Simply Drawing

Posted on May 20, 2014

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A marketing manager–turned-artist discusses her distinctive series of pen-and-ink drawings. By Reena Karim

At the Indian Cultural Centre, minutes before the opening reception, Seoul-based Indian artist Anjali Bansal Purkayastha walked me through her exhibition, entitled Lakeeren, meaning lines. She first showed her signature monochromatic ink drawings before moving on to her latest experiment, a vividly coloured digital series.

Her work is both painstakingly detailed and wonderfully uncomplicated. In many of the pieces, monochromatic floral patterns fill the outlines of animals and humans. “It’s not like you have to figure out or find a deeper meaning,” she said. “It’s [just] something that looks beautiful.”

A former marketing manager at American Express in Singapore, Anjali had long suppressed her passion for art. With motherhood, however, came lots of time spent at home and the opportunity to reconsider her direction. Over the past four years, her work has featured in group shows in Singapore and Seoul, and her exhibition at the ICC in January, where we met, was her first solo show.

Here, Anjali talks about defying her artistic family, changing careers, and using bindis in her drawings.

Tell us about the materials you use in your artwork.

I love to use things that will surprise you like bindis, but you really have to look closely to find it. It’s been fun for me because it goes so beautifully in the design [she incorporates it as an anklet on one figurative drawing]. I try not to be very symbolic with my [work]. I leave it to your interpretation. I have [also] been experimenting with the Hindi script, trying to use that as an art element, not symbolising that A [stands] for something. It’s just how the text can be made into a beautiful design.

Do the patterns have a meaning or thought process to it?

Honestly, sometimes I fill in whatever I feel like and sometimes unintentionally [they have meanings]. For example, in the Pregnancy series, unintentionally in the bump I have drawn a blooming flower. It’s only later that I think it is symbolic of a womb. I think our brains are tuned in such a way, but I don’t like to put [labels] there. I’d rather you look and [analyse] it yourself. But in the Moksha [yoga] series, I actually thought about the symbolism behind it.

Let’s discuss your fascination with floral patterns and tribal art.

As a child I was always exposed to art in India. I was born and brought up in Delhi. It is only in the last nine years that I have moved out. [But] obviously the base is very Indian. My work is inspired a lot by Indian folk art. You will see a lot of Madhubani and Gond art from various parts of the country, and they do use floral, leaves, and patterns [inspired] by nature. India has an abundance of folk art, and once you start exploring, you realise there is so much to it. There is Indianness in my art, but I also take inspiration from everywhere I go.

If art was truly your passion, why did you get into the corporate world?

I was being a little defiant. When I was young, my mother was an artist, a textile designer, my grandmother a painter, and my sister was getting into the same field, so I wanted to be a marketing professional and work in the corporate world. I never thought I would make art my profession. I didn’t take it seriously then. Even though my sister made graphic designing her career, I didn’t think I could live a life like that.

What drove you to quit the corporate world?

I just reached a point in my life where I had been working for 10 years and was not enjoying it so much. I had been thinking for a while, but I didn’t know what else I could do. Then my friends started telling me to look at art as a new direction since I was already artistic. The opportunity for an exhibition [in Singapore] came by, and I showcased some of my work. Then my son was born, and I wanted to spend more time with him, and I thought this would be my best and only chance to leave the corporate world. From there, I went to being a full-time mother and artist.

Did you find the transition weird?

No, it was such a relief. I thought, Why hadn’t I thought of it earlier? I realised that this was the passion that I had been ignoring for the longest time. My parents have definitely been supportive from the very beginning. But the reason I could do it was because [my husband] was very supportive.

What was the response from your first show?

[My] first show was in 2010. I did 10 paintings inspired by Madhubani art. I sold three pictures. I was very surprised. Locals [in Seoul] find the work pretty. I get way more open views from the European or American expats there, lots of good feedback. Even the Indians have given me good feedback. I am not sure if it has to do with language. My work is Indian at heart, and people tend to like that about it.

There are a few colour pieces in Lakeeren. Is that your next direction?

I wouldn’t want to use colours in my ink drawings. I want the emphasis to be on the patterns and not necessarily on the colours, which is why I am doing a lot of black and white. But when I do my digital series, I will change that a little. I want to add some elements in it [such as gold] or, for instance, using black and white and adding red. I want to see what else I could add to it that would bring it out. Gold makes the painting very rich.

Are you now comfortable with the title of an artist?

I love that, way more than a marketing manager. I don’t know why I was running from it. Doing this makes me feel more comfortable in my skin. I have realised this a little late in life, but better late than never. Initially, I couldn’t even say that I was an artist, because I wasn’t doing that much. It wasn’t like I had things to show [for it]. When I started participating in shows and teaching, then it became my identity. I doubt I will ever go back to the corporate world, unless I don’t have a choice. [Currently], I do workshops in Seoul, teaching other adults who want to learn more about the arts. I would like to expand more on that and my digital series. There is so much more to do, and I have only just started.

What is life like in Korea?

Korea has been an interesting experience for me and quite different from Singapore, where I was based earlier. When I came here, I felt a little lost as there is a big language barrier, so I actually learnt the language and can now read and write Hangul. Also, Seoul is not as cosmopolitan as many of the other Asian cities. But there is a lot of art and craft around that I love to explore. In fact, I have learnt the craft of using the traditional Korean paper called Hanji and also how to make a dojang, a personal Korean seal.

How does living there inspire you in your art? 

Other than natural beauty, Korea has a number of old Buddhist temples spread across the country. I love to travel to these old temples and look at the paintings or sculptures there. In addition, Korea has been named the world’s design capital in the past, so there are many interesting architectural works in the city. As an artist all this influences and inspires me. Even though my art is Indian at heart, I use patterns and symbols that transcend borders.

Published in Masala Lite March 2014

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