Q&A: Rithika Pandey, visual artist.

On Murakami’s librarians, embracing colour, and protecting oneself from one’s ruthless creative self.

Art + Design -

Rithika Pandey is a visual artist from Mumbai and the latest addition to our growing collective of exciting contemporary talents. Emerging on the scene with a dreamy explosion of stunning colours and symbols that address ideas both metaphysical and immediate, Rithika talks to us here about her beginnings as an artist, her inspirations, and making art in these uncertain times.  

Q. How did your journey as an artist begin?

For someone who was creative as a kid, it took me a while to recognise that I wanted to pursue art as a profession. I distinctly remember wanting to be an archaeologist at the beginning because of my love for history and relics of ancient civilisations. But I also loved food and wanted to become a chef for a while. My sister and I used to make oddly shaped raviolis for dinner and I had a notebook filled with Jamie Oliver’s recipes! 

When I was in 8th grade, I started watching Hayao Miyazaki’s films which interested me in animation and visual arts. For a year, I worked on my drawing skills - three months spent mastering how to draw hands! Eventually I branched out and explored further, realising how exciting being an artist truly was. I was in my second year of art school when my knowledge in contemporary arts grew and I dipped my toes into what would soon become this surging ocean of an artistic practice that I have today.

'Anticipatory Disorders' by Rithika Pandey

Anticipatory Disorders by Rithika Pandey

Q. Tell us something about your formal training in art. What’s been your biggest takeaway from the same? 

The intensity of my training in art formally began in my second year of art school while working on a mural project in a metro station in Bengaluru. The persistence and consistency with which I worked helped me discover my personal voice and creative purpose. My contexts for image-making grew bolder because of the incredible mentorship I received during that project. I felt completely fearless and open to the challenges the blank canvas of the wall had to offer me and continued with this process by working on another brief project where I drew inside an entire room (in the same station) that I had painted black earlier. 

During my year off in 2018, I was in Spain and met an incredible artist during my residency in Joya: arte+ecologia who introduced me to Francesco Clemente’s works and advised me to explore the ‘fabrication’ of paintings and formally explore colour palettes further. When I moved to the UK for my final year of undergraduation, I had the honour of being taught by some truly amazing mentors who made me realise how important it was to be conscious of how we approached each and every step in the craft of art making. I became more aware of light, its fragmentation into colours, and the quality of shadows formed in the process. My colour mixing sensibility matured. 

However, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from this experience is to make art from a place of empathy and generousness. Being in the wholesome atmosphere of Wales with such loving and encouraging mentors, while deeply adapting to a momentous transition in my life, truly humbled me. 

Q. How would you describe your approach towards colour in your works?

Colour was always an intimidating subject for me when I started out. That’s why if you look at my earlier works they were mostly black and white. However, I took my time learning the nuances and subjectivities of it and slowly the strength came to support black with surrounding colours to tell a story. Francis Bacon was a key influence in rooting the fear out of me for using colour. I love his deeply complex and saturated backgrounds that almost ingest the subjects without being too overwhelming. It’s a similar case with miniature paintings of scenes from Hindu mythology which I adore so much. You notice how sentient colour can truly become when used consciously. The awareness of using colour is important and that’s something I’m still working on. 

'The Spectrums You Hide In' by Rithika Pandey

The Spectrums You Hide In by Rithika Pandey

Q. Confined spaces seem to be a recurring setting in your paintings. Can you tell us something about how that came to be? And how do you perceive confined spaces in the new normal of lockdowns and quarantines? 

It’s less about a confined space than it is about the domesticity it evokes. It's very linear and what I hope to do with these works is to ‘re-wild’ that sense of space a bit. How can the mystical intervene in the domestic is one of my questions. How can such spaces be disrupted? The presence of bodies and objects in a space can add so much weight to the silence that it once had in its emptiness. All space has a potential for meaning and perhaps life contributes to that meaning. Our current situation in lockdowns has left us wanting more out of the domesticity of our homes. It’s interesting to see how so many of us have increased our interactions with virtual spaces! I just had my degree show in a virtual gallery space which I liked but I couldn’t help feeling a sense of dissonance towards it. “This is great but I don’t feel anything.” A large part of that circle of virtual experiences is still incomplete. So lately in my works I’m attempting to understand the discomforts and dissonances of our interactions with virtual space and communicating through it. 

Q. Birds, reptiles as well as animals both exotic and imaginary also form a constant presence in your paintings. Is it something inspired by your travels?

Absolutely! I’ve grown to become more loving and conscious about incorporating non-human entities within the landscape of my paintings. There are certain psychoanalytic aspects attached to them but besides that it’s very interesting to see how they open up a doorway to a kind of ecological thought. Looking at them connects your thoughts to nature and you begin to think of habitats such creatures occupy. Eventually you put yourself in the frame and understand your relationship to it, realising that everything has arrived to a space of interconnectedness and continuing mystery of the painted narrative. 

'Anxiety Room (Area 10)' by Rithika Pandey

Anxiety Room (Area 10) by Rithika Pandey

Q. Which artists have inspired you most along the way? Outside of the world of art, who or what would you count as your biggest sources of inspiration? 

One of my greatest influences in helping me develop a more abstracted and lucid way of thinking is Haruki Murakami. The surreal, fictional narratives with protagonists experiencing deep moments of dissociation and dystopia in places like libraries where the head librarian sucks on brains, or sheep-men who live in alternate dimensions, drove me to fabricate such realities in my own personal way. There’s certainly something warm and familiar about the dreamy terrains in his books hinting at our own entanglements with the subconscious. I love how the psychological becomes the physical - like geographies the protagonist could explore in order to understand herself. It made sense because of its contemporaneity and my work is a similar exploration of that magical psycho-physical/spatial quality. 

Q. What does a typical day in the studio look like? 

My studio habits have altered lately since the pandemic started, but a typical day in the studio space would begin with stretching my legs and making a list of what needs to be done. That’s just the start. The rest of the day has no linearity whatsoever. The day could stretch for countless hours without stepping outside if I work on a big piece of painting or only last for a couple of hours if it's small. On days when I can’t make work, I go for a walk/run or play around with blocks and other objects I sourced from the curio shop in my area. It’s funny because I oscillate between an extreme lack of structure in my studio practice to a strictly disciplined approach. Maybe that’s how I can truly work creatively, to give myself wiggle room to explore the spectrum of being. 

Rithika in her studio

Rithika in her studio

Q. What are you working on currently? Any upcoming projects that you would like to share with us? 

Currently I’m working on a potential volume of collages and subsequently writings as well which I’m hoping to self-publish as journals/zines and maybe have an online viewing room for. Besides that, I continue to work on newer paintings! 

Q. Apart from making art, what else is keeping you busy nowadays? 

Cooking and watching dogs in the park. 

Q. What’s that one piece of advice that you would like to offer to artists who are just starting out? 

This is a bizarre year for all of us. And strangely enough, there are also historical and contemporary burdens we’re carrying and confronting while keeping in touch with our mental well-being. When you’re starting out as an artist, it's insane how badly you want to find your voice because you feel that’s the only way you can save the world somehow. But it takes time and patience. I’ve been very impatient with myself and almost never took rest or a break from making which took a toll on my mental health. Your creative self can be ruthless with you so being aware of how you speak to yourself in times of anxiety and uncertainty is important. Take rest when you’re tired. Then when you feel better, you can go out and fight for the world once again. :)

'Pure Energy (If Only)' by Rithika Pandey

(Pure Energy) If Only by Rithika Pandey

Words by Shakti Swarup Sahu

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