Q&A: Anand Radhakrishnan, illustrator.

On the essence of illustration, working on graphic novels, and his ongoing collaborations with Floating Canvas Company.

Art + Design -

Anand Radhakrishnan is an illustrator and visual artist based in Mumbai. An alumnus of Sir J. J. Institute of Applied Art and T.A.D (The Art Department), Anand has emerged as one of the most exciting names in the world of comics and graphic novel illustrations. Through his style-agnostic approach that's immersed in the subject matter at hand, Anand crafts stunning worlds and characters that sometimes inhabit far-off galaxies and sometimes the bustling, kinetic lanes of his own city. Anand's first full length graphic novel Grafity's Wall in collaboration with writer Ram V, a coming-of-age tale set in Mumbai, was launched at UK’s iconic Thought Bubble festival and was No. 3 on Paste Magazine’s list of the Best Graphic Novels of 2018. It has subsequently been launched by Dark Horse Comics to a wider audience, receiving universal acclaim. Anand's highly anticipated second graphic novel Blue in Green was launched by Image Comics in October 2020 and has gone on to win Best Graphic Novel of 2020 at IGN.

Though Anand has been making waves as a comic book artist, he still sees himself as an illustrator and painter first. More interested in telling stories through a single visual rather than a sequence, Anand has been on a personal journey of building new worlds and exploring their physics as well as the beings that inhabit them. We at Floating Canvas Company have had the amazing opportunity of being a part of Anand's artistic journey over the past two years, working together closely to bring his vision to life. It's a journey that has taken us from showcasing installations at art exhibitions to prototyping art toys in every material imaginable. It gives us immense pride and joy to announce that we are now representing Anand in the non-comics related fields, with a focus on self-initiated and sketchbook projects. We talk to him here about A City of Strange - his futuristic series of illustrations about the city he calls home, his upcoming big-bang project (read: Kuntham collectibles) and more.

Q. Tell us something about A City of Strange. How did you start building this world and where do you see it going? 

I have always thought that my work lacks a sense of place and I suppose A City of Strange came to me at a time when this was heavily on my mind (another reason why Grafity's Wall happened). I thought of taking iconic talking points about Mumbai and blowing them up, stretching and pushing them out of shape and presenting to the viewer almost a caricature of those elements. The blow up here was literal too; I wanted to play with scale and how largeness and smallness affect the way we look at things. Which is mostly why these illustrations are all head-on angles, looking straight on at the subject matter - no perspective, no fancy camera angles, almost isometric in proportions.

Even though I started the process of working on these way back in 2015, for one reason or another I had to discontinue work and the series was abandoned as I moved on to other projects. Of course I like to believe that my sensibilities have changed and grown since then and I think I have tried to bring it to my current way of thinking as much as I could while still leaving the essence of the project intact. I almost never rework old pieces. Either I don't like any of my work once it has had time to brew in my head or I simply get bored of it and move on. But this was persistently coming up and even reflecting in some of my other personal work. So when Floating Canvas Company reached out to launch a series of illustrations, I decided it was time to dig out this series from the folder of incomplete work.

Illustrations from the series 'A City of Strange'

Illustrations from the series A City of Strange

Q. It's been well over a year since the world caught the first glimpse of Kuntham at Irregulars Art Fair, Delhi. A sharp break from your commercial work that revolves around a written description, you came up with an object to which no description fits and no explanation suffices. Something that resembles 'nothing as much as anything'. Do you see it as a defining moment in your personal journey as an artist? 

I would definitely say so, yes. More than even a defining moment, the part Kuntham plays is that it finally articulates something that I had been thinking about for a while and for the most part didn't even know about it. It sounds ironic since Kuntham essentially stands for something that cannot be articulated. 

The progression of the project so far has been extremely organic as well. It started out as just loose scribbles on paper and kept taking its own form and eventually went from two to three dimensions. 

This is also my first foray outside the realms of illustration and drawing, although I don't necessarily compartmentalise these projects and eventually imagine some of my personal projects bleeding in and out of each other.

Kuntham: Sketches

Kuntham: Sketches

Q. Our next collaboration - Kuntham Collectible Sculptures - is all set to hit the shelves soon! What was it like making the switch from illustrations and watercolours to 3D renders, curves and textures? Not to mention the pursuit of the right material? 

It has been quite exciting! Also a bit intimidating since it's a new experience for me. Besides the exhilaration of seeing my drawings in three dimensions, taking on a life and narrative of their own, it's also been a learning experience since a lot of it is unchartered territory. Thankfully we had that middle stage of 3D renders and I think that eases off the transition between the two mediums.

Finding the right materials was especially tricky since we wanted something that would look organic and complement the form and still be sturdy enough to withstand some amount of handling. I think we tried a dozen different materials before finally making our minds up [laughs]. You guys have been extremely patient and accommodating and honestly we would not have made as much progress as we have if it wasn't for FCC's persistence and hard work.

