What goes on inside an artist’s studio? How does everyday material acquire a powerful language in deft hands? These are some of the questions that cross viewers’ minds every time they visit an exhibition or behold an artwork. Studios often hold many clues to an artist’s mind. They contain objects that have served as inspiration for a work and borne witness to the frenetic activity that precedes the completion of a project. Today, as artistic practices expand in scope and disciplines—bringing in technology, design, speculative architecture and gaming into the fold—the nature of each has also become fluid and amorphous. The usual image of a studio no longer holds true.
As the art ecosystem in India undergoes rapid changes, with new dynamism, mediums and vocabularies coming in, leading contemporary artists are now offering a glimpse into their studios to help us make sense of the transformations. While for some the workspace is a sanctuary, for others it is almost like a laboratory. And for some others, the studio is a mobile space that they carry within themselves. The artists also hope to demystify the romanticised notion of a studio that many of us carry—as a site of glamour and mystique. Rather, they give a lowdown on the logistics, the daily rigour and the laborious processes behind their practice—whatever the medium be, coding, video, painting or installation—and what keeps them going. For this series of stories in the Lounge annual art special, we visited studios of seven leading contemporary artists to understand the objects and encounters that have informed their unique visual language, from sculpture to painting, gaming, design and sound. Here is the first in the series of seven:
Delhi-based artist Valay Gada has long explored the fragile relationship between man and nature in his work. Be it his triptychs or large sculptures, each looks at small ways in which nature reclaims the urban scape. His 2020 series of paintings, Seeds For An Uncertain Future, made use of ink on photographic paper and featured abstract forms, sediments and seeds. It was a message of hope and resilience in a world under threat from global warming and was featured by the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway. From the onset, Gada has realistically rendered remarkable botanical forms. His 2023 work Cymbidium tigrinum is one such example, with exquisitely shaped petals and pistils of polyurethane paints on brass.
The inspiration comes from the microcosm of wilderness that Gada, 44, has created within a space in Sainik Farms, Delhi, which serves both as his home and studio. These days, you can find him pressing bougainvillaea flowers to make paper, or sitting in the garden making maquettes and painting his sculptures. Gada moved to this rented space three years ago, and was fascinated by its landscape, built areas, some in-between plots and pockets of vegetation. For someone born and brought up in Mumbai, this space came as a sanctuary. “The tallest things in sight are trees and not skyscrapers,” says Gada, who works between design and art, and is increasingly moving towards the latter.
Over three years, he has added a green touch by growing lots of plants there. “At the time that I moved here, my practice was undergoing breaks, as post-covid-19 lockdowns, a lot of uncertainty had crept in. I was questioning which direction I was heading towards. I have always been interested in gardening. My mom tells me that when she was pregnant with me, she had a weird frenzy of collecting flowers. It’s bizarre how that has emerged as a big thing in my life now.”
Unlike the manicured gardens of his neighbours, Gada prefers the wild touch of nature. Plants that gardeners throw out from other homes, he sows them. “In a way, my garden is a salvaged one. There are lots of DIY elements in it; for instance, I have built my own arches,” he says. On one of his walks through the adjoining biodiversity park, he found a fibreglass bathtub. He brought it back and planted water lilies and lotuses in it. “It has become a microcosm. While you let the plants grow, you also have a bit of control in their nurturing, giving me a semblance of order in a chaotic life.”
In the past few years, gardening and art practice have become intertwined. Take the bathtub, which serves as an inspiration for his forthcoming show opening on 22 March at Gallery Espace in Delhi. Over time the water got covered in algae. Whilst cleaning it, he couldn’t stop thinking of the term, “cloud pruning”, which means shaping hedges into spherical cloud shapes. “They are actually quite ugly,” laughs Gada. “However, to me, cloud pruning is a mental thing. Clouds tend to obstruct vision, so when you prune them, you achieve clarity,” he says.