Antara Mukherjee’s work reminds me of watching Jamie Oliver’s show years ago where recipes were illustrated for the audience. Her work is vibrant with colors. Her illustrations are of simple, soulful home-cooked meals. She brings attention to the beauty and joy that exists in the mundane. Here, she discusses her journey so far as an artist and everything that inspires her in this realm.
– By Samyuktha Rao
How and where was your childhood?
I grew up in the quaint city, Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, India. Earliest memories of my childhood are peppered with lazy afternoons in the open courtyard of my house. Here I sat watching the buzzing busy bees collecting nectar from colorful fl owers that grew wild, the ants marching with grains of rice and sugar, the birds pecking at the succulent fruits in different seasons and the squirrels up on the moringa tree. My companion to watch the narratives that nature unfolded was my pet dog. Many winter days, the two of us would spend time chasing the sun’s warmth from dawn to dusk. Going to school wasn’t my favorite thing to do as a child as I was a spirited young girl who loved the outdoors and watching the stories in the mundane life around me.
What has your journey been like to become the artist that you are today?
Not an easy one. I had no formal teacher or a mentor to learn from. I was initially hesitant about going full time into art and to give the craft its due time and effort. All through my formative years, I would make the same scenery over and over again. I always ‘wanted’ to be an artist, and this thought helped me keep at it. So, I indulged myself by making observational drawings. I would sit for hours sketching and this helped in shaping my style that I use today. My approach to art-making is non-academic. I have more or less given way to stumbling upon knowledge or know-hows of exploring a subject rather than relentlessly pursuing it by reading books and knowing more about tools.
Did you study art formally or is it self-taught or is it a bit of both?
I haven’t studied art formally. I did have the opportunity to pursue it academically for a short time during my diploma at National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi. I lean towards visual art as a contemporary medium rather than a traditional one. I was also apprehensive about being a full time artist and everything that comes with it. From freelancing to fi nancing my own work, it was all new to me. The idea of ‘a relevant career’ or becoming a ‘professional’ was stronger than submitting to artistic endeavors among family and peers. I am self-taught in many ways.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
The ability to create always fascinates me; a blank sheet to myriad images move me. I love engaging with the process of creation. It is in this process that I find my joy! Growing up I found that a few folks in the family were very good in sketching, needle work, crochet etc. I enjoyed observing them at work. These were my foundational years of inspiration. I relished doodling and illustration from an early age. I drew comics and experimented with pen and ink sketches. I think watching animation as a kid has infl uences in my work till today. I am inspired by the simplicity of lines in illustrative art.
What are the mediums and techniques you use?
I like the fluidity that water colors and inks offer, hence they have become my primary choice of medium in the last 6 years of my practice. I like working with chalk pastels for live sketching and observational drawings. I am free-spirited with my technique. I let it fl ow through me rather than controlling it in any particular way. A lot of good work just happens when there is variability. I am yet to formalize or rather discipline myself into a very technique driven art. I mostly use my intuition to guide me and it often leads me to an evolutionary path in my work. I recently painted a wall for a restaurant using water color stains.
What are your studio habits?
None to exemplify! I am yet to have a studio of my own. The art I do, I carry it with me mostly. All my stationery is mobile, so I sketch, paint and observe almost anywhere. I draw for at least 15 to 30 minutes every day before I lose the daylight. I also like to give myself a good amount of time to prepare for any upcoming assignment. I thing is, art needs a lot of free mind space. I work on the study of color, light or objects. I maintain a visual journal with travel sketches and random thoughts and observations in it.
What excites you about illustrating food?
I often spent time watching my mother and grandmothers in the kitchen. The fl urry of activity that would take place during these times was like watching a well-composed musical piece! This fascination has taken its roots deep within me. Once I became a mother, I took a sabbatical from being a graphic designer to raise my child. This gave me an opportunity to engage and explore with a variety of simple ingredients and techniques. I would cook thrice a day and completely enjoyed donning the chef’s hat. It was almost therapeutic to cook, blend, knead, etc. I loved documenting my kitchen processes in my journal. Looking back, I think I found my inspiration to illustrate in these mundane tasks. I am told that both my food and my art-making are soulful!
Tell us about your favorite art-making processes?
All the processes that I use are a favorite. Along with watercolors and ink, I have been experimenting with found objects for a while and I enjoy collecting old books with crumbly paper, decorative bits, old passports, stamps, etc, and use them in collage work. I have done recipe art with used pasta cartons. I have explored making toys with old plastic bottles. Hand-stitched books with found pages that make up a story. These days I am drawn more towards chance creativity and serendipitous culminations!
Where have you presented your art?
- February 2017 Venkatappa Art Gallery Group show
- September 2017 Goethe Institute Bangalore for Art Port_ making waves
- December 2017 Venkatappa Art Gallery Group show on Food
- February 2018 Jahangir Hall at Hyderabad Lit. Festival for Art Port _ making waves
I have been part of an IFA grant for two projects, both about Art in Education.
What are your future plans? What new mediums can we look out for in your work?
I love working with lino printing. I fi nd it to be very engaging. I can spend long hours cutting a lino meticulously. Children especially like this medium. So in the nearest future, I would like to explore teaching and working with print making. Right now, I am at a juncture where I see a lot of overlapping of mediums that will happen in my art-making process. Working with children has thrown open a gamut of options for me to learn and discover. Carpentry to pottery, weaving to dyeing and paper-making – it makes me feel like going back to art school, which I never did. Life has come a full circle! I see myself being actively involved in a lot of these endeavors.