving. Right now there are only 60 to 70 such divers in Japan.
So I want to paint these women as the keepers of pearls, it is a very metaphorical idea — if you know about the concept of Gaia, Gaia is our bhoomadevi concept which is very similar to personifying the entire earth as a woman, and the earth always gives and gives and gives, so Gaia also gives and gives and gives. This whole idea started out with my thought process around Gaia and how she is always contributing or offering something to the world like our earth. So all of these paintings will be based on an environmentally and ecological perspective as well. Currently I am doing a lot of research on feminist anthropology for this series. So far I have three paintings in my mind; I haven’t started working on them yet.
[In the meantime, Girija has finished Matsya (pictured above) is working on her next work in the series.]
That’s fascinating. I look forward to what comes out of this series. You have worked previously on feminist themes, as part of the Mahila Bharat series as you called it. There were some very beautiful works there. We will probably get into that also as we look at your journey as an artist but let’s go back in time now — when did your interest in art and paintings begin?
From the time when I was three I think, that’s my earliest memory. Art has always followed me or I have always followed art, so I have always been drawing, painting on walls, scribbling, and making comics. I was always a reader and a visual learner, so the more I read I interpret it or understand it by visually drawing it and I also perceive it visually. So I’ve been always drawing a lot of mythology God’s and Goddesses, comics.
Those days we used to have a lot of comics in our local language as well as English. We had so many books in Tamil language and I used to be an avid reader reading some 300-400 comic books in a year. So illustration and drawing has always been part of my life.
I also had an artist living opposite to my house and he had this huge Venkateshwara mural on his wall and he painted a lot of calendar God’s and Goddesses. I used to go and watch him on his engineering drawing board. He would be bent on it and drawing very, very intricate hands and feet and pink God’s and pink Goddesses. So I used to watch him and ask him a lot of questions. Initially he didn’t mind but later he got very annoyed and he asked me to help around and I started washing his brushes, I learnt all the color names, the poster color names, different mediums that he used. I think it was all an education in itself.
Then the schooling and all that took over but I still kept painting portraits and gifting paintings to friends. Then in college there was a huge art and recreation department, that was when I think I did my most serious art education by watching a lot of seniors paint huge backdrops and panels — about 8ft wide and 20ft long — and that was the first place where I saw how an artwork can just transform the space around it. Especially in stage backdrops where you watch the rehearsals of someone dancing and then you finish a large 40ft backdrop and you hang it behind them and then you watch the same dance again, it just completely takes you to a different place. So I was very impressed and very inspired by doing this larger than life works and always dreamt of painting walls and huge murals.
You studied your engineering in BITS and then you went to the US as well to study further. You did your electrical engineering there and then you started working in IT and as I understand you worked for a couple of years and then came back to India and continued in IT. Take me through a bit of that journey, what exactly was your role in the IT industry and how did you like it?
I actually loved it. My role in IT industry was around customer relationship management, mostly Oracle based. I love tech and the time that I worked was very, very new and the digital era was starting, so there was lots and lots of new stuff being introduced every other month. Just before I quit my job I was a solution architect where I had to sell projects — like I had to bid for projects across the countries and create solutions for them. So it was like a jigsaw puzzle where I read their RFP, designed a particular solution for them, got a lot of stakeholders to sign off on it and then the finance part. You do the complete modelling and you get the complete finance part covered and then finally you end up losing to Infosys or Cognizant (Laughs).
So it was a very fun, very tiring job that I was doing in IT, but it helped me in many ways. I got to travel a lot in that role across time zones, across countries and I always caught the local museum wherever I visited. I think it indirectly paid for all my museum education and art education, but otherwise the entire concept of figuring out a solution and taking it end-to-end helped me to organize whatever I call now as my artistic practice.
I used to call it as a business but now I call it my practice. I am able to organize my thoughts better and I am able to communicate better and I am able to create my website in three days for example — I wouldn’t have done it if not for IT or the experience that it gave me. So I am always grateful for the experience that IT gave, and most importantly the money bit of it. I was able to save up and you know I am able to pursue my passion which is a great privilege because of all the money that I could earn during that long corporate tenure.
You were in IT for more than a decade, isn’t it?
