Abirpothi

India’s only daily art newspaper

“Exhibition Texts Confuse the Audience”, Says Experimental Artist Jayesh Sachdev

Jayesh Sachdev is a painter, sculptor, designer, creative entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, and Design Educator. Jayesh is also the founder of the Multi-award-winning label Quirk Box, and Branding Agency Quirk Box Design Studio. Jayesh holds the National Record for having painted India’s largest concept artwork and continues to practice as an internationally exhibited artist. In an interview with the editor of Abir Pothi Jayesh talks about his Journey as an artist and how he perceives art and design.

Iftikar: You talked about concept notes, so I’d like to bring it into a contemporary context. In the kind of art we see today, often referred to as the postmodern age, there’s both art and idea. I’ve seen your artwork; they are beautiful. However, we also encounter artwork that is absurd and abstract. In order to engage a broader audience who may not be art experts, don’t you think we need concept notes and a role for curators becoming increasingly important?

Jayesh: I feel like that is a bit of an age-old way of how people go and see art. When a curator or an artist presents a show, for example, the thing is, in the Indian context, our audience is generally very intimidated by art. This intimidation might stem from the curator providing a narrative of the artist’s interpretation or their own interpretation, which perhaps does not make sense to the audience.

Let’s say, like you mentioned, an abstract work. The artist had a perception and interpretation, the curator had their own, and they talked about this to the audience. The audience, however, might not see it the same way. There may be a white blank canvas, and the artist called it “death” because it’s a white sheet that he imagined it to be. The curator talked very deeply about death through a white painting, but the audience might come and say, “Oh, I see peace,” or “I see white as meditation,” or any such interpretation.

I feel that this can confuse the audience because they might have their own valid interpretations of the work. While it might help for a curator or an artist to talk about their work, I don’t personally think it’s a necessity. I don’t enjoy being asked about the concept of my work, especially when I’m at my own show. I want people to come and share their interpretations of my work. If 50 people come, there will be 50 different interpretations. That, in itself, is the experience of the art—evoking 50 emotions instead of one that I want them to feel or force them to feel.

By allowing the audience to come and let their minds play around and make their own interpretations, you break this intimidation. You convey that there is no right or wrong answer, no single interpretation. While there may be a need in certain contexts for artists or curators to talk about their work, it’s probably a controversial opinion to say I don’t care for it.

Iftikar: All right, yes, I feel that new-age art exhibitions and similar events have to be more engaging. They must include the audience in a more interactive way, and here, technology also comes into play. Talking about technology and the way you presented ‘Utopian Dystopia‘ at Bikaner House, incorporating augmented reality was something new, and we had never seen anything like that before. So, I would like to know, where this inspiration comes from, where is it heading, and what’s coming next.

Jayesh: I’m not the guy who invented augmented reality or such. I saw it somewhere before and found the concept very exciting. I realised my work had the potential to be very layered with augmented reality. I also realised it wasn’t something that was done in mainstream galleries. I’ve seen it in a design setting, but I don’t think many artists explore this fusion of mediums to create a new experience for the audience.

I wanted to experiment and explore the space of augmented reality to see how much more the experience could be heightened for my viewers. Another factor is that at an opening night or for a show at Bikaner House or in Bombay, you might have 200 people for each show’s opening night, and over the course of the week, maybe another 400-500 people come to view your paintings. That’s around 2,000 people from two shows. Considering the large population in the world, how do you get your work to more people?

When you change the medium and add the digital aspect, you take it into a virtual world where more people can access your art without physically being present. The whole augmented reality thing caught on social media and in the virtual world. People could scan a QR code onto my painting, and it would come alive. Everyone started putting it in their stories and on Instagram, etc. It became viewed by so many more people.

The experience of this artwork has reached so many more people now just by adding a new layer to the storytelling. As artists, we want our work to be seen by as many people as possible. This was one way to increase that by adding technology and bringing a new level of curiosity to it. You don’t just come to see a static painting; you come to experience it in a new way. That’s why we go to theatres and cinemas to watch motion graphics. We don’t buy a ticket to sit in a cinema to watch a static photograph; we watch storytelling through motion graphics. That’s what I aim to create in my paintings.

Iftikar: Jayesh, could you tell us about Quirk Box? How did it start, when did the idea come into your mind, and what is happening inside Quirk Box?

Jayesh: Again, it’s back to the medium. I talked about how the general audience is intimidated by art galleries. As a young artist, especially many years ago when I was even younger, I realised that there’s this general gap between the viewer and the artist or the gallery and the viewer. Art is generally perceived to be very elitist, and how do you make it a little more democratic? How do you bridge that space between viewing art, experiencing art, and understanding art? Culturally, we’ve lacked that in a certain way. The culture is relatively new to India, maybe just two decades, 20-30 years at most, which in the historical context of art is kind of new.

In speaking to people, I did realise at that point that not a lot of people go to art galleries, not a lot of people have bought art, and not a lot of people can access or understand it, as you said. So, instead of putting my canvas, my fabric, on which I paint onto a wooden frame and hanging it in a gallery, what if this canvas, this fabric, was hung on your body? Instead of you going to the gallery, you are my wooden frame, walking around the streets wearing my artwork. Now, you are a walking art gallery for me. If I make 100 people wear that fabric, that’s hundreds of people looking at these individuals with my artworks on them, and that’s so much more viewership for my work as an artist, as opposed to just the ones that didn’t go to the art gallery.

By changing the medium of art—on the walls, a painting hung on a frame—and putting it on fabric, making it into a shirt or some people call it a pant, it’s still art to me. It’s still my canvas. The medium has now become a product, but what I’m essentially creating is my artwork on these pieces. I don’t sell fashion; I sell art. I just changed the medium of that art. By making it, I kind of merchandise it in a way where you have 100 shirts and therefore 100 people are wearing my artwork. It becomes more democratic, more accessible, and more affordable to the common man in a certain way.

My reach as an artist has increased. The experience of seeing people wearing and talking about my work has changed. Let’s call it fashion. It has changed the way I sell or show my art. That’s how Quirkbox came into being. It was the concept of changing the medium of art. That’s how it became a fashion brand. It was an experiment, and you know, I tried it, and it kind of just catapulted into an enterprise in a way. Then, we did Lakme Fashion Week, and we did like eight seasons. We dressed Bollywood celebrities, etc. It got its own mileage, its own viewership, and more and more people bought it. I don’t know the numbers, but I’m sure we’ve sold several hundreds of thousands of pieces of clothing over the years. That’s more than any paintings that I’ve sold in my life.

Iftikar: When was this started?

Jayesh: It started in 2011, you know, it’s been 13 years now, and I’d say, fortunate, very blessed, and fortunate to have seen it at its heights. It did become, for lack of a better word, successful, let’s say, in a certain way. It’s been a great ride, obviously. I’d say that the pandemic hit, a roadblock in terms of fashion and all of that. It did pose its own challenges. But from being an artist, you suddenly become a creative entrepreneur, and like I said, it becomes a new learning story for your own chapter. That’s how Quirk Box came into being as the fashion brand, at least of Quirk Box, from changing the medium of art.

Feature Image: Jayesh Sachdev & Rixi Bhatia for Lakmé Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2014

What’s your inspiration?” Honestly, We’re Not Inspired by One Thing; We’re Inspired by Our Experiences, Says Jayesh Sachdev

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