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When the studio becomes a sanctuary

For artist Michelle Poonawalla, her workspace in Pune, surrounded by nature, has served as a space for exploration during the pandemic

Michelle Poonawalla's studio at home has definitely seen a lot of work over the two years. Photo: courtesy the artist
Michelle Poonawalla's studio at home has definitely seen a lot of work over the two years. Photo: courtesy the artist

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Butterflies run like a leitmotif through artist-philanthropist Michelle Poonawalla’s works, be it in works like Sky Fall, Twilight or her recent work from 2021, titled Water Reflections. The artist has always found them beautiful and evocative. A graduate of the American College, London, Poonawalla has been greatly inspired by her grandfather, Jehangir Vazifdar, who was a prolific artist too. In an interview with Lounge, the Pune-based artist describes her workspace, and how it has led her to focus on meditative art practices during the pandemic.

Describe your current workspace to us.

My current workspace is my studio at home in Pune. The space is a sanctuary for me surrounded by nature and wildlife.

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

It hasn’t been this way. I usually spend some time travelling between London and India. However, the pandemic has restricted me to one place. My process has also evolved as I’ve started exploring newer larger-format painting and other practices

How would you define your daily relationship with this space? 

The pandemic made me reflect on more meditative practices that I felt were necessary amidst the crisis. I also made an effort to explore more accessible digital practices, which could present my works to a broader audience. The studio has definitely seen a lot of work over the two years.

A view of Poonwalla's studio space
A view of Poonwalla's studio space (Courtesy the artist)

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

I recently made a video called Reflect, which explores ongoing climatic changes as both local and intensely global problems. The work aims to highlight climate issues in both rural and urban South Asian societies, drawing reference to their interconnectedness. A couple of months ago, I worked on a postcard project, which was later displayed at the Asia Triennial in Manchester which also covered themes related to the pandemic and finding hope again.

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

I wouldn’t trade this place for another at all!

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

There are several objects, which have been in my workspace over the years that are important to me for different reasons. I have a marble statue of two open hands which my yoga teacher gifted me—the work brings a calming influence to the space and my process. On a different note there is a Gucci Mickey graffiti bag, which sits in my studio. It helps remind me of my childhood influences and brings a fun creative element to the space.

The first artist whose work you followed closely/sometimes imitated? What about them appealed to you?

The first artist who I admired was my late grandfather Jehangir Vazifdar, a renowned artist, architect and contemporary to many of the great Indian masters including SH Raza, MF Hussain, FN Souza, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta. My grandfather first taught me his ‘uncopyable’ technique where the paints are mixed directly onto the canvas, creating a thick impasto style, which is carved into with a ruler. This results in a textured effect, which is impossible to copy. Since then there have been many artists that I have admired, but I love the works of artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Jeff Koons. I also enjoy street artists like Banksy.

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

I have always painted since I was a small child, spending time with my grandfather. I first formalised my practice studying Interior Design at university in London. And you could say that my first tool was the pencil working on design sketches. Sketching has remained a hugely important part of my practice. Whilst a lot of my work now is in the digital medium, or larger paintings and installations, all my work is first planned and designed as sketches on paper.

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

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