Interview with Kavita Shah
"I like to start from a void," says Vadodara based printmaker Kavita Shah.
Kavita Shah’s work speaks of scattered fragments of her creative journey. Of places she has visited, of feelings she felt, of people, (birds and animals included) she met while whimsically walking on her road to fulfillment. The images talk of memories broken into small anecdotes and they appear on the canvas almost like objects that surface on still water after it has been stirred. The interpretation of these compositions is left to the viewer thus making a seemingly simplistic array of colours, textures and objects into a deeply complex concoction of past, present and future associations.. This interview was taken on 4th December 2020.
Q. Describe your journey as an artist.
Well it was like a roller coastar ride…Art in particular has no finality in the sense what I feel is complete painting today, tomorrow I may want to add something more or remove something form it. As thoughts moves and ideas keep evolving… one feels like changing the visuals too. It is crucial for most of the artists to realize when the painting or any work of art is complete.
Art Education is very complex as it does not fall in logical arguments and observation. What is good or bad about a painting was never easy to explain.
My early years in Fine Arts were not easy. We had to do many sketches and drawings every day. What we thought as “good art” was considered “immature, superficial art” in college. Art had moved on from pretty pictures to Expressionism, cubism, Dadaism, pop art, op art …..And so on. While learning the basics of art in practice and theory, we were supposed to retain our own style.
There was no single answer to our quest but we were given many contradictory solutions and meanings.
Q. You have traveled all over the world, which was your most memorable experience?
Yes, I have traveled and lived (for short period) in many cities/ countries. I do have many stories form different trips from hospitality of total strangers to getting lost and being robbed. Cities I liked most are Paris, New York and Berlin.
Each city has its own energy and culture. I think New York is on the top of my list.
Highly pulsating place, so many things happening all the time, beautiful museums, friendly people and it is so easy to move around.
I worked with Robert Blackburn at his famous PMW (Print Making Workshop) in Manhattan. Bob was 80 years old but full life and energy. He worked long hours in the studio and always ready to answer my questions and help me with techniques. We used to have lunch together as he wanted to become vegetarian, he would say,” You buy for me what you get for yourself”. There were artists from all over the world in his studio, from Japan, Italy, Spain and India.
Q. What is your daily schedule?
First thing for me is a good and large cup of tea!!
I do not like to follow schedules. But if my work is in progress I am very keen on finishing it. Gap between two work in difficult time…what next? Coming up with new idea is always challenging and full of doubts and questions. Normally I spend such time preparing plates or doing other peripheral work.
Partially, I enjoy the struggle too when I have an idea and not getting in a particular technique. I do not work for long hours, on the contrary I prefer to move from my work in progress for a day or two before I take another step. Next day brings new perception and understanding of images.
Q. Where is Indian Art, at the moment? Where is it heading to?
I think it is in a flux with art practices ranging from traditional to video to performance or activism, Installation and sight specific works. Lots of new and exciting things are happening. With social media it is easier to see what people are doing in the different cities.
It is difficult to give general statement as some works are not very good but get promoted and some really good ones goes unnoticed. Some who have make it big keep repeating themselves, few younger ones get influenced and enameled by their success and start coping. There are all kinds. Good thing is there is a place for all kind of art under the sun.
However, the best place for me to look for a good work of art is annual display of the students of art colleges, where one can see many experimental art and fresh approach.
Q. Your work has many layers- not only of materials but also of memories. How do they connect? Is there a relevance?
Like Picasso said, “If I know what I am doing than why should I do it? “
Many a times I like to start from void, without planning. My work is constantly going through changes as I love experimenting with new techniques. Lately, I like book format as there is a continuity, movement, suspense ….that one can play with. I am using digital, Cyanotype, lino cut and hand painting, sometimes collage too.
Having trained as a print maker, one gets used to working in layers. Image making takes place in various phases’ lines, textures and colors.
Q. What is your advice to students who want to take up art as a profession?
I have taught for many years in the Art and Architecture colleges. I think students now a days have quick access to information which is advantage and disadvantage both. Curiosity and value for things that we used to have, is lacking in students these days. Since finding of information on anything is so easy that it loses its value and also forgotten quickly.
Another thing is void and empty space is very important for creativity. Now a days people are constantly doing something or the other on cell phone, even small kids are moving from one class to another class all the time. There is hardly any time to develop a new idea or a thought for jelling.
Q. Many artists like David Hockney, are turning to the Digital media for expression. Can a new language be developed mixing the print making and digital medium?
Absolutely. I personally think that every medium has something new to offer; few years back even etching and lithography were new medium. For an artist, it very exciting to try new medium, explore possibilities it offers, understand challenges and short cum of the new medium and use it according the need of his or her ideas. I feel that medium is a language that carries the idea but one has to choose the appropriate language so that it gels well with the idea.
Q. Every work of art springs from some inspiration. How does your mind work? How the idea permeate itself into an expression? Is the trajectory predefined? When is that moment when you say “This is it!? How does it usually occur?
Well, this is difficult to explain but let me try. There are two ways to begin a new work. Starting with a idea and selecting medium suitable for it.
Or selecting the medium and then finding an appropriate thought for it.
Either way, there is has to right combination and mixture of the both, idea and technique. Often, I get carried away with kind of effect I get in certain medium and that becomes focus of my work. So I keep changing the medium after few years. There is content and craft though both are important craft should not take over the content. I strongly feel the work of art should be visually powerful. So in final analysis it is visual impact becomes deciding factor of “this is it”
Q. Your works seem to be drawing from excerpts and fragments of cities, people and events deconstructed and distilled on paper. What do you have to say for this?
Well, I have always lived in Baroda, which is not very large city but small and slow pace town. Lately, I feel it has grown too fast, haphazardly and condensed. It bothers me. I see chaos around me which at times spills on my paper.
Q. Has the Pandemic changed anything when it comes to your artistic pursuit? What advice would you give to our readers?
Pandemic definitely changed everyone and way we think. We took many things for granted. I was initially happy that I will be able to focus on my work but as it continued after two months, it became difficult to keep working without planning a show or participation in any events.
Kavita Shah has done Masters from Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. She has held nine Solo shows in Vadodara, Mumbai, Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Sweden and USA. Her work has been selected in Triennial Indian, Print Biennial, National exhibition and many other prestigious juried shows.
Kavita has travel extensively and been resident artist in Italy, Finland, Germany and USA. She has also curated many shows and made presentations in National and International art symposium. She lives and works in Vadodara, India.