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For artist Urvashi Adhye, the canvas is her work station

For 31-year-old Urvashi Adhye, making Gond- and Madhubani-inspired art means joy and learning from artists like Bhajju Shyam and Dulari Devi

Urvashi Adhye has three different workspaces – when in Bengaluru it's her living room, and when in Pune, it's either her mother’s dining room or mother-in-law’s garden. 
Urvashi Adhye has three different workspaces – when in Bengaluru it's her living room, and when in Pune, it's either her mother’s dining room or mother-in-law’s garden.  (@urvashiadhye on Instagram)

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The first time Urvashi Adhye made a work of art inspired by the Gond tradition, she was 21. Her father had received a greeting card with a pair of birds on it, made by a Gond artist. Fascinated, Adhye replicated the painting on canvas and gifted her version of it to her then boyfriend and now husband.

“It now hangs in our home,” she says.

Three years ago, the 31-year-old Bengaluru resident decided she’d had enough of the corporate life — she had studied hotel management and pursued a career in it for eight years — and took a break. Adhye was always drawn to art as a child, and in October 2019, she finally started joyfully indulging in her hobby again. Then, it turned serious.

Also Read: Artist Pia Alizé Hazarika carries her workspace on her back

“It had been eight long years since I had made anything of substance,” she recalls, “and when I started again, I began sharing small artworks on my Instagram page.” Soon, her aunt reached out to her – drawn to one of the pieces, she’d requested Adhye to make a larger piece for her. One thing led to another, and now this is what Adhye does full time — she paints custom folk-art-inspired pieces on order.

Adhye prefers to roll out canvases on the floor and work on them.
Adhye prefers to roll out canvases on the floor and work on them. (Courtesy Urvashi Adhye)

“I started painting (Gond- and Madhubani-inspired work) only after I decided to take up painting full time," says Adhye, noting that she “would love to learn about more of our art forms”. So far, however, she’s stuck with experiments influenced by Gond and Madhubani since “they bring a lot of joy”.

Currently, she is fascinated by the idea of combining different textures and colours, and is “exploring how embroidery can be made a part of” her paintings.

In this interview with Lounge, Adhye talks about painting, learning from veterans of various Indian folk art forms, and how sometimes, her workspace is on top of her canvas itself. Edited excerpts. 

Since you’re sticking with Gond and Madhubani art, who are the artists in each of these forms you follow closely or sometimes imitate? What about them appeals to you?

When it comes to Gond, I really look up to Bhajju Shyam and Durgabai Vyam. In Mithila and Madhubani art, I really like the work of Dulari Devi, Bharti Dayal and Santosh Kumar Das. Also I must mention Heraman Urvetiji — I learnt a lot of the basics of Gond from him in an online class. How they use colour and how their compositions are built to tell a story really appeal to me.

I also admire how down-to-earth they all are. For example, I remember, I once had a doubt about something very fundamental in Mithila art. I had heard its explanation in one of Bharti Dayal ma’am’s interviews, but (couldn’t find it). So, I reached out to her on Instagram, thinking it’s a long shot. But she replied with a detailed explanation. She didn’t have to — she didn’t even know me. But that’s just how humble they are, absolutely no air about their achievements.

What was the first medium/tool you used in the early years of practice? How has that evolved now?

It all started with a box of crayons when I was three! Now, it has evolved to acrylics, brushes and canvases.

Describe your current workspace to us.

My current workspace is my living room. Since my childhood, the living room has been a very central part of my life. Family gatherings, movie nights, endless conversations, morning coffee — I associate everything positive with this space. Which is why I love painting here as well.

There is a large bookshelf, and a lovely Mata Ni Pachedi on one of the walls. There is also a large coffee tablem which I use as my workstation. My dog, Zoey, is always around, there is usually music playing, and sometimes, I have my favourite shows playing the background.

Also Read: Why a table-and-chair can be counterproductive to creativity

You’ll usually find me crouched over my canvas, which I roll out on the floor. Since its usually a size so big that I need to sit on it in order to reach some parts of it, the floor is most convenient.

I do have a dedicated room as my studio, but I hardly work from there. It’s mainly used to store all my supplies.

Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?

It changes more than evolves. When I am in Bengaluru, it’s my living room. But when I am in Pune, my hometown — quite often now — it’s a mix between my mother’s dining room or mother-in-law’s garden. But painting on the floor remains a constant.

Even as a child, when I used to study, I’d never used my desk. I used to study in bed or sit cross-legged on the floor. Somehow even the idea of working at a desk is very uncomfortable to me. But to ensure that my spine remains a friend, I'm trying to make it a habit to use a table to paint.

Adhye on a canvas in the garden.
Adhye on a canvas in the garden. (Courtesy Urvashi Adhye)

How would you define your daily relationship with this space?

Since it’s my living room, it shifts. During 10 am to 5pm, its like my coworker who has seen all my triumphs and failures. Post that, it’s that friend who you curl up with while sipping on your favourite beverage, sharing, venting and chatting about everything under the sun.

I spend so much time there that sometimes it gets a bit much and I look for a change of space. But then eventually I come back to it.

What's the one thing that has always been at your workspace over the years. Why?

A window. It’s very important for me to have natural light while I work. I need to be able look up from what I am doing and have a view of the outdoors. Even at my last job, I made sure my desk was near a window. My living room has a lovely balcony through which light just floods in, and it’s the reason I love to work from there.

Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.

Although the execution of all those ideas happens in this space, most of my eureka moments happen everywhere but here. This space has seen me achieve one of my biggest artworks, a 6x5 ft Madhubani/Mithila painting depicting Varanasi.

If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?

Right now, I wouldn’t change it for anything! But ask me again a few months later.

What’s next for you?

I am doing a fun collaboration with fellow artist and friend, Shibani Dhavalikar. She is a ceramics artist and we are thinking of how (we can) come together to create something beautiful. Also, I love painting large canvases, and the biggest I’ve done is a 6x5 ft Madhubani. Going forward, I really want to make wall murals.

Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.

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