From rudhacharya's The Black Figure series
There is a rare stillness in the works of mathematician-artist Anirudh Acharya aka rudhacharya, who combines photography, digital art and painting to create vivid imaginary landscapes. An ode to the Sea, the Moon and the human psyche, he weaves poetry in the most understated ways, earning him a huge fan following on Tumblr and the Internet in general.
His world of black and white landscapes, often hiding a lone figure or a moonlit fish, traverses between the dream and wake state, lending it an other-wordly surreal quality. With his first official showcase in India set to take place at Space 118’s open house this Saturday, June 2nd, he spoke to Design Fabric in-depth about memories of childhood that influence his work, his love for the Upanishads and the Indian connection that is so strongly yet subtly rooted in his art.
Your blog states that your work focuses on ‘an inevitable sense of the perishable’. Do you find beauty in that truth?
The work should evoke an emotion, say loneliness, as a primary response and as a secondary response, it might reference something philosophical. All my work draws from a sense of melancholy that I cherish and that comforts me. For example, if it’s raining outside and you’re sitting inside your home and watching it, there’s a certain contrast between the dry warmth inside and the cold rain outside. For me, that comes with a deep sense of melancholy. It’s an awareness of everything being perishable yet it is not overwhelmingly sad for me.
Some people also like to categorise my work as surreal. I’ve read André Breton’s essay on surrealism and I’m pretty far from it. But I like the whole idea of creating dreamscapes that Dali and other surreal artists have worked with.
The Glass Bead Game and Inferring from our existence from the series Milk of the Moon
Where does your love for the arts come from? Has it always been a form of expression in your life?
My parents have always been encouraging of art; my father dabbles in painting occasionally, my mother likes drawing. Plus, my father works in the paper industry, so we always had tons of free paper at home. I’ve been drawing and making caricatures since I can remember, and got good at it without any training. But it was just a personal hobby; I never thought much about it. When I was in the 10th grade, I got the idea of being an artist in my head. I ended up pursuing science, knowing I’ll get back to art later.
In 2015, I went to pursue my PhD in Mathematics from The University of Nottingham, U.K. It’s almost a stereotype that the life of a PhD student is lonely, you’re in a different country, and have anxieties from a hundred different sources. I was drawing during this time and came across digital art because it saved me money from buying canvas and paint. That's when I dug up some old photographs and started reworking them to try and extract the essence in an abstract manner.
Take me through some of your influences that find their way into your work.
In terms of literature, I read a lot of Indian philosophy, especially the Vedanta, specifically the Mandukya Upanishad, which is the central text of the Advaita philosophy and talks about the relationship between what we perceive as individual soul and the ultimate duality that exists. I grew up in a house full of books on Vedanta, so it’s always interested me and I find it incredibly poetic and beautiful. I’ve also tried to read all of Herman Hesse and Nietzsche's works.
You seem fascinated by the Sea and the Moon in your series 'The sea in our stories'? Where do these landscapes come from?
Some are from places I’ve actually been to, some are just imagined. I’ve noticed that a lot of the photographs I use have associations with my childhood. The beach or endless landscapes of sand, for instance, keeps coming up because I spent my formative years growing up on the beaches of Chennai, which seeped in subconsciously.
I feel the same affinity to terraces - I’m obsessed with a certain kind of terrace seen in old Indian apartment complexes from which you can see the canopies of gulmohar trees. Every time I imagine terraces, it’s at night with the Moon rising. Everything for me is somehow related to my love for the Moon. My earlier works were just pitch black with the Moon being the only source of light.
The Moon and the Sea keep are recurring motifs in rudhacharya's work, as can be seen in the series The Sea in our Stories
You have also played around with a figure in some of your works. Who is The Black Figure in your series?
It’s no one in particular. It started as an abstract representation of myself in the landscapes but I didn’t want to associate too strongly with it by depicting a definitive figure. When you put in a figure, it takes up the position of the viewer in that landscape, which I didn’t want. A viewer can place themselves more freely into the landscape if there’s no figure in it. It allows them to create their own story around the image.
What is the process you follow for visualising and creating art? Are there certain triggers that spark off imagery for you?
I generally have one or two reference images, which I select based on some element in it that appeals to me. It’s more of an instinct than a calculated decision. I work on it with Photoshop, remove the figures, change the light and bring out the essential features that continue to trigger that initial feeling and get rid of everything superfluous. The secondary stages are informed by the landscape - something about the lighting, placement steers what sort of figure should go there.
These days, I can’t get myself to work on a piece continuously. It might take me six to eight hours over two to three nights. Sometimes I have to distance myself from it to get a better perspective. But I try to publish at least one artwork a week.
'The Black Figure series represents the artist in the landscape in an abstract way.
Apart from creating landscapes, is there any other style you’re keen to work on?
I want to try and leave the digital side behind and go back to traditional mediums, where the texture of the canvas and the way the paintbrush behaves influence the final piece. Digital art is too technical and lacks the textural aspect; it prevents those fortuitous mistakes that might lead to something great. My idea is to paint landscapes similar to what I’ve been creating digitally with but keeping the rawness and feeling of catharsis that I got with my early self portraits.
How does it feel being back in India? Do you strongly associate with being Indian and does it manifest itself in your work?
The reason I came back to Chennai is because I feel I’m best able to produce in India. The things that inspire me are here. My childhood was in Chennai, and the environmental triggers like the people, beaches, and climate that make me feel in certain ways come from this city. My work may not portray Indianness because it doesn’t use the textures or colours normally associated with Indian art. It is Indian because I am Indian. Even when I was in Nottingham, I was homesick and constantly thinking about India, which led to my early explorations.
Self portraits created between 2015-16 were a form of catharsis for rudhacharya
What can people expect from the Mumbai exhibition on June 2nd, 2018?
I’m showcasing my work at Space 118. It’s an open day for the residents who have a month-long residency, where the artists completing the residency will showcase their work while the next batch of residents will be introduced.
I’ll be displaying 10 prints that are thematically consistent despite not being in chronological order.
Follow Anirudh’s work at www.rudhacharya.com and check out his exhibition on June 2nd, 2018 at Space 118, Mumbai.
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