Yes, for 13 years. I worked in the US for close to a year after my masters and I was posted in London Shoreditch which actually has very interesting street art. I was their first US employee but my training was in London and I had such a great time going through all the museums in London for a month. I also stayed in Paris for a month. It was an amazing job, amazing learning, amazing exposure, everything was amazing about it.
After a couple of years in the US you came back to India. Why was that?
I always wanted to start an orphanage since I was 13. Because of some childhood incident that was triggered perhaps in the railway stations seeing children on the side of the staircases. I used to think that these children should have a home, you know, the idealistic childhood ambition or whatever. And I stuck with it somehow for up to 20-21 years.
Then when my US job started processing my green card and they were talking about me being their long-term employee I wasn’t very happy about losing my childhood ambition. I always wanted to come back to India and start the orphanage. So I thought this was the best time to come back.
I also felt a little bit plastic when I was in the US, no offence to anyone working abroad but I felt like I was not grounded or centered, or it was not earthy enough for me to live in a foreign country. I mean to travel is okay but to live somewhere or lay down your roots you need to have some purpose and focus. So I came back and I joined Accenture, so I took up this job in Bangalore and I have been here for 15 years now.
Did you start that orphanage?
Yes, so I came back and I joined Accenture and I was doing a lot of volunteering and doing some social work. Even in the US I always used to work with NGO’s in back home in India — I used to collect funds and fund raise for them and stuff like that. So when I came back to India I continued that, I continued working with missionaries of charities.
Then I started my foster home. It’s called a group foster home — it’s not technically an orphanage because they are not orphans, they are single parent children that are given to us by the government. And I had two kids for about couple of weeks and I realized they fell sick. I was too young, I was around 22 then, and I realized they were getting sick because they were missing their mom a lot. And then my brother asked me, do you want to help children or you want children to be helped.
That was like a revelation to me, I realized that I was making orphans in order to run an orphanage. So I closed my foster home. I had hired a lady for care taking, I mean she stayed along with me and the kids but I had to send her back. It was very sad closing it down but it launched my charity which I still run. It is called Annai Charitable Trust and I sponsor these kids who are single parented or orphans, so their parents are either sick or in jail unable to take care of these children. So I work with schools in order to get them through school and educated. I started with some kids who were in 4th standard and they have now completed their degrees and they are working and they are helping other children as well. So it’s been running for a long time now.
So despite the initial setbacks you stayed true to that vision of helping these children, which is nice to hear. Were you involved in painting during your Accenture phase or were you too busy with IT?
I missed to mention about another huge contributor to my art career, which is my reading habit. Through my stay in BITS Pilani and through the US phase I was exposed to a lot of literature, English literature, literary fiction, activism, and so on. And since I am a visual learner I used to draw a lot, I used to paint too, but for myself. I would go to these museums and get these crazy posters.
It was like an introduction to art history, and I used to have all this along with my Accenture career, and along with my charity work. I also used to read a lot and I think these ideas were forming in my mind as a hobby, not as a serious venture to embark upon. I used to gift paintings to friends; I used to gift portraits to friends, some spiritual gurus as well. Now I am so much into spirituality I never realized that I painted a lot of spiritual gurus for my office colleagues. I think art again followed me through my Accenture career but as you know in any IT job you end up working for 14 to 16 hours a day. So that was happening but my mind was getting slowly opened in different ways to enable my art career to happen through those years.
It seems like you were laying the ground work for the big step that you finally took, but the way you described it also seems like it was a hobby throughout. So how did this transition towards taking up art full time happen? You were there with Accenture for more than a decade and then you left. Take me through that transition.
It was after we bought a house I remembered my murals in BITS, I remembered my large art works and I really was aching to do a large artwork. So I painted this huge Buddha on my living room wall in the new house we hadn’t yet moved into. And as soon as I was done with that Buddha I shared it on my social media handles and for fun I just asked around for walls saying if someone wants to lend me their walls for practice please do, because I want to explore more and I was running out of living room walls.
I got one photographer to lend me his wall and I went and painted in his home along with my family. It was such a blast and I really enjoyed working on it. Technically it was called working but I really loved the energy and the way it transformed this house.
