How did your interest in art begin?
Ever since I can remember I wanted to be an artist, my father is an amateur artist, also my grandparents, and I’ve never really wanted to do anything else. I went to art college, to Central St Martins where I did illustration, and then moved to Dubai shortly after that, which was 17 years ago. When I arrived here the market for illustration was very different, I worked as a photographer and stylist and did small illustration jobs whenever they came up. About five years ago I decided to return to my roots and Dubai’s illustration market had grown in the meantime and so I hit upon the idea of illustrating weddings, of creating an epic story painting that captured all the nuances of the day, and this led to illustrating corporate functions, private commissions, and then collections of my own paintings.
What has the response been to your exhibitions in the past?
My last collection was bought by a German collector who exhibited the series in a monastery in Frankfurt. It was fantastic to have all the paintings bought together, and it was really beautiful to see all the paintings together as part of a larger exhibition and in some strange way it’s nice to know that the whole collection is staying together! It also gave me a presence in Europe which is good.
Jhakaas Mumbai launched in mid September, tell us about the opening?
I have been absolutely thrilled by the response, and what was so lovely is that there were so many people from Mumbai at the launch of the exhibition, which was amazing. It was funny, a lot of people expected me to be a man from Mumbai, and then they turn up and see me, a British woman, which in some ways is very flattering that they thought that I captured the city so well I was obviously a local! I had some really interesting conversations with people at the launch about the evolution of the city, which is fascinating.
How did the idea for this Jhakaas Mumbai collection come about?
My previous exhibition had been called Social Scene, also held at Mojo Gallery, and I decided that I wanted to take my subject matter out of Dubai, but still retain the same concept of capturing a moment in people’s lives. Having friends in Mumbai and hearing all about the city, it seemed a great place to start.
What were your expectations of Mumbai?
When I went there initially, I expected to be really inspired by the weddings, the grandeur, the glamour and Bollywood but when I got there I got more excited by the vibrancy of the lifestyle of ordinary people, the decorated cars called padminis, the spirituality everywhere – in fact all different religions live side by side, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and this is evident everywhere you look. I was also really struck with how the animals were roaming around the streets with the people, and to mix them together felt like a really happy place.
How did you translate what you experienced of Mumbai into artwork?
The friends I was staying with are photographers and they took me everywhere and showed me everything. I took millions of photos and while I’m taking the photographs I’m very aware of how I’m taking them, the angles I’m using, which stories to weave together. For instance, when I saw a priest in his flowing robes sitting cross legged on some steps, taking a break and playing with his phone, I knew that he would be a main character in one of the pictures. So when I’m in the location I can create the idea of the composition and then when I get home I spend hours and hours looking through the pictures about a million times and working out who the key characters will be, and what the key elements will be and then how to knit it together. There is a lot of spontaneity when I’m actually painting, but it’s based on a structure that I always begin with.
What are some of your particularly memorable moments in Mumbai that have made it into your paintings?
Seeing Mumbai for the first time I perhaps picked up on details that you don’t necessarily see when you live there or know the city well: dogs, chickens, even swans wandering around, mothers combing their babies’ hair, colouful bowls, lanterns, jumbles of electrical wires, crows. . I once walked past a TV shop, which had lots of old-fashioned bulky TVs piled on top of each other, and I thought it would be a great basis to express my own perceptions of the city by putting my own pictures on each of the screens, which was the concept of my picture Mumbai Drama Series. I wanted to portray the welcoming nature of the city as well, the happiness.
You have also included seven car paintings in this collection, talk us through them?
On another day I saw a man sitting quite happily on the back of a heavily decorated old car, with his feet tucked underneath him, and a goat wandering on by and it looked really beautiful next to the rough walls and street signs, and there even was a sign near it saying ‘everyone has a reason to pray’ and that sparked my inspiration. This car series is quite graphic really, this was a bit of a new move for me, and I included hints of collage here and there too to give the pictures another dimension.
How have your art or techniques evolved in this particular collection?
Whereas my previous paintings have usually depicted glamour or luxury surroundings, I wasn’t drawn to that in Mumbai, instead I focused on the lifestyle there, which I found really beautiful, unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Stylistically, I’m using much more vibrant colours to suit the vividness of Mumbai. Colour really is everywhere there, from the rich textiles, to glittering decorations, so I became inspired to use a much more electric neon palette. I introduced neon acrylic sheets to this series, which brought a whole new dimension to the work. I collaged directly onto them, applied a little bit of spray and then floated them in glass. And they have a really incredible effect. I then drew directly onto clear acrylic sheets, which created shadows on the wall, like a wire effect.
You talk about spraying paint, which you do in a number of your paintings, how did you begin using this medium?
My work always starts with a black ink line, and then I have only recently started adding in these bursts of colour; actually it’s very spontaneous, for instance in the painting Liberty Cinema, the lady’s hair was so black it almost looked blue in the light, so I sprayed it blue, making it the only colour in the composition and I think it works well, completing the picture. It’s ironic, the cinema gave me special permission to come in and take pictures and I took millions, and it was this incredible art deco cinema, and the colours were astonishing, rich reds and gold that saturated the whole cinema and then the picture ended up as this very simple black line drawing that didn’t show any of that! So I think I will be doing another one soon!
Before you hit on the successful blend of acrylic, spray paint, ink etc. how much experimentation goes into it?
I knew that this combination would work before I started so I choose my materials because of that, sometimes I have had a few goes at things that don’t work. Experimentation is imperative, to really know how materials work and what you can do with them is very important.
How would you describe your style?
I would say that the subject matter always stems from people. I was telling someone at the exhibition launch that it was reportage, but they said that sounds too documentary-like for what it actually is, but I think I meant that I like to capture a moment in a situation or in people’s lives in its entirety, to see everything that is happening in a single scene. It’s my interpretation of people within environments. I have two styles really, the very simplistic black ink line drawings, or the very detailed, complex paintings that show the art and the beauty in everything, but I also try to include lots of white space to give the details their breathing space. There’s a lot going on, whimsical elements, true to life elements.
How do you feel about your art being labelled caricature?
I don’t mind how people classify my art, people do seem to feel a need to put a label on everything and put it into a box, I’m not offended when people say it’s like caricature, it captures the essence of a person. I think it’s more difficult nowadays to classify art so easily as before, it does spill over into different genres. The most important thing for me is that someone likes it, how they respond to it, how they view it.
There’s a surreal aspect to your paintings, are you a surrealist fan?
I adore Dali, when I visited his museum in Spain, it just blew me away, it was the best I have ever seen. When you see prints or postcards of his work it can look quite odd or gimmicky, but when you see it in person you appreciate how hard he worked, how witty he was, it was incredible, how the whole town survives on him and his art, it is so surreal and incredible. I had no idea how mind-blowing art could be close up.
What is your personal taste in art?
My own paintings! No, I love so many things, I am a huge Klimt fan, The Kiss in particular, I was drawn to that when I was young and I adore it, I would love to have the original of that! Also Audrey Beardsley has been a major influence on my work, I think he was amazing.
What art do you buy for your own home?
I’m actually more into furniture at the moment, that’s why I read InsideOut all the time!
We’re pleased to hear it! So is this the start of a whole new series of city-inspired collections?
Yes absolutely. I’m on the lookout for the next place to base the collection on, I’m thinking about the Far East, but this is still very tentative – basically wherever I have friends around the world that I can stay with and they can show me around the city, then I’ll consider it!
Jhakaas Mumbai will be at Mojo Gallery, Al Serkal Avenue, Al Quoz until the 31st October www.themojogallery.com