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Enjoying The Everyday – Sameer Kulavoor

Design Log 28 Jun

For this week’s log we spoke with Sameer Kulavoor about his latest project ‘The Wall of Simple Pleasures’ inspired by his recent travels and epiphanies.

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Meet Sameer Kulavoor, a visual artist living and working in Mumbai, founder/director of Bombay Duck Designs and co-founder of 100% Zine. His work lies at the intersection of contemporary illustration, graphic design and art. And some of his projects have manifested in the form of books, zines, art-prints, murals, t-shirts, objects and exhibits. The Wall of Simple Pleasures at The Imagine Studio at The Trees is one such.

Through 2016 and early 2017 Sameer was saturated by what was going on with work and life in Mumbai. So he decided to take a sabbatical and travel extensively across South East Asia. “Through the trip I was painting with gouache everyday - something I hadn't ever done before. My subjects weren't historical monuments or grand scenes but regular/simple local observations (like Vietnamese workers in orange fixing a light post, foldable wooden loungechairs on the beach at Ko Samed, enamel mugs and jackfruits in Bangkok, and so on). You expect some kind of epiphany to happen when you take off like that and it is quite the cliché - but the trip did give me perspective and helped simplify life when I got back."

Godrej's GPL Design Studio reached out to Sameer a few months back with a very unique open brief, and suggested that he do something with a wall as his space. “It really helps to have the trust of the people you are working with - in this case Godrej - who showed complete faith in my ideas. I wanted to maintain the painting momentum that I had gathered during my trip. So this turned out to be a perfect opportunity. During my meeting with Godrej after my return, I suggested the idea of highlighting the beauty of simple everyday acts in full colour. It fit well with their own philosophy and they were happy with the core concept. My travelogue from the trip helped them get a sense of the colour palette and how it would all play out,” says Sameer.

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With regard to process and method, Sameer followed the same principle of simplicity, albeit rather brilliantly. “Instead of treating this as one large wall I thought of breaking it down into multiple paintings and treat the space like a gallery - complete with frames around the paintings. But the frames were also painted. The shadow of the framed paintings on the wall were also painted!” he says. Some of the paintings were bent into corners and wall edges, which made it all feel a bit surreal in a sense. And the paintings themselves were painted instinctively and rapidly after developing small thumbnail sketches for composition.

When you see the mural for the first time, you get particularly taken by the simplicity of it all. The paintings were those of people reading, writing, cycling, eating, animals gazing into the sky, plants sitting on a table, and so on. I was immediately curious to find out how Sameer chose the concept and objects.

“Most of the instances are omnipresent familiar scenes that we all see and are a part of. I took these regular scenes and 'glorified' them in a way through these paintings. Some of the ideas were site specific - references to the Vikhroli mangroves, the kind of foliage and structures that we see around the site. One of the paintings has my drawings from the 'Please Have A Seat' series on the wall in the painting,” says Sameer.

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The shorter wall opposite the main wall of paintings is a 'contributors’ wall' which shows work-in-progress images of the property development crediting the architects, planners and artists involved. “They were happy with me painting a self-portrait which shows the main wall behind me mirrored in it, with miniature versions of the paintings of the main wall,” he adds.

When we look at work in a gallery setting, we are conditioned (fortunately or unfortunately) to think deeper than what is obvious on the surface. So Sameer wanted the viewer to get into in the paintings and consider the value of simple pleasures in modern complicated life.

“The simplicity and detail of David Hockneys work is hugely inspiring for me and I used this opportunity to understand his process, his colour palette and his way of 'seeing'. (I have also made one painting of his spectacles - as a dedication to him),” he says.

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Regarding process, he usually has the basic idea thought through and some rough thumbnail drawings or notes in place. Everything else is improvisation. This was the case with Magnetic Majestic mural in Bangalore, The Grid mural in Chennai and the High Five mural at Artisans' Kalaghoda. “Having the whole thing planned would be terribly boring for me. And I have been extremely fortunate to have people trust me with this kind of working method,” he says.

Sameer does dabble in different avocations which in ways rub off on his work - such as music, architecture, travel, culture, sociology and even politics. “But that doesn't have to mean that I am actively involved in all of it. I try to be aware of what’s going on around me. But when I am creating, I like to be wholly immersed in the act,” he says.

Finally, on being asked what he loves about simplicity the most, he says, “There are surprisingly interesting and thought provoking stories/symbolism behind seemingly simple things - and that is what I find the most intriguing.”

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Design Log is a weekly design document logging every relevant art and design occurrence in India.

Image source: Sameer Kulavoor