Then this was again put on the back burner and I was continuing with my work and one fine day I was kind of frustrated with appraisals and what not, you know the typical IT fatigue, and I went to naurkri.com… in fact I put my papers, I sent the email, decided I am done with this company and I went to naukri.com and I started searching my job profile. And it was exact same job that I was doing for six years that kept on popping up. So as I scrolled naurki.com I was seeing the same kind of descriptions again and it was so monotonous just to read those descriptions — it was so boring just to read it. I then thought what am I going to do if I actually end up in one of these jobs again if it’s so boring just to read the description.
And that’s when I realized that perhaps painting murals could be beneficial. Maybe I can make some money out of it and now that I have stable investments and financial stability maybe I can take a year and see where this art thing goes, where this mural painting goes. So there were no thoughts about doing canvas painting or anything, I didn’t have a home studio or anything like that. I just decided I will do murals for money, and I just launched it the next day. I asked my friends for name suggestions and I came up with ‘2flatbrush’ and I launched the Facebook page and that was it — my business was up and running the next day.
What was your family’s reaction to this kind of a radical shift?
My mom and dad are sort of used to my radical decisions I think, so my decision to quit my job in the US itself was the first shock for them. But this one they also knew. And you know in India typically when a woman says I want to take a break from work they automatically think ‘oh good now you can spend more time with your child’ — you know the typical sexist attitude. I think it’s a way of thinking, so I had to specifically put a disclaimer saying I am still going to send my daughter to daycare for eight hours a day, I am planning to work on my business. I think my in-laws were little taken aback and it was very new for them, but considering our inter-caste marriage they are already used to new things with me, so this was another new thing.
But I am grateful for all the support that both my parents and in-laws give me. There was not a negative comment from either of them, and they gave me a lot of support. And somehow they believed me even before I believed in myself, I think they still do so which is very good — someone has to believe in us.
And I guess this is not a journey which others had taken and you were following right? Was this profession of drawing murals widely prevalent at that time or was it just starting?
I did not know a single muralist. I used to talk to people who used to draw these politician faces on the road, but I did not know anyone at that time who did this for a living. In fact mural painting or wall paintings was a very new thing to Bangalore. Now almost everyone has some kind of artwork in their home. Art itself as a career was very new for homes and businesses, so I did not have anyone to talk to about it.
There was LinkedIn group about murals that I joined. And I started reading up. I had no idea about the techniques of scaling and painting large works because it’s a completely new way to paint or draw on a larger scale. Even though I had all those ideas from college where we used to grid and we used to scale paintings, doing it on a vertical surface is really hard. So I had to go and study a lot, learn a lot, so my first year was all about learning.
You actually haven’t had any formal training in art, so it’s just been learning by doing. Or did you also take any course?
Yes, so as soon as I started 2flatbrush I joined a master-of-fine-arts course in Delhi through an online program and I started their classes. I even submitted a bunch of assignments. I remember finishing one course which is called color theory which is the most basic course that you have to do. So, once I finished the color theory the feedback I got for all the assignments… my teacher, by the way, was 19 years old and I was 33, and she told me you don’t seem to have control on your boundaries and you are always drawing outside the lines.
That’s such a metaphorical statement.
That describes you quite well.
Yes all my life I am all about breaking the rules, right. So when she gave me such feedback and she told me that I did not have a good concept of color or composition, that’s when I realized I didn’t have anything new to learn there. I have a stack of art education text books, so I buy from these museums, I buy a lot of art history books, I buy a lot of anatomy, I buy Burne Hogarth who painted Spiderman, who designed the illustrations and the graphic novel. So I had a lot of education already and I felt like I was not learning anything new.
I put it on hold the formal art education and I decided I am going to do my own thing and see where it takes me. Because I was dreading these assignments and classes and at that time it was all about my time — I am very, very, very fiercely protective of my time and where I spend my time and energy because for 13 years I mortgaged my time for earning money. Now it is my time, so I didn’t want to waste it even for a minute. So I came out and because I came out one good thing that happened was since I had already paid for that course in complete, I wanted to justify that money somehow, and I ended up reading all these text books and doing my own assignments and practice. I used to paint for hours, I would watch videos for hours on techniques. I think it was like a crash course for the first year where I just learned and learned and learned every day and practiced.
Of course there’s no substitute to just painting itself. I recall something that you’ve written on your Instagram page: you say that ‘the one thing that’s constant in my roller coaster life is my easel and the delicious promise of paint under my fingernails’. It reminded me of an anecdote from a writer called Annie Dillard. Annie Dillard is a well-known American non-fiction writer and in a book on the writing life she gives an analogy of an artist.
