Juggling Jobs, Midnight Inspiration and the Berlin LitFest

Sunandini Banerjee of Seagull Books in a candid conversation with Elisabetta Marabotto

Book illustration isn’t easy—it requires a thorough understanding of the work and author’s style, and a tricky balance of enticing the reader and conveying the message. The artwork should complement the author’s tone, and the experience of reading and viewing should leave the reader satisfied. For Kolkata based Sunandini Banerjee, this balancing act seems to come quite effortlessly. As Senior Editor and Senior Graphic Designer at the renowned Seagull Books, she has over a decade of skill (and talent) backing her up. She joined Seagull after completing her Masters in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, in 2000, and soon delved into illustration. Anyone familiar with French author Diane Meur’s “In Dreams” (2013), South African writer Ivan Vladislavić’s “The Loss Library” (2012), and Austrian novelist, poet and playwright Thomas Bernhard’s “Victor Halfwit” (2011), would be acquainted with her digital collages. She now juggles adeptly between editing, translating, designing covers, and illustrating.

Cats Everywhere 01”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Second from a Limited Edition of Seven

Cats Everywhere 01”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Second from a Limited Edition of Seven

A limited edition of collages from Seagull Books’ annual catalogue is part of the Thieving Magpie collection on StoryLTD. I interviewed her on her foray into illustration, her work, and her source of inspiration—a much-dreaded question for many artists and writers—which Sunandini tackled with poise:

Me: Coming from a literature background, how did you get into illustration?

Sunandini: I think my literature background was absolutely essential by way of preparing me for my foray into design/collage/illustration. The pictures in my head are intimately linked to both the words on the page I am reading and to the words in my head from other books I have read. Memories, stories, echoes of other words help me think of images, pictures and colours, all of which then come together in a collage. The words are the inspiration, and in this my degree in literature helped for one of the most important things I was taught during my college and university days was to not only read the words that were being written but to also hear the words that were being left out.

“Calcutta Notebook”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Third from a Limited Edition of Seven.

“Calcutta Notebook”, Digital Print on Archival Paper. Third from a Limited Edition of Seven.

Me: How do you balance your several jobs? Does one take over the other at times?

Sunandini: With a lot of coffee, and with an incredible amount of support and good humour from my colleagues. Yes, sometimes being an editor and a graphic designer for a small publishing house can be quite a challenge. But this is the only job I know (I’ve never had another) and this is the only way I know how to work—juggling, flowing from one to another, fighting down panic on some days and being infinitely zen on some others. Sometimes I edit more than I design, sometimes the other way around. Depending on the deadlines, sometimes one does take over the other. Sometimes, one also affords a certain relief from the other.

Me: Where do you find your source of inspiration?

Sunandini: In the books I read, in the people I meet, in the music I listen to, in the films I watch, in nature, in the flower market, in the saree shop, at the bangle-seller’s, in an online shoe store, in comics, in conversation, in the middle of the night, in a plate of chicken biriyani . . . in life, actually. It’s all around me. It’s hard to switch it off sometimes.

“Morning”, Digital Archive on Paper. Sixth from a Limited Edition of Seven

“Morning”, Digital Archive on Paper. Sixth from a Limited Edition of Seven

Me: Do you create artworks apart from book illustrations?

Sunandini: I’d love to but no. I’m still enjoying the interacting of word and picture. Perhaps some day my pictures may break free of the word. Who knows?

Me: Being both an editor and illustrator, do you think words are more powerful than images?

Sunandini: Not at all. A well-written novel can move you just as much as a beautiful collage.

Me: What is your next project?

Sunandini: Books, books and more books. And designing posters for the Berlin LitFest in September 2014.

Why You Should Consider a Textiles Course

Rumal from Kashmir, Featured at Saffronart, November 2012

Rumal from Kashmir, Featured at Saffronart, November 2012

London: When was the last time you walked into a store and marvelled at an intricately designed shawl, or a beautiful saree? Those delicate threads intertwining, forming pleasing patterns that you know would instantly uplift you. Or perhaps you walked in and decided there was nothing to your liking, and you’d rather design your own shawl. Or salwar. Did you ever think, I’d love to create something like that if only I had the time? Or the talent? Or both time and talent, but patience? All of the above?

Then your solution is here, packed compactly into two short courses on Indian Textiles and Asian Arts at the Morley College in London. And you may thank Jasleen Kandhari for that.

