I have been an exhibiting artist since the mid-nineties and my work has undergone many changes since then. I like it that way. It evolves as I grow and change, as my influences and life experience changes.
At the very beginning of my career, I worked in a digital design studio. This was in the early nineties and it was an exciting time as the Apple Macintosh was just coming into India. While still a student, I had made two experimental animation films, but it was with the mac that I was really able to explore the creative possibilities offered by technology.
I later worked in a leading advertising agency as a graphic designer and gave it up after about three years as I did not feel creatively challenged and thought I was more an artist and less a designer. While at the agency, I had spent a considerable amount of time reading up on pop art and how it influenced contemporary design- in apparel, accessories, furniture and products.
At about the same time, my mother fell ill and was bed-ridden and I decided to work from home. I continued to work as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer while pursuing art and holding exhibitions regularly. I contributed cartoons and caricatures to leading Indian publications including The Times of India group. I also designed and illustrated 9 children's books.
Concurrently, my painting followed the trajectory of surrealism to abstraction and then gradually moved into pop art.
My mother's illness was a major influence in my work and thought process. It kept me stressed and anxious all the time. I learnt Reiki to try to help her as the doctors were unable to significantly improve her condition, and later learnt to meditate, to ease the stress. I started reading philosophy and learning yoga and so began to see how the two were inter-connected as a worldview. I also went to readings of the Indian philosophical texts like the Gita and the Upanishads and read a lot about mind-body medicine. This was around 1996, after which, Vedanta became a major influence and I became interested in spirituality and phenomenology. My work had become abstract by then.
Concurrently, I was writing on art and spirituality and started a comic strip called 'Inside Ouch' which was published in a mind-body-spirit magazine and ran for 5 years. I was also studying modern Indian master abstractionists like Raza and Gaitonde, whose works were rooted in spirituality, as well as exploring my cultural identity as an Indian artist.
When I first learnt Transcendental Meditation I went into it looking for answers and as a
way to relieve stress. As I continued to meditate, I realised that it helped enhance my creativity,
improve my capacity to mentally structure things and led to health benefits, just as my teacher had
told me. I experienced all of this, but wanted to know exactly how it worked.
I was not satisfied with an esoteric or philosophical explanation of how or why it worked nor with the experience of it without a rational explanation. I then started looking for validation in science. I came across theories of Particle Physics, and started equating these theories with ideas from Hindu and Buddhist texts. I soon realised that both (Quantum Theory and the religious texts) said the same thing - essentially, that all matter is energy and all energy is vibration. This is also the basis of alternative vibrational healing methods, like Reiki and Colour Therapy.
I began to use Colour Therapy in my work, exploring the healing potential of colour. My abstract works became very vibrant as I began to use each colour in its most saturated form. This is because I wanted it to be it's purest, unadulterated self. Since each colour has a frequency and vibration of its own, in its pure form, it has the maximum ability to affect the viewer's vibration and change it at a fundamental level. In this way, as an artist I could be instrumental in affecting a healing change within the viewer, through my art. This to me, was the most fulfilling aspect of my abstract work. (My abstract work can be viewed on www.jennybhatt.com. I have kept it as a separate website so as not to overwhelm the viewer with too much information, though both the abstract and pop art are really two sides of the same coin).
Since I have always had a concurrent design practice, I have never viewed art and design as
being hierarchical or completely separable.
I started the 'Tshirt Project' a few years ago, as a way to satirise the art world - it's snobbery, artifice and lack of transparency in both communication and dealings. I designed t-shirts with funny or provocative messages and comments on the then art world and kept wearing them to art openings. It was boom time on the Indian art scene and it caused quite a stir amongst the art community and was covered extensively by media. I enjoyed the ride, but very few understood it for what it really wasa humorous art project that was critical of some of the prevalent practices in the art world at the time.
I soon realised that humour was a large part of my individual artistic voice and wanted to explore it further in my work. My abstract work had become sort of psychedelic by then and I made a humorous digital interactive work for my solo show in 2007/8. I called it MokshaShots. A MokshaShot, by my own definition, is a taste of the sublime. (In Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, Moksha means salvation). Each individual can make their own MokshaShot out of anything they find fulfilling.art, music, a vacation, a muffin or a tequila shot. I created deities or characters that were part of the artwork. In the summer of 2008, I did a residency at the School of Visual Arts in New York. There, I explored the concept and imagery further. This crystallised into the full fledged MokshaShots language, which since then has been in the pop surrealist or neopop genres. Of course, it has been classified in various other, similar genres as well (without my agreement!).
The series was a satirical critique on urban consumer culture. It was called 'MokshaShots Episode 2: Liberation thru' Consumption', which was shown solo in 2009/10. Since then, it has been shown in several parts of the world. I used the mandala form and deity caricatures to critique the way Gods are made out of brands and advertisements function as mandalas or objects of contemplation to acquire the consumer's mindshare.
I had envisioned MokshaShots as an art and design practice. My influences included Yayoi Kusama, Takashi Murakami, Steve Jobs, Mariko Mori and Isamu Noguchi.
My mother passed away in 2011, after being bed-ridden for 15 years. It left me traumatised and confused. I lost my drive, though I kept making new work, both abstract and pop and was unable to let either of the two go. It shook my belief system completely and I was looking for more answers and to find meaning. At the same time, I worked hard to improve my own health and fitness, as the stress of the last couple of years had taken a toll on my health. I was put on a exercise regime, healthy diet and made lifestyle changes that required a lot of discipline. The discipline gave me more balance, structure and perspective and I was finally able to get a holistic view. It was only about a year ago, that I realized that my mother's illness had actually become the driving force behind my work. It was because she was ill, that I was forced to ask questions which led me to insights about the nature of creation, which informed my art. This gave me a great depth of insight into life and thereby enriched my art.
I got my drive back only at the end of 2013, when I reluctantly took a vacation to escape the air pollution in the city, which was making me sick.
In the meantime, encouraged by a gallerist, I had been performing stand up comedy at local venues in the city to ease the stress and to explore humour in yet another form. I was required to think about myself and draw humour out of my life and everyday experiences. This got me thinking about my art process as well. The gallerist later suggested I explore it in the performance art context, which I have been doing.
I came to experience humour and pop art as so much more accessible because they are about everyday things and experiences. Abstract art on the other hand, is subtle, yet isolating in a way as it is more conceptual.
I have now spent considerable time introspecting on my new work and process. I now have more clarity and focus. MokshaShots has changed again - it is more intuitive, simpler and less laboured in concept, process and execution. I enjoy the process much more in it's current form. And I've discovered that humour can be healing as colour! And Moksh is, as philosophy describes it, in the moment, in living and negotiating the simple everyday experiences.
And I am in the process of designing products based on the MokshaShots imagery. And so the journey continues. Hop on, it's all fun ahead!