There’s a student who comes to an artist and says I want to learn how to paint, can you teach me how to paint? And the artist asks just one question, he asks the student: do you love the smell of paint?
We have this romanticized notion of the finished versions, and what we often forget is the paint that surrounds you, and the smell of paint — you have to be thoroughly comfortable and also enjoy that environment. And it again takes me back to the thing you mentioned about your neighbor who was painting all those things and you were taking care of the brushes and the paints and so on, and that’s where actually your education began.
I wanted to share an anecdote here. When I was going to Accenture, during my commute I used to watch these carpenters and painters, you know those painters whose clothes are fully sprayed with white dots and they carry this ladder and scaffolding in their shoulders in the bike. You wouldn’t believe how jealous I was of them. And like every time I saw them I was like, oh man I would give my life to do this.
I love to climb things, I love to climb on tall structures and paint because that’s what we used to do in Pilani, huge structures and was always on a scaffolding or a ladder you know looking at life from the top. I love the smell of paint I guess, it’s a delicious promise always and it still remains and the day it stops maybe I should look for a different career (laughs).
Now let’s get back to the early days of your art career. You left Accenture, you said you wanted to just work on murals, you spent about a year or so learning up things around the practice of art — then how did that evolve?
I also did one other important thing in my first year which was networking. So in my first year I was not sure whether I was running a business or I was doing an art practice. They are completely different.
Even though right now I make money for my living completely from my art I wouldn’t call my art practice a business, but in my first year I used to call it a business because for me I was used to the monthly salary, so there was a big mental transition that I had to go through from the business to an art practice.
When I was considering it as a business I had no connections whatever with anyone other than the IT industry. I joined this business network group and again like any other productive group they gave me referrals and I used to give them referrals. One good thing that happened was I got a lot of mural work in my first year from that network. But from an art perspective I wasn’t exploring anything on my own during that year because I was always busy with either marketing my business or painting murals according to the designs of my clients which had no or very little artistic value in them. Although for the canvas paintings (which I got orders for) I was able to express myself artistically.
So it was always a big balance needed, walking on a tight rope between the artist me and the business me. Because my business me is very good at marketing and getting orders and helping out the group. I was given some leadership roles in the networking group that had its own people management challenges, the usual corporate stuff, so all of that was taking my time away from my studio. So again after one year I decided to quit and I said I want more time to practice my art, so I am going to stop considering it as a business.
My first year was about networking, but good thing is I have like lifelong friends from the network and one of my interior designers I met in that group is my best friend now. So there were a lot of advantages to this (especially the network), but it was not for me, business was not for me. From the second year onwards I was able to develop my voice a little bit.
Of course in this kind of a occupation the business side one can’t totally ignore, because to keep your art side alive you need to have that business side also running and obviously you are good at it. Again I am just going to go back to one quote from basically one of your Instagram posts where you say: “Purchasing art is not a retail therapy, it is real therapy, it’s a love story waiting to happen.”
So you have the talent for the business side too, and as you say it is a constant challenge to keep both of them in balance because you want to feed your artistic self which wants to just explore and experiment and so on but you also have the other side wherein you need to think of the economic side of the whole occupation. You said you were also selling projects and so on in Accenture so that might have helped over here. What were the other learning’s from your previous role in the IT industry which have helped in this new phase?
I think one of the key things that helps me is organization. I cannot stress this enough that without a particular disciplined approach, without a solid discipline one cannot be a full time artist. They are either hobbyists who are calling themselves as serious artists or they are artists who are just not at their prime. That’s all I would say. And this discipline in me comes from a corporate side definitely, the way you approach things, you logically break down the works that you are supposed to do. Once you get into a painting, how it works for me is I am a very both left and right brain kind of a person, as I was talking about a deka for example. This is my baby for this year which is like ten paintings. It’s been four months of research but every time I go into my research I allocate a particular time, I list down the points where I should focus and look at a particular set of compositions and color themes and stuff like that. So this is the left part of my brain, but once I start the painting I’ll have all these great plans in mind and I will start, but once I start I will probably do a something on the fly — like this emerging painting came with no idea, my daughter’s paper was lying around and I started doing it. I actually had meant to do something else, painting a door actually for that day. So I don’t know how directly it relates but the logical part or the organization part it’s like my agent is living within me, the art agent or whoever who reminds of deadlines and shipping and costing and pricing and negotiations and all — that is my IT side. And because of this agent this artist is able to explore more freely.