The Indian Textiles course will focus on India’s rich textile traditions. You will learn about regional variations of Indian textiles from the Punjab and Gujarat to Bengal and the Coromandel Coast, understand and appreciate the designs, patterns and techniques of stitching as well as the stylistic development of the designs like the boteh or paisley design in Kashmir shawls and discover Indian trade textiles to the west like chintz and to the east in South east Asia.

The Asian Art course will examine the vibrant arts of China, Japan, Korea, South Asia, South-east Asia and Tibet during visits to museums, galleries and temples in London and Oxford. You get to  explore a range of designs, artistic techniques and materials including paintings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, textiles and decorative arts in tutor led discussions and object study sessions.

Sign up while you have time.The courses begin soon, so drop an email to  Jasleen Kandhari or visit the Morley College website.

The Charm of Ebony

Saffronart’s forthcoming auction ‘Elegant Design’ features some amazing ebony furniture. Elisabetta Marabotto unearths the fascination with one of the most enduring and sought-after of woods

A Stunning Anglo Indian Ebony Table for Special Occasions Featuring in The Elegant Design, Saffronart, 25-26 March 2014

A Stunning Anglo Indian Ebony Table for Special Occasions Featuring in The Elegant Design, Saffronart, 25-26 March 2014

 London: Our upcoming Elegant Design auction features a collection of stunning furniture, as well as silverware and other rare finds. Quite often, silver takes over other pieces, perhaps because of its sheen and value. What about the appeal of less lustrous objects—wood, anyone? I’ve decided to dedicate this post to ebony—a wood that we all know is valuable, yet doesn’t pop in to our heads while talking about valuable objects.

Have you ever wondered why ebony has been so popular and sought after?

Let’s begin with the basics. Ebony (diospyros ebenum or Ceylon ebony) is a native wood of southern India and Sri Lanka. Its hardness allows for beautiful intricate carvings. The wood acts as a natural insect repellent and its smoothness— once polished—produces a black lustre similar to that of Chinese or Japanese lacquer, giving it a beautiful radiance.

The production of ebony furniture in India seems to have first begun along India’s Coromandel Coast, a textile-producing region where a number of East India company trading factories were based. Turnery (the art of making objects using the lathe) was and still is one of the most fundamental and outstanding of Indian arts. European visitors have expressed their admiration for this art form since the sixteenth century. A Dutch traveller, Georg Rumphius, recorded that “the Coromandel Coast ‘is exceptionally richly provided of this [ebony] as the natives make from it all kinds of curious works, as chairs, benches and small tables, carving them out with foliage, and sculpture”(Victoria & Albert Museum Collection, London). Also Francisco Pelsaert , a Dutch merchant who worked for the Dutch East Indies Company, noted in 1626 that in Tatta, Sindh, “Ornamental desks, draught-boards, writing cases, and similar goods are manufactured locally in large quantities; they are very prettily inlaid with ivory and ebony, and used to be exported in large quantities to Goa and the coast towns.” Writing at the close of the seventeenth century, Captain Cope, an officer of the East India Company,  confirmed that at Tatta, ‘They make fine Cabinets, both lack’d and inlaid with ivory'( Victoria & Albert Museum Collection, London).

Luxury Relaxation, An Ebony Chaise Lounge, Featuring in the Elegant Design, Saffronart 25-26 March 2014

Luxury Relaxation, An Ebony Chaise Lounge, Featuring in the Elegant Design, Saffronart 25-26 March 2014

Europeans have, however, been acquainted with ebony since the Classical Age.  References to the wood can be traced to Marco Polo’s books. By the 17th century, ebony had become one of the most appreciated of Indian woods in Europe, and quickly grew to be the most highly priced wood of that century.  The first mention to Parisian cabinetmakers, ébénistes, dates to 1638, and, incidentally, the term finds its roots in “ebony”.   Many European merchants in India adapted to these local customs which were previously discussed but others brought furniture from home or commissioned Indian artists to create western style fur­niture for them. This made the production and exchange of furniture quite varied, since traditional objects were produced along with western style furniture made of Indian materials.

These kinds of pieces, such as the ones featuring in our auction, are extraordinary because they witness the merging of western and Indian motifs as well as materials which makes these objects unique and rich of history.

The Perfect Durability for Family Gatherings and Dinner Parties Featuring in The Elegant Design, Saffronart, 25-26 March 2014

The Perfect Durability for Family Gatherings and Dinner Parties Featuring in The Elegant Design, Saffronart, 25-26 March 2014

Colonial furniture, like the furniture in our catalogue, has been admired since the 16th century up to contemporary times for its versatility, elegance and practicality and it has the power of adding beauty, distinction and interest to any interior setting whether modern or traditional.