Kuntham: Art Installation

Kuntham: Art Installation, on display at Irregulars Art Fair 2019

Kuntham: Art Installation

Kuntham: Art Installation, on display at Irregulars Art Fair 2019

Kuntham: Art Installation

Kuntham: Art Installation, on display at Irregulars Art Fair 2019

Q. How has it been to have Floating Canvas Company as partners and collaborators in your artistic journey? 

I had been in touch with Floating Canvas Company for quite a while before we even started discussing a possible collaboration. I think it was 2017-2018 while I was drawing Grafity's Wall that we started to discuss the idea of a collectible art toy. I didn't know what it was going to be like but both of us definitely had the intent of producing something in three dimensions. Then Kuntham started to take shape in my mind and things seemed to fall into place with that. FCC were the perfect folks to execute this since they have a really strong sense of three dimensions, not to mention the logistics of making something like this happen, whatever scale it may be.

I have massive respect for everyone at FCC. They have been incredibly supportive and open to ideas. No matter what I throw at them, more often than not, they will find a way to make that happen. I think that level of commitment and resourcefulness is a boon to any artist, especially one like me who is generally clueless about executing ideas [laughs].

Q. Did you foresee the widespread acclaim that your first graphic novel Grafity's Wall has garnered over the past two years? A lot of critics and readers had reserved special praise for the art that was so evocative of Mumbai, the bustling canvas upon which the story unfolds.  

I drew most of Grafity’s Wall in a feverish haze within 2-3 months, working round the clock and  barely sleeping while in my tiny studio in the loft of Gently Altered’s office in Andheri (GA is a music rep and management company. I met Burudu through them which eventually led to 2 album covers for them). So at the time the only thing on my mind was to be able to make my deadlines or we wouldn’t have been able to release at Thought Bubble ’18 [laughs].

But yeah, I really appreciate how well it’s been received. Also Ram and Aditya are always fantastic to work with. Grafity’s Wall was a huge learning exercise for me.

Grafity's Wall

Panels from Grafity's Wall

Q. There was a massive amount of buzz leading up to the recent launch of Blue in Green, your second full-length graphic novel. And the art looks absolutely gorgeous! What can you tell us about it? 

Blue in Green is the story of a musician who has succumbed to mediocrity, and then one day realises that greatness is still within his grasp, and what follows because of his pursuit of it. It is also an examination of what greatness is in the generally understood sense of the term. Is it always sacrifice that leads to greatness? Does one have to make Faustian deals with the ‘devil’ to achieve it? Or does greatness lie in the value of people and other aspects of life that make us human, like love and family? Although it is labelled as a jazz-horror, I think it's more an attempt to understand the human psyche and how people deal with childhood trauma and how these incidents shape us. Ram’s writing is phenomenal in this and everyone in the team really put their best foot forward. An absolute pleasure to be working with them. It was launched on 28th October, 2020 through Image Comics and is now available at all major bookstores and online portals including amazon.com and amazon.in. All of my original art will also be available with inkyknuckles.com

Blue in Green

Panels from Blue in Green

Q. Is a third full-length book in the offing too?  

Ram and I have already started work on our next project together but this is going to be an ongoing series which will be out periodically as issues. It is actually our first collaboration going way back to 2015 and we’d been pitching it long before Grafity’s Wall got picked up. This one also has music as one of its central themes and we’re shifting tones again with this to a more pop, rock-n-roll 80s mood. I am returning to line with this after more than a year of tone/value heavy work for Blue in Green.

Q. How does Anand, the painter and illustrator, share his time with Anand, the comic book artist? 

I have always thought of myself as more of an illustrator than anything else to be honest. And my understanding of the term ‘illustrator’ is quite open-ended: one who illustrates or visually describes an idea. That’s basically about it. This can take any form and I think all of my current or future work will presumably fit under that umbrella.

Sequential art or comics requires a strong sense of drawing, a feel for environment, weight, character design, storytelling, innovation, composition, acting, etc. and most of these skills are something you would have to pick up as an illustrator anyway. 

I don’t think there is any real reason to be restricted to genres, especially these days since the internet has democratised so many of the resources and outlets for showcasing art. 

Having said this though, I do realise that a lot of my work looks and feels very different depending on what medium I am working in. And at times when I have two projects running parallely that employ polar opposite techniques or styles, I tend to use my sketchbook as an anchoring point to judge how far or close to that anchor I can get.

Purple Fanged Snow Dogs From Outer Space

Purple Fanged Snow Dogs From Outer Space - album cover
Variant cover for Ruin of Thieves #1

Variant cover for Ruin of Thieves #1

Q. So, where do we go from here? :)

I have a few things planned:). Will continue working on graphic novel projects over the next few years, covers and interiors, hopefully taking on new creative roles as I go. Also been trying my hand at writing this year. It’s all very slow and I have a lot to learn. But yeah something is definitely cooking.

FCC and I have been working steadily on Kuntham for well over a year now and will continue to do so. I think it’s one of those projects that can potentially go on indefinitely and take on its own life and form.

More than anything else, I want to be able to keep creating original content (in as much as anything is original) in spite of how it’s being received by an audience.

Words by Shakti Swarup Sahu

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