Of course it connects also to what Ratish said in the very first episode of this podcast series about how his work in the IT sector gave him that structure, gave him that grounding in the processes and so on. I think that’s very clear, you can’t just look at only the creative side of things and not have the discipline at all.
Let’s step back a little bit and look at these two phases of your life. You’ve spent a lot of time in IT and then now in this new journey that is unfolding. One way to compare the two occupations is also to look at the fact that in IT you probably would been working in a team but over here as an artist it’s largely solitary work. So how has that transition been for you from being largely integrated in the team to solitary work?
I think thankfully my teamwork was not much, I am an individual contributor even in the corporate world. My job as a solution architect was to work on bids. The last six years of Accenture work was completely on my phone and laptop, it was not really like me managing a team. But before that I did manage quite a large team of about fifty people, and I kind of enjoyed that work I must say except for the people issues. I don’t miss the people issues, the attrition, the onsite and all those things, I don’t miss them at all. But I enjoyed working on different technologies.
It is very much like how I am doing in my artwork right now, so it’s like every painting is my new team. When I go for the color, the composition, the perspective, the directionality, the challenges in bringing what’s in your mind, I always see the painting complete in my mind before I paint it and sometimes I had to bring it into my thought and then visualize it and sometimes it just occurs to me like a vision. Most of my paintings I dream, all of these concepts that you dream up do not eventually come and end up on your canvas and the way maximum you get it across to the canvas that becomes your deliverable on your project. The only thing is you get to display your project to everyone — I mean the painting.
In a team setup (in the corporate world) you probably you will not be able to show your work technically to someone, you won’t be able to show all the aspects of your work and you won’t get the appreciation also. I pity the corporate people for that — you will be doing your best creative work, you will come up with a completely out of the box solution for something but you will not be appreciated for it.
I guess that’s one another big thing that has changed here, right, so the kind of work that you do, you see the impact it has on people and the feedback that you get is quite direct.
I thrive on appreciation or feedback or constructive criticism or critic, I thrive on these. I had a tough time with some critics initially. The first professional critique I got was on my residency with other artists in Rishikesh, and after the first session some of the comments I got were questioning my composition and directionality for a particular painting which I painted in a very emotional state. I found it very difficult to deal with the criticism but then eventually I spoke to other artists and they told me that you know it’s your painting, it’s your baby, you either throw the critic or you work towards fixing it. So I took some that I found it will enhance the painting, I threw away the rest that I felt was interfering with the energy of the painting. So I thrive on any kind of feedback positive or negative, and I get it here which is very unlike your corporate thing. So social media helps — without Instagram or Facebook I wouldn’t be the artist I am.
It’s clear that you you are very good at using the media to connect with your audience, connect with the people who want to see more of your work. It’s not like you are trying to sell something but it’s more of connecting with them. Perhaps it is like an online museum where people come to your “exhibition” to get a glimpse of what’s happening at your end and from your feed at least I see that it is quite prolific, it seems like you are always painting.
That’s an illusion but yes I am glad to keep up. Yes I always paint because painting is who I am, so I keep painting. Like I said in my sleep, in my dreams I keep thinking of ideas, I keep reading, so there’s not a single day when I don’t read, there is not a single day when I don’t dream of paintings. But of course you know because of pandemic and a lot of other restraints some days I don’t paint but at least I talk about it. I talk about not painting or I share my journey with my followers. In Instagram you get to share your life, you get to share your inspiration behind your paintings, you get to share your thought process. I started writing lot of poems after my art journey started, so some of the paintings it’s very hard to describe in words, so poetry is the only way to build that subtle nuances in the description.
Now what about the personal changes? Compared to your previous life where you were in IT and you probably were going to office and dealing with totally different kind of projects, you had certain kind of schedule, you would meet a certain kind of people with a certain mindset — maybe a lot of that has changed in your new avatar. What are some of those bigger personal changes that you’ve undergone across this transition?
I think personally I have become more grounded, more humble, in fact there’s many more layers of humility to reach which is on the way. But personally from a logistics perspective also I never saw so much of Bangalore in my 13 years of Accenture as I did in the past 5 year.
