Son of the soil, Sourabh Gupta weaves magic with his hands, recreates stunning flowers
Sep 06, 2019
Sourabh Gupta is a J&K born multidisciplinary designer based in New York City. Mostly self taught, he works at the intersection of art, design and architecture. He is establishing his studio where he explores answers to design questions and conducts material research.
Jammu Links News talked to this amazingly talented son of the soil. Read the excerpts from the interview:
1. Tell us about your childhood and your native place?
I was born and raised in a middle-class household in Hiranagar, a small town in Jammu district. Life was rustic and it was more about survival and make ends meet with a lot of emphasis on education. There was dearth of playgrounds, public parks, toys and Art was regarded as a luxury and frivolous.
I was a very curious child and as far as I can recall, I was always busy in making something out of the things lying around in my houses. I drew and painted extensively as a child. I built little cardboard and wooden houses, boats, made art for the walls with shoe polish tins and grew as many plants as I could find in every single container that I found in the house. Owing to lack of art supplies, I always looked for an alternative which deepened my sense of learning by experimenting.
My original tools included kitchen knives, spoons, construction wire. Ground flower seeds worked as my paint and paint brushes were carved from branches and twigs that my grandfather had taught me to use.
I once saw someone make a clay pot on TV. I had to do the same. I did not know they used clay but I had Plaster of Paris and thought I could make a pot out of that. I had no spinning wheel so I found an old bike, put it on its side and then took a board I found and cut it painstakingly with a kitchen knife to create the platform. I then paid my cousin with my pocket money to spin the wheel of the bike so I could make a pot. Surprisingly, I was able to make my own pot out of Plaster of Paris and it was a heavenly feeling.
2. Take us through your school and college life?
I have always been a very curious child mostly in the corner of my house with pencils, fabrics, paper or at the library in the School looking at books with pictures, paintings, drawings, artists, designers or closely watching the carpenters working at the site and asking them endless questions.
Everyplace was a school for me. I migrated to a Christian school (Infant Jesus School) in my town in third grade. Being an observant child, I noticed the hardwork put in by nuns to keep the place clean. The School gave me a cluster of opportunities to hone my skills. I worked for annual shows, participated in creative competitions and represented School at local and district level. At age 12, I was awarded second prize by Dr. Farooq Abdullah then Chef Minister of the State during State level painting competition.
College was a bit hard for me. I was excited to join the architecture and Landscape program but somehow found the set up to be less stimulating. I participated in every design workshop or competition until they had to block me from participating anymore as I would take all the trophies. I graduated from the School of Architecture and Landscape Design, Jammu and Kashmir, India where I won 21 awards on national and international levels.
I then went to Auroville for 7 months to work with Auroville earth Institute. I was selected as the "residence NEXT" international student participant as the sole representative from Jammu and Kashmir. I worked closely with Rafiq Azam and directly with Prof. Jon T Lang along with Kevin Mark Low.
I then went to Nepal to work for the earthquake relief after 2015 where I started establishing my studio. I was also working as an architect for the design of a luxury boutique hotel in Himachal Pradesh as I was finishing my degree of architecture.
Later, I was offered scholarships to both The New School at Parsons School of Design, New York and the Rhode Island School of Design. I enrolled in the Interior Design Masters program at Parsons and dropped out after finishing a year. Except this, I am, for the most part, self taught.
3. When did you realize that art was an integral part of your life?
I cannot remember a time when I was not creating. The journey was all about honing my craft and expanding my body of work. On the very first day of Primary school, I drew the blackboard on my notebook and got rewarded by the Principal of the school in the assembly next morning. However, I started recognizing my passion when I would be in my room even as a kid sculpting and drawing and painting and cutting materials for days. If I wanted something I needed to create it myself, so I did.
Being born ambitious in a conservative home, the dreamer in me always grew stronger with art. I converted a broken bicycle into a potter's wheel at age 9 and used the spices in the kitchen as colors the brick powder as my paint. All foreshadowing that I would one day use art as my way to create the environment around me.
4. Which art do you most identify with and how do you draw inspiration from real life?
I don't identify with any one kind of art whatsoever. For me, the finished piece is a function of the inspiration and not the goal always. I don't set out to create a leather bag and then find a use for it, I have a need and I fulfill it and in doing so, I am inspired to apply the appropriate skills and transfer my skills from other materials that I have worked with previously. The result is called art but I don't identify with the finished piece rather the process of creating and thought.
When I look around, I see possibilities in transforming them. My mind immediately reveals how I can turn it into something differently beautiful and evoke another dimension of engagement with the idea. The ideas may evolve/change during the course, but I trust the impulse that I get when I see or find something. I see patterns and thus relationships between seemingly unrelated things that allow me try to absurd things and arrive at even non-places.
5. What memorable responses have you had to your work?
"It sparks a sense of Joy when I see these flowers", Chen Roselle, a producer at Reuters TV.
"I was moved as I saw the work." Fran Weissler, Broadway Theater producer of the popular show Chicago.
"My dream will be to come and get married in your studio.", a Client said.
During an exhibit of my flowers sculptures at Bolton Historical Museum, Adirondacks, a woman came up to me to discuss a flower and she had not realized that it was made out of paper. Even after I told her, it didn't click until I said emphatically that it was not a "real flower." She had to go check it out again and then we exchanged a great laughter.
6. What research you do before creating an artwork? What is your dream project?
Most of the time, the ideas are running in my head constantly. Sometimes, it is that intense that anything I see in my environment creates a thread of ideas. It is as if I am building the prototype in my head already. Later, I get to my sketchbook and do a sketch study to get dimensions correct if I do not have the object right in front of me such as a flower, a chair design, or a shoe, etc. Then I embark on a series of studies of drawings and like 30-40 prototypes even though I have found the right one already in the first three tries already. When I am done with this process, I am confident so I approach it in the best possible way.
My dream project would be one in which I am collaborating with the best designers, such as Thomas Heatherwick and creating a large fun project.
7. You've started working with big fashion labels, how does it feel when artists get their due?
To be 100% honest, when I was approached by Tory Burch's people, I had to look her up. I was also not familiar with the gravity of the Met Gala. So it was really not until 4-5 nights before the gala that I realized the flowers I had worked on for them would be the basis for her Met Gala gown and the significance of that. That said, of course, it is very rewarding to have your skills recognized especially by top people in their field.
8. What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
Well, I am an architect and a designer. However, I think cleaning houses and working in a catering service for a period of time to make money would qualify as the right answer.
After the 2015 Nepal Earthquake, I worked as an architect and an artist for CARE Nepal in collaboration with Red Cross and other NGO's for a program called PASSA. I studied and designed content for building safe houses. I have worked in Auroville in building Bamboo and earth Architecture.
9. What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
To reframe the perspective as how I saw the effort I put into everything as "working focused" rather than "working hard."
I absolutely love what I do, so calling it "hard work" always felt off, although I may go 2 days with no sleep, it is never drudgery rather I stay up because I just cannot get myself to stop, I'm so motivated and focused in that job at hand.
10. What is your suggestion for budding artists in J&K?
Surround yourself with people who dream. The details of your success will be uniquely your own.
Check his website: https://sourabhguptadesign.com/
And instagram: https://tinyurl.com/y54q6bmr
We wished Sourabh good luck for his future endeavours