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For Rahul Baswani, a cluttered desk is a creative stimulus

Artist Rahul Baswani on how he fell into art through comics introduced to him by his uncle, why he works in a disorganised space, and more

Rahul Baswani at his workspace.
Rahul Baswani at his workspace. (Courtesy Rahul Baswani)

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There is a reflective and introspective quality to Rahul Baswani’s watercolours. At Gallery Threshold, New Delhi, as part of his recently concluded solo show, Bohemian Rhapsody, one came across images of dark forests, with just a slight opening within the trees, leaving the scenes that lay further to the viewer’s imagination. There is an animated quality to some of his works, such as ‘Midnight Surf’, where Baswani creates a palpable movement of the waves lashing on the beach at night.

It was happenstance that led the Gurugram-based artist towards art. Though his day job remains as an executive coach and leadership facilitator, comics and watercolours call out to him. Baswani grew up on a hearty dose of comics such as Phantom and Superman, and started drawing short comic books, which would be circulated in the school bus. His uncle, actor Ravi Baswani, introduced him to Tintin and Asterix, and to the sounds of Cat Stevens and Moody Blues.

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One day, when he got home Frank Frazetta’s art compilation, Baswani couldn’t take his eyes off the works. Later, in 1992, his 52-year-old father, while being posted in Arunachal Pradesh, discovered a talent for painting. He gave Baswani oil paints and paper, and the young boy painted a copy of Frazetta’s ‘Death Dealer’. Though his engagement with art has evolved over the years, the lockdown induced by the covid-19 pandemic gave further direction to it. He started painting with a greater focus and found peace in the process.

In an interview with Lounge, Baswani shares some of his key influences and the relationship that he has with his workspace.

Who are the artists that you follow closely? What about them appeals to you?

There are many artists who I admire and am a fan of. Then there are those whose works I find a connection with. Amongst the artists I have literally followed are Anandjit Ray for his very relatable imagery. He and I clearly have shared interests, be it comics or animals. Paramjit Singh for his ability to make forests and habitations come alive whether through oils, charcoals or pastels. Jagannath Panda’s sculptures, especially birds and animals, speak to me a lot.

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

HB pencil was my weapon of choice as a child, largely because there was no choice. Then there were sketch pens and markers till I graduated to fountain pen. Initial art as a school kid was doodling and trying to recreate superheroes and wild animals. My first and only painting was a copy of Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer done with oil paints on paper. Again, ignorance and lack of choice were the operating factors. My father had started painting and discovered a knack for it. I had time on hand and he gave me paints and a thick sheet of cartridge paper.

I started buying stationery and art material once I could afford to. Art material just sat there. When I did finally take my wife’s counsel of making material accessible – it got put to work. Once again, it was an unintended outcome of the lockdown when the business part of my room shrank, and the studio section expanded.

Describe your current workspace to us

It’s a 10X12 room, which serves as my office. Being messy does not help my cause but I have learnt to optimise by wedging sheets of ply into drawers of cupboards to create unreliable but functional easels. It is true that accidents have happened and changed the direction of several artworks. Fortunately, all roads have ended up in Rome.

What is your relationship with this space?

My morning starts here. Its a workspace that is overcrowded and disorganised. Being imaginative, the clutter acts as a stimulus. Dots connect and ideas run wild. It’s like a rodeo inside my head where I try to lasso the possibilities into priorities. And yet, once the dust settles, this space offers me peace within its mess. My mind finds order in that chaos. I take the first sip of tea, and settle down.

Midnight Surf; oil pastel on paper, 11 x 16 in.; 2020.
Midnight Surf; oil pastel on paper, 11 x 16 in.; 2020. (Courtesy Gallery Threshold)

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

My friend Jason Fraser, who would take me to the Australian Rules Football games, presented me with a prized possession – an official Richmond Tigers team ball. Our team would lose, and we would drown our sorrow in beer as tradition behoves. The team sponsor was an insurance company, which had a winning tagline ‘Drink, Drive, Bloody idiot’. A very Aussie way to deliver a message. This ad campaign was the subject of a research paper I did for the marketing unit of the MBA I was pursuing (besides managing my cousin’s restaurant) in Melbourne. This old football represents happy memories, and being proudly made in India, has always occupied a pride of place since returning in 1996.

What's next for you?

Oil painting, sculptures, printmaking are all on my wish list. I have to be careful though because the day job too is getting busier and I do love what I do. With the new house we have moved to – I have space for oils and that seems to be a logical next one for me.

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If you could talk about the influences that Frank Frazetta has had on your aesthetic sensibility?

The Frazetta book, which I came upon in 1980, stunned me. I had not imagined such art. I had seen rock albums and sci-fi book covers but not imagined it as art. Frazetta had done all kinds of illustrations and covers but this compilation presented his art. I was in love with the genre before I knew it was fantasy art. I find artwork of Campfire comics interesting, which is drawn by illustrators, many who have done artwork for video games. With time I have grown out of the genre but not entirely. I still hope to develop my skill at drawing anatomy and create powerful, action images.

What is it about watercolours that appeals to you?

I have always loved watercolours, especially the wash technique. And I hope to learn it formally at some stage. Watercolours can be unforgiving. They require the discretion of knowing when to stop. It’s a bit of a life lesson there. And another lesson is how to redirect the narrative when your efforts are literally washed out.

Thoughts on the show you just had?

The show is a dream! Two years ago, just the impudence of putting my works in a frame was victory enough. Last year, I was content being an artist, an audience and an indulgent critic at my own mini gallery in the office. Then Tunty [Chauhan, founder of Gallery Threshold] asked me to cross the threshold. This show represents less of art for me but more of the self-acceptance I have acquired which allows me to put myself out there.

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

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