Before the pandemic I used to travel to all corners of the city. I mostly work in under construction sites because I paint the mural when the wall is really fresh before the putty is even applied, because the rawer it is the better it will absorb paint. So I hang out with the carpenters or the interior people who are working along with me for days and they will come and tell me you know you should not have used this color, you should do this differently and stuff. So I am able to take even it’s not classism or anything but some of them have some really good feedback as well. And also having lunch for 40 rupees on the roadside rice sambar. Logistically itself it has made me more completely down to earth and you know…
Like more connected to the city I guess also, right.
More connected to the people, not just the city. So even when I returned from the US I made it a point to go public transport all the time, so I used to go in public buses, BMTC buses because I wanted to be grounded and connected to people, because I felt so plastic in the US, not really touching anyone. If you see here people touch each other’s elbows when they talk, that’s very natural and in the buses you see people sitting very close to each other but in the US it’s not even thought of. Even the food when I was eating it took me a long time to let go of the spoon and fork after I came back — so little changes like that.
So I was always grounding myself after I came back. I think it’s better and I am a better person because of that, I am a better human being, I am more in touch with humanity, and like I said I am finding the truth more now.
You’ve been in this art world now for five years. You left Accenture in 2015, so it’s been 5 years. In hindsight looking back at these last five years or even probably the overall arc of both your occupations in IT and as an artist, would you have done something differently?
I don’t think so. As I said I don’t have that illusion of control, so I don’t think I would have done anything differently.
When I was thinking about this podcast and I was listening my year one, year two, year three, and I was just thinking to myself what I did in those years. Just to remind myself. And I happened to look at my thesis work that I did in my masters. It is the ‘sum over paths’ algorithm by Feynman — my algorithm is based on his sum over paths. He says that when you randomly walk across a circuit or you walk new walk, even you take random steps with with equal probability you will eventually end up to the right solution, to the right value.
I think that’s the metaphor for life as well. In fact that inspired me to do a painting which is about random walks. So if you randomly walk through life I think eventually you will reach where you want to reach, and there is no destination, it is a sum of all your paths. So you keep collecting, you keep accumulating some dirt like a river when you flow but when you flow for sometime all the dirt somehow disappears, right. So if you keep your state of flow you will be clean. Once you stagnate somewhere that’s when you know when you try to control it with the dam or something, that’s when the algae accumulate. I stayed true to my flow I think so far.
And that’s going to be the mantra also going forward I assume. So as we wind down I am curious to hear if you know there have been some specific artists in the past who have influenced you and who influenced your work?
Right from that artist Shankaran who I followed… I mean I am using Instagram lingo here but basically I followed him, literally I followed him in his studio all around when I was a child, I have a lot of influences.
I like a lot of romanticism paintings when I used to visit museums maybe because I felt like I could never paint like those beautiful perfect skin, glowing murals you know. Michael Angelo, J W Waterhouse, etc. But then I was going through art history and stuff I was more impressed with abstract. So as an art collector I collect abstract artworks, abstract speaks to me directly as a person and I am able to figure out my own meanings. So I really like Jackson Pollock.
From India … India has some amazing artists, right from illustrations to paintings. In illustration we have this Keshav Venkat Raghavan, who paints a Krishna every day. In my reading hobby there were a lot of historical novels that were illustrated by Maniam and his son now who is called Maniam Selvan. They both have the exact same style of illustration. So I love illustrators in those genres. Of course you have Hussain, Jamini Roy, Raza from modern art movement as well who I really love. And women artists have always been my inspiration in whatever form. So Anjolie Ela Menon and the person who just painted Michelle Obama, I think her name was Amy Sherald.
And Instagram has lots and lots and lots of artworks — without Instagram I don’t think I will be able to catch all of these art museums in one place, so lot of some amazing new work that’s coming out.
I love how street art is becoming a social moment, social and political moment. There is a guy in Portugal who removes stuff from walls and he creates relief sculptures of refuges, relief faces of refugees. So it is so metaphorical —you have this establishment that your chipping away to make space for refugees, and literally it becomes a political movement. You have this Baadal Nanjundaswamy in Bangalore who painted the crocodile on some of the potholes and the next day BBMP comes and covers the potholes. So public art and mural art and street art I think is the way to go for creative activism and I hope to do a lot of public art once this pandemic is over.