Now that you know a little about ebony, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity of owning one of these unique objects of art. Drop by the Mumbai gallery to view our lovely collection of ebony furniture, among other prized woods.

Duplicator’s Dilemma| Atul Dodiya

Elisabetta Marabotto of  Saffronart shares a note on Duplicator’s Dilemma, Atul Dodiya’s solo exhibition in Hong Kong

London: 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong is currently exhibiting Atul Dodiya‘s first solo show in Hong Kong.

The exhibition brings together a selection of works which combine tradition with modern references. On display is a series of works created on shutter doors paying homage to famous international artists such as Roy Lichtenstein.

“The shutter doors bring the commonly seen Bombay shop fronts into the contemporary art genre. Dodiya uses the duplicity of imagery to play with wild contrasts of scenery. This series combines the metal fronts of the pop art work of Lichtenstein with the deeply expressionistic long and stringy figures of his paintings. A man whose bones can be seen through his skin reads a book, a skull lays by his side. When the door is closed, piercing cartoon like eyes peer with the phrase, “What? Why did you ask that? What do you know about my image duplicator?” Highly original, his works physically add layers of meaning to his works. They can be read half-closed or open as well as fully seeing one image or the other.”

This series was inspired by the sight of small business in Mumbai locked down because of the fear of violence and religious persecution following the bombings in 1993.

Also in the exhibition is a series of black and white drawings representing figures almost floating in a phantasmal and fuzzy reality which subtly engage the audience in a curious dialogue.

Dodiya said about his works: “What is better? The fish inside the water, or the fish outside the water? The mirror reflects reality. Is that reflection real? Is the image which an artist depicts on canvas more real than the image which the viewer sees in reality?

Probably, these are some of the philosophical questions, which arose in the process while looking at Lichtenstein’s ‘Mirror’. Inside-outside, above-below, real-unreal, hidden-revealed, single-double, are these opposites? This is the dilemma with which artists begin and arrive at the discovery of the relativity of the real.

The fine line between art and life gets blurred, to the point where art is overpowering the reality of life. It becomes a game of stepping in and stepping out of the creative space.”

The exhibition is on until January 30, for more information click here.


Bharti Kher’s New Monumental Exhibition

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart invites you to visit Misdemeanours, Bharti Kher’s largest solo exhibition in Asia

London: Misdemeanours is coming soon at the Rockbound Art Museum in Shanghai. Starting on January 11 the exhibition boasts to be the largest solo exhibition in Asia of the celebrated Indian artist Bharti Kher.

Self Portrait, Bharti Kher

Self Portrait, Bharti Kher. Image Credit: http://www.rockbundartmuseum.org/en/exhibition/overview/457gqs

The show, which occupies all six floors of the museum, features a selection of works created in the last 15 years by the artist as well as some site specific installations.

Kher uses different forms of art to express herself such as painting, photography and sculpture yet most of her works have in common monumental dimensions. The artist in this exhibition discusses the relationship between human beings and animals, hybridity, ethics, gender, politics, globalization and cosmopolitanism. The poetics of the body reveals Kher’s interests in entropy, mutation, and transformation, as witnessed by humans and animals alike.

The Skin Speaks a Language not its Own, Bharti Kher

The Skin Speaks a Language not its Own, Bharti Kher. Image Credit: http://www.rockbundartmuseum.org/en/exhibition/overview/457gqs

“The exhibition also includes two site-specific installations that serve as conceptual and physical “skins” that encase the museum’s monumental façade and conjoin two exhibition spaces on consecutive floors. These architectural interventions serve as mirrors to Kher’s own use of the bindi to serve as a carrier of the other, and an object that revels in both in its ability to decorate and enliven attention, as well as to subsume and obscure the gaze. ”

Kher has stated, “If I could remake my artistic career, I think I would be a minimalist painter. All the art that I love comes from the tradition of reduction—but I can’t because I’m super maximum!”

Misdemeanours, Bharti Kher

Misdemeanours, Bharti Kher. Image Credit: http://www.rockbundartmuseum.org/en/exhibition/overview/457gqs

Misdemeanours has been curated by Sandhini Poddar, Mumbai-based art historian and adjunct curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and the works on display include loans from leading private and public institutions as well as new commissions.

The exhibition will be on until March 20 and it will be accompanied by events and a catalogue. For more information click here.



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