In faded billboards, he could see what he always wanted to draw. A blurred line, the immensity of negative space and the cramped and compressed city where the artist goes about clicking photos as part of his obsession with time and space and of materiality of things; like used clothes that he compresses to make pillars, boxes, anything. It is like what Jackson Pollock said that painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through, he wrote. Manish Nai, the Mumbai-based artist, who works with recyclable material in a compressed city is looking for freedom. In many ways, the ephemeral patterns formed on the net, which is part of his latest work, is a commentary on the state of temporariness in a city like Mumbai, it’s poor and it’s waste, it’s construction sites and it’s transport trucks.
You work with waste. Why?
For me it’s new material for the work, though it is discarded from daily life. For the last few years I have been working extensively with the old clothes, daily newspapers, cardboard boxes, etc. My practice is to Reuse and to completely transform the core form into something else.
How did you start compressing waste material to make art? What does it mean?
I am trained as a painter. While using jute as a surface for my painting almost 15 years ago which is when I began my art practice, I realized that I could pull out the threads and create patterns as jute is made of vertical and horizontal threads. I started storing discarded thread in boxes and I once opened them and observed the threads had taken the shape of the box and thats when I realized the sculptural possibility of my work. For me it is a very intense natural shift from one dimension to another.
Please tell us about your latest shows and projects and what are you showcasing.
I am coming up with my first museum solo at HetNoordBrabands Museum in Netherlands, which will open on July 28 this year and run through November.
The Prudential Eye Awards held in Singapore named you as one of the best Emerging Artists in the Painting category. You previously said you couldnt and instead photographed the faded billboards of the city. How did you start painting? What is your style and what do you paint about?
The award nominations were a surprise to me because I was nominated in the painting category.
My recent practice is more sculptural but I had decided to send the Billboard photos, which I view as found paintings and these are pure photos but people thought I did some digital work. I had captured them the way they were and represented it in my exhibition.
I started photographing the billboards during the recession, when the advertising agencies were affected and billboards were empty and rain and sun had made their marks. For me, it is the kind of visual which doesnt give complete information and text and numbers are unclear like the economic conditions. It also is symbolic of how an artist thinks of painting as a medium in the current times. There was a time when artists used to paint big billboards by hand and because of the digital world, that practice is extinct. This project was my way of showing the lost traces of those paintings.
I was not satisfied with my skill for painting for I decided to capture the city and the times through the billboards and in this city everything is very high-sound, dust, crowd. This high-volume city forced me to completely reverse the idea of minimal and the blank structures helped me to reduce sounds, it worked for me as a sound controller when I see them.
My work inspirations come from my surroundings and my home, where I found my material for my work surface. The city of Bombay is a visual inspiration. Here, everything happens together. I am amazed by how the city manages itself. For instance, the western suburb near my studio is all semi paper industries and then there are malls, high-rise buildings, and slums. In South Mumbai you have a ship breaking yard, a gunpowder factory and within a 10 minute distance, you have a bustling maze of shops, monumental and historical buildings like BDL museum and Zoo in Byculla, and you will see Colaba, which is a tourist place, the Loksabha and if you walk little bit you see beautiful marine drive sea. So everything is together in this city.
How did you decide to become an artist? What were your first creations? What were they inspired by? How did you get your first break?
I was not aware that to become a painter I have to go to art school, so my father guided me and he put me in art school 25 years ago. My home became my muse and in my final year, I was invited to participate for monsoon show in Jahangir art gallery.
Why do you compress clothes? What does it signify?
I started with jute for my sculptural practice and then moved on to other material that is discarded in daily life in India.
My mother used to gather and store the old clothes to give to some ashram for charity and I saw in the store, a big stack of old clothes.
I started out with doing small cubes with some of my family clothes but later I decided to make large works with used clothes.
So I started asking for discarded clothes within my community and then I sourced from Chor Bazaar. Making sculptures with clothes is a very physical and labor-oriented work and my work is more about reusing and reprocessing.
What is your new show about? Is there a narrative?
My new show is an inclusion of my 10 years of work practice. It shows development from one dimension to another like painting to sculpture.
What is the meaning of invisibility in art? What is silence and absence and how do you channelize them into your art?
This is difficult to explain because it is about an experience while making the work than talking about it, but I am interested in mimicking my work. Like for instance when you see my wall mural work, it is painted in such a way that it looks like it is an engraving or the wall is scratched. It is a play of shade and light and distance. In wire mesh, I am trying to create a kind of temporary vision which changes when you walk towards it and it lets the viewer forget the core material by giving a visual impact.
We use this mesh in our homes on the windows to protect ourselves from mosquitoes. I observed that when two framed slides of mesh overlap, there is some kind of temporary visual play without any effort and I wanted to bring this to notice to the viewer.