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Mr Sameer Kulavoor will take his seat now

After splashing art on taxi fabrics and T-shirts, artist Sameer Kulavoor is ready with his first solo exhibition, curated from four years of his sketchbook art

On a balmy afternoon, Sameer Kulavoor steps out to meet us on a pavement when we cannot figure out the location of his studio, Bombay Duck Designs, nestled in one of Mazagaon’s buzzing bylanes. The 33-year-old visual artist and designer is wearing a zippered sweatshirt over a plain white tee that states ‘oh’; quite our reaction when we are ushered into the attic studio post a cautious climb of a narrow wooden staircase bordered by fairy lights.

Sameer Kulavoor with a sketch of a man taking a nap on the noisy Mohammad Ali Road. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

The tastefully done compact space, though a tad messy ("It’s supposed to be"), packs in an old-style low-back cane sofa, work stations for two of his team members, his work desk along with a pantry and an array of artworks that are part of his impressive resume. It includes commercial design work for NH7 Weekender, animation music videos for Pentagram, branding campaigns for production houses, a mural of a kirana shop for Godrej One and collaborations with TaxiFabric, KultureShop and most significantly, The Ghoda Cycle Project that witnessed four of the designer’s drawings on a series of T-shirts by the UK fashion brand, Paul Smith. "Commercially, we do 10 projects a year, which isn’t a lot. But that’s because we are quite selective," says Kulavoor.

 Kulavoor sketched a person clapping while watching gully cricket in Girgaum, which is part of the solo exhibition, Please Have A Seat
Kulavoor sketched a person clapping while watching gully cricket in Girgaum, which is part of the solo exhibition, Please Have A Seat

Currently, however, taking up most space at the studio are 11 white acrylic boards (some neatly packed) with fluorescent pink borders, which are part of the artist’s first solo exhibition, Please Have A Seat. The exhibition begins on April 22 at Artisans’. The boards feature black-and-white drawings from the artist’s sketchbook, mainly hand gestures like a clap or a stretch, and figures with minimal representation (read: a man sleeping with a hand covering his eyes or another curled up with just the bottom half of the body drawn) — enlarged via screen-printing technique. Seven of the drawings will also be
displayed as wooden desk pieces.

Excerpts from an interview with Kulavoor (see facing page):

Q. Why did you decide to do a solo exhibition?
A. For the past four years, as a practice, I carry a sketchbook with me. While travelling or waiting for a client at a meeting, I often sketch what I observe, which serves as a resource, and also brings back memories. The idea of the exhibition came about a year-and-half back, when I flipped through my sketchbooks (20 of them) and re-looked at the drawings. Though each were drawn at a particular place and time, many are ambiguous without a context. So, I selected 18 such symbolic representations, which also in a way signify slowing down (justifying the title). I want people to take back a sense of calm when they see the drawings.

Kulavoor displays the sketch of a sleeping man he drew during his train journey from Chennai to Mumbai. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Kulavoor displays the sketch of a sleeping man he drew during his train journey from Chennai to Mumbai. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Q. Why did you particularly screen print in black-and-white?
A. I wanted the drawings to look as they were in my sketchbook. The purity and starkness of black-and-white is irreplaceable. I have been influenced by screen-printing technique where you use less colour to say more. I would like to explore colours but only when there is need. The Ghoda Cycle Project was colourful.

Q. Tell us about some of the works.
A. I drew a clap while watching a gully cricket match in Girgaum; there are sketches from a trip to Goa, of a sleeping man while I was on a train from Chennai, and of a guy at Mohammad Ali Road (taking a nap with a hand on his eyes), who managed to cut off from the noise in the dense market. I also sketched a guy at Churchgate station, who was sleeping with his feet curled up on a handcart. That’s what Bombay does to you. There is lack of space and you make do with whatever you have.

Curios and artworks that dot a shelf at Kulavoor’s studio in Mazagaon
Curios and artworks that dot a shelf at Kulavoor’s studio in Mazagaon

Q. We’ve seen Mumbai’s influence in your previous works too, like KalaGhoda Musings.
A. It’s been by chance, because I was born here and because I spend a lot of time here. However, I travel a lot. Last December, I spent a month in New York. I don’t want to limit myself to Mumbai influences.

Q. You’ve collaborated with TaxiFabric and KultureShop where art extends beyond a gallery to taxi seats and T-shirts. Is that integral for an artist today?
A. It depends from person to person. I like my work to be relevant. Medium is secondary. I have worked with music videos, murals and flipbooks. When I use different media, it keeps my work fresh and also gives me a chance of collaborating with different people where the final product becomes a collective. That’s fascinating. For instance, The Ghoda Cycle Project — independently, my drawings would have just been in a book. But it is great to take them a step ahead, to a
global audience.

Q. From your collaboration with Paul Smith, any lessons where Indian brand-artist collaborations can do better?
A. There is so much scope. Brands tend to look at things narrowly. They should be bolder. It needn’t have to be literal connect with the art. For instance, I’ve been involved with NH7 Weekender since 2011 and we have tried to make it a 360-degree experience, where it’s not just about music. Two years back, we created eyes and videos played inside them, which was trippy. If someone remembers the experience, they will remember the brand.

Q. Is it important to develop one’s style when fakes are on a rise and artists add forced coolness to their work?
A. I try to stay away from clichés. My work emerges only from my observations, which is personal. When people emulate, somewhere, you can spot the influences. It’s unethical and secondly, what makes them stand apart?

From: April 22 to 30, 11 am to 7 pm
At: ARTISANS’, 52-56, VB Gandhi Marg, Kala Ghoda.
Call: 9820145397

In Kulavoor’s sketchbook…

"I am intrigued by people a lot but am not limited to that," he shares as he flips through his latest sketchbook. It contains elements sketched with a yellow marker and black pen, from The Coalition: Festival Of Creativity, a three-day day fest in Delhi held in March and sketches from his travel to New York. These displayed everything from a person taking his trash out, drawn from behind to a rooftop bar in Dublin with Manhattan as the backdrop, and single images that included mishmash of elements.

Oval Maidan. PIC/ATUL KAMBLE
Oval Maidan. Pic/Atul kamble

Rapid fire with Kulavoor
Favourite place to sketch: Kala Ghoda and Fort. There’s a lot to see; it’s inspiring.
Favourite artist: Pabloe Picasso. How can one guy create so much variety?
One space you’d like to redesign: I would love to add something in the heart of Dharavi or in the middle of Oval Maidan.

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