Halfway through law school, he just knew. Aditya Raj, who’d moved from Jaipur to Delhi for university, knew he’d end up not practising law, but doing art instead. “I had an exhibition in my fourth year of law school, and it was very well received,” he recalls. “That was when I knew this is what I want to do.” Today, his first solo show Sheher, a series of his paintings of places in Delhi, is underway (till 10 October) at Pulp Society, a gallery and printmaking space in the city.
Art wasn’t just something he started dabbling in, in college. When he was little, Raj’s father would bring back art supplies as gifts every time he return from an outstation trip. He’d ensured that his son kept indulging in his love and talent for art. In 2013, Raj started making portraits with charcoal, and began sharing them on the then-popular platform Deviantart.com. Here, he recalls meeting and connecting with many artists, who, like him, were also self-taught.
It was during the Inktober challenge during the lockdown that Raj’s art found viral popularity on his Instagram account @adirajart – he'd started mining nostalgia by posting his sketches of old haunts of Delhi. More recently, he has been making masterful, slightly kitschy paintings of various knick-knacks that '90s children grew up with, also posting them to the same account.
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“For me, Instagram was that platform where I could test audience reaction to my art,” he says, about transitioning from an online community of peers to reaching a wider audience through a more mainstream platform.
Raj, who now takes on about two or three commissions every month, talks about being in love with the work of English landscape artist JMW Turner, the one lesson watercolour has taught him, and newer projects, all inspired by the idea of the city. Edited excerpts.
Describe your current workspace to us.
I have a cute little studio on the terrace of my house in CR Park in Delhi. I have a big desk and an easel on opposite sides and a movable shelf with all the paints. All my in-progress art and not-yet-sold paintings adorn the walls here. I also have a tripod to record my process.
Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?
It has evolved. Especially since I am self-taught, I am reading books, watching YouTube tutorials, and interacting with people. (This reflects in my space.) One realises what works best only after trial and error.
How would you define your daily relationship with this space?
It’s my safe haven. I spend most of my day cooped up with my art so I would say it’s a healthy relationship! I would like to clean up more often though.
Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.
I don’t usually get eureka moments, I think. It’s mostly an idea that I work on a lot — only then does it help me arrive at something. However, one eureka moment did happen last year, when I decided to make paintings about Delhi. That resulted in a series, which became my first solo show, Sheher, which was on last weekend.
If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?
I wouldn’t. I am happy here. Very happy.
What’s the one thing that has always been at your workspace over the years. Why?
White acrylic paint. Always your best friend to erase everything. Also nail polish remover because I always forget to wash my brushes and it’s a blessing to have that handy.
The first artist whose work you followed closely/sometimes imitated. What about them appealed to you?
When we were younger, my mother used to take us to book fairs in Jaipur. I would buy old art books, go through them, and try and imitate what I saw. The English printmaker and Romantic painter JMW Turner was the first artist I fell in love with. The way he played with light in his landscapes was just amazing.
What was the first medium/tool you used in the early years of practice? How has that evolved now?
I started with watercolour since it was easily available. I now use several media, but watercolour is still my favourite. It’s not an easy medium and it’s unforgiving. You can’t make amends once you paint something — I’ve also learnt to stop before over-painting.
Any future projects, collaborations, series, or shows we can look out for?
My Delhi series is currently showing at Pulp Society. Next, I have a Mumbai series which I will exhibit hopefully in Mumbai next year. I am doing also doing a series on all kinds of vendors and hawkers in the city. Lots of things to look forward to.
Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.