Acclaimed by his friends and fans as one of India’s post-modern expat artists, Ashvin is exceptional in his depth of artistic perception and cosmopolitan representation of spiritual newness. From his humble beginnings as a self-taught artist, he successfully breaks the critical limitations of aesthetics as well as public opinion.
It was Emirati artist and curator Sumayyah Al Suwaidi who spotted Ashvin’s potential and gave him the right nudge to stay on course.
Ashvin dedicates his identity as an artist to the UAE and belongs among the new generation of artists fascinated by symbolic rendering of humanity. He speaks to Weekend Review about reimagining a ruined world through abstract art, the role of emotional intelligence and that being colour blind does not stop art.
What does this solo art show mean to you?
Everything. First of all, it is an absolute honour to be able to collaborate with this new art centre in Abu Dhabi — The Space. It is the first solo by any artist in this venue, hence an anticipated event for both of us. While producing the new series, “The Incessant Ramblings of a Yellow Kind”, I realised that the show is just the tip of the iceberg. I look at it as a privilege to get to know how people react to my work. This is crucial because my mind’s eye sees colours differently. I am colour blind. Precisely red-green and partially blue-green colour blind. I see the spectrum and rainbow more in the shades of greys. Green, brown, deeper hues of red, orange, purple or pink are not exactly how you would see them. They are mute to me.
A solo is the artist’s platform and opportunity to tell exactly where he is at this point in time. That is exactly what I am delighted about because it is all in the journey. I look forward to work with everyone in the scene. Last but not the least it is a tribute to my family and friends who have supported me endlessly.
Do you feel limited as you cannot see most of the colours?
Being able to see only a limited palette has actually ushered more freedom. Like, one cannot be lost in his own home no matter how small or big it is. I am at home when I spot yellow. The feeling when I see this colour in the set is similar to spotting your best friend in a strange city! I am only partially colour blind, not fully, and that is where all the drama unfolds. It would be right to say that more than colours, my interest is in processing emotions differently. Emotions are information. Awareness of your emotional responses help empower one’s individuality. I try and assign a face to the emotion through my paintings.
Can you explain the thought process behind “The Incessant Ramblings of a Yellow Kind”?
Yellow is my favourite colour not just because it is a colour that I identify in its original hue. It is perhaps reflective of a state of joy within each one of us. I want my yellow to take over the viewer and do the abstract talking it is meant to. I echo what Donald Woods Winnicott observed for artists. We are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.
I have used yellow to represent youth as a contemporary cultural medium that breathes life back into an abandoned world of poetic licenses. I seek to create unique experiences for the audience, inviting general viewers, and national and international artists to think without style, form or predictable colour parameters. With abstract forms, I wish to replenish the joys of a free thinking world that is on the verge of a creative breakdown.
Without the commercial pressure of a gallery or the institutional pressure of a museum, artists really have the opportunity to explore and create unique works. I wish to spread this message as well.
What is your preferred medium and tools?
I use mainly acrylic but a lot of my works technically fall under the mixed media category. I love acrylics because it dries up fast and gives me the freedom to proceed to additional layers sooner. Some of my works have three-dimensional geometrical shapes while others have free flowing ink.
Apart from brushes, I use syringes, combs, texturing knives and other unconventional tools that help create the desired visual impact.
Besides paintings, I sculpt and produce upcycled art too.
What is the role of an artist in society?
Art, and culture more generally, is a tool that is absolutely instrumental for the development of society. We expat artists are the essential links that engage the local community of the UAE with the outside world instantly. Art gives everyone the opportunity to not only enjoy the visual display but also interact with the artist. There are few spaces in the UAE where people from all walks of life can come together regardless of age or socio-economic status, to appreciate and progress — that is where an artist belongs.
What are your future plans?
A. I am a part of a group show in October and a few workshops until December. I will also be curating an art-fashion event soon. Next year is busy in the art calendar.
What are your achievements as an artist?
To remain an artist is an achievement in itself. I am indebted to those artists who came forward to open doors for me. I feel blessed to be able to follow my passion for colours despite being differently abled when it comes to seeing the palette. I am lucky my patrons are genuine and progressive.
What was the high-point in your life?
I cannot forget the day I met sitar legend Pandit Jasraj. This was to hand over a commissioned work following his recital in Dubai last year. Panditji read out the verses I had scribbled in my artwork, held my hands and said “God bless you son”. I was so deeply moved that I could not stop my tears ...that were soon accompanied by powerful sobs, all to my embarrassment.
How do you manage your time as an artist and a full-time doctor?
To quote author Phillip Hatfield, “Our career is what we are paid for. Our calling is what we are made for.” One supports the other. I have a busy schedule but with some time-management exercises, everything is possible. I also practice and teach meditation. My activities and engagements are all in symbiosis with the creative parallels I am tuned into.
What are your other interests?
I love horror movies and read almost every fiction I can lay my hands on. I thrive on reading trivia about anything that interests me. When I am not reading or painting I do mostly what men do. I am addicted to my playstation.
Do you face any discrimination as an expat in the art scene here?
I don’t. The fact is that coming to the UAE totally changed my life. I began my career as an artist here. I am an auto-didact. Before coming to the UAE, and while running a busy doctor’s call schedules, I could only attend a few workshops of famous artists such as Achyut Palav. I never thought my abstract strokes could make it to a gallery.
More about the artist
Dr Ashwin Pillai alias artist Ashvin is a general practitioner based in Abu Dhabi. He is also a certified energy healer who practices pranic healing and meditation. He is also fondly called as Docart by art enthusiasts.
Ashvin, born and bred in Mumbai, moved to the UAE in 2009. In 2011, he won the first prize in British Council’s short story writing competition, held to celebrate 200 years of Charles Dickens.
In 2013, he broadened his spectrum in the art scene by being part of a wearable art clothing line and a local art event movement. His works are a part of many shows across UAE galleries, including, most recently, “The Incessant Ramblings of a Yellow Kind” at The Space in Abu Dhabi. His works have been acquired by gallerists and private collectors for resale at many venues in Europe.
Archana R.D. is a Dubai-based senior freelance journalist, who is also a certified advanced energy healer and is known as artist B’lu.