This week we made the trip to Kristin Hjellegjerde/ARTECO Gallery in South West London for a private view of new works from one on India’s most exciting new artists, Radhika Agarwala. A Goldsmiths graduate Radhika, is now making her mark on the London art scene with her solo show “For Two Lovers”. Her works is a peek into an alternate universe that is once as awe-inspiring as it welcoming, as elusive as it is tantalising, always at our fingertips,yet always out of reach.We managed to grab some time with her to find out more about her multicultural ways of thinking and her extraordinary knowledge in art and histories that she has challenged and created a new visual language in her paintings and sculpture.
Wonderful to meet you again, Radhika. As a first question, your work aims to explore the twilight area between landscape and dreamscape. What made you want to venture into this “middle zone"?
Thanks, it’s great to be part of 1883 again as well.
The works dwell not just in this middle zone, but touch upon other mindscapes and consciousnesses as well. For me, they’re like sketches of my dreams, philosophies, and experiences . In her diary, Anais Nin said something that resonated with me very powerfully: "Something is always borne of great excess: great art was borne of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them." I think this is true - every individual piece of art is invested in these abstract ways. Landscapes and dreamscapes are just a starting point to enliven certain moments that I have gathered. I want the viewer to engage in that conversation.
Where did you draw inspiration from for this show?
I draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere - a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum, my job at the Natural History Museum in London, a walk back home, the radio tuned to folk or classical music.
For ’Comrade and the Beast’, I have incorporated flowers from William Morris patterns together with Chintz patterns, a lotus image taken from a street market from my home city, Kolkata, dragons from 19th-century Victorian ornaments, crabs from 17th-century botanical illustrations, and a vulture quietly resting on a snake and admiring at the chaos that is derived from Mughal Miniature paintings.
’Midnight Void I’ is a huge conch floating on a black bed; the image is reminiscent of an object from my childhood which has been with me for fifteen years. It reminds me of many celebrations, as well as the absence of time. ’The Seventh Heaven with The Minerva’ is a playful image, in which I have appropriated imagery from Russian tarot cards, Greek mythology and old Indian woodcut drawings.
Birds and their various symbolic meanings was another arena of interest for this show and I researched and remodeled a whole series of extinct and existing ones and incorporated into my works.
Growing up in India, but studying and living in the USA and UK, has exposed me to different cultures and aesthetics. I have been collecting photographs and objects and documenting my surroundings. I wanted to create a personal visual vocabulary, and portray the world of distorted reality that we dwell in; there is so much literature, music, traveling and walking involved in my life - I tried to bring all these things together and somehow make sense of it.
The paintings for this show have been made in Austria, Turkey, India and London over the span of a year, during different residencies and within cultures and climates that are polar opposites. These paintings therefore largely speak of my nomadic way of living, and the emotions and associations felt along the journey.
How did you come up with the title ’For Two Lovers’? Who are these two lovers?
’For Two Lovers’ seemed like a straightforward title at first, but along the way various complex histories and dimensions were opened up.
Love can be quite an over-hyped and archaic notion, and sometimes the most mundane thing can be the most convoluted to deal with, but ultimately I think it’s a psychological experience that speaks to the duality of innocence and greed. In all my works, I portray similar notions borne from my subconscious mind. I try to convey and understand myths, and am interested in the idea of how masculine and feminine and evil and beauty fuse together. During the time I was creating these works, I started reading Freud’s ’Beyond The Pleasure Principle’ , which deals with the two sides of humanity - life and death and a certain kind of harmony and destruction within humans - that which is significant truth. That’s how the title ’For Two Lovers’ evolved and became a starting point for my solo show.
I want these two lovers to be open-ended and let the viewers experience a metaphysical journey.The concept of two lovers can be interpreted in many ways and I was interested in understanding the viewers’ critique on this. But in the work ’For Two Lovers’, one of them is a projection of myself and the other is my perception of my lover existing between reality and fairytales. There is a sense of belonging and seeking that constantly lingers in our subconscious mind.
Among other influences, botanical illustrations have strongly affected your creative process. I’m curious to know, where does your interest in botany come from?
Yes, botanical illustrations are something I have been fascinated by for a long time. Only now have I had the opportunity to explore its roots. I have been incorporating beasts, birds, and flora into my works, creating a new zoology for myself. Botany gradually became the most interesting among the lot.
’The Garden of Earthly Delights’ happened to be my strongest source of inspiration - I noticed a lot of vegetation, plants and organic forms.
The first book of botany I bought was ’Insects of Surinam’, which tells the true story of a woman in the 17th century who courageously sailed to South Africa to investigate insects and their lives, creating an incredible archive of engravings.
Why the monochromatic palette and the gold gilding? Why did you create such a sharp contrasts?
Because most of the forms and narratives come from classical resources and personal experiences, it came about organically to use a very limited monochromatic palette. I enjoy looking at old photographs and cinema, and all those moments are usually black and white. The stories are dark and with a tone of gold gilded surfaces, they evoke a certain sense of drama and I was interested in this theatrical aspect. I also kept the lights very dim in the gallery again to evoke an intimate stage-like feeling. The gold acts as a source of light, reflecting certain points, and juxtaposed with a monochromatic palette, the dark figures almost jump out of the canvases.
As a last question, what does the future hold in store for you? Do you have any plans for your next exhibition?
I want to continue making a series of sculptures and exploring bronze in more depth, along with painting. I have been invited to do a residency in Serbia this summer, which I’m looking forward. I also have a few exhibitions lined up.
“For Two Lovers” runs until the 20 December 2013 at the Kristin Hjellegjerde/ARTECO Gallery in Wandsworth, London. www.artecogallery.com.
For more info on Radhika go to www.radhikaagarwala.com
Interview by Jacopo Nuvolari
Photography Alex Encore