UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH NAVEEN SHAKIL

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

SASHA MAHMOOD CHATS WITH THE MULTITALENTED ARTIST ABOUT THE STORY BEHIND EACH PIECE, SOBBING UNCONTROLLABLY AND JEDI MIND TRICKS

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in Karachi, and attended the University of Dundee in Scotland where I graduated with a Bachelors of Architecture. I currently live and work in NYC as a Senior Graphic Designer at a fashion design company, as well as being a fine artist. But can I be honest? None of that really defines who and what I am. A person is so much more than their birthplace, their degree and their occupation… Don’t you think?

When and how did you start your career?

I actually can’t pin point that. I studied Architecture and had been working as an architect till 2013 till I realized I really could no longer be bothered with window details anymore! So, I came back to Karachi from Melbourne and joined Studio Subtractive, a small boutique architecture company, which gave me the freedom and an avenue to explore my skills at graphics while still being part of an architecture environment. I think that’s when it all started falling into place. After that, I moved to NYC and worked as a Graphic Designer for a Tech and PR company and then moved on to secure a role as the Senior Graphic Designer at Collection 18. In terms of fine art, apparently my Kindergarten teachers knew I was going to be an artist when I was 3. But, it was really in 2014 that I began to look at it as a career. I never wanted (and still don’t) my livelihood to depend on my paintings, so I just paint whenever I want, whatever I want and luckily it keeps getting picked up.

What is your most preferred medium to work with?

I lack the discipline to be able to confine myself to any one particular medium. Amazingly enough, my education and work experience opened upa plethora of mediums for me, from digital to pencil, watercolor, pen, ink, acrylics and oil. Sometimes I feel like that is my biggest strength andmy biggest weakness; jack of all, master of none. and I’m happy with that. I do wish I had more arms and more time in the day to just immerse myself in experimenting with different textures, materials and techniques. I probably shouldn’t, for fear of setting myself on fire.

What has been the most unforgetable moment you’ve experienced as an artist?

Looking back, it probably had to be last summer. I had recently moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan, which in itself was a genius move because I love my neighborhood. I had just exhibited at the Miami Art Expo, and had the Venice and Florence Biennale coming up, and I couldn’t fathom the speed at which I felt the urge to produce piece after piece. There was a small hiccup – my bedroom didn’t have a window and therefore no natural light to paint. So one day I just picked up my canvas, went outside of my apartment (literally on the street) put on my headphones andstarted painting. Who cares, right? The most amazing thing was, people stopped to watch me. Everyday. It was a rush like no other, andliberating from any preconceived notions of having a “proper art studio” and exhibiting my work within 4 walls of a “well-known gallery”.

What different themes do you portray in your work?

Primarily, the past couple of years have been about digesting my own life so far. There are moments where I cannot understand myself why I’m painting what I’m painting, and it only starts making sense to me when I look back at it. Each piece ends up being complex and layered, holding its own verse, compiling a bigger story. In 2014, I played a lot with the theme of duality, and last year it was more about the ‘power of three’. Art, architecture and graphics are the three elements around which my career revolves around, and neither can exist as a sole entity, so that is one basic way of comprehending my current series. There is also the theme of dissolving and rebirth. Once this series is finished, I suppose I will be able to better understand its purpose and its story. Am I making sense?

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

There was a guy who emailed me twice last year. He was suffering from PTSD having returned from Afghanistan and then later having lost his father. In both those emails he kept saying that two of my pieces visually conveyed how he felt and somehow calmed him down. It was humbling yet terrifying to say the least. Seldom do you come across people who can truly grasp the depth of what it takes to start and finish a piece. Or – WHY you need to create.

Your go to place of inspiration?

My brain. I love living here.

You have lived in a number of different countries – Pakistan, Great Britain, USA, Australia – how does that influence and factor into your work?

You end up absorbing so much from living in different countries and experiencing different cultures, that subconsciously it fuses when you finally release it all. I think it would take a few lifetimes to empty me out. Pakistani fine art is phenomenal, Australia is where my interest in street art grew, USA continues to inspire me from fine art, to street graffiti to digital graphics to marketing campaigns, and my time in UK really gave me the discipline and the patience to achieve it. Living in New York has acted as a catalyst for the rapid speed at which I started producing work.

What other artists have been inspirational to you in your work?

I think that keeps on evolving alongside my own development. Previously, it was Paulo Trilio, who is an Italian artist and paints amazingly dynamic figures in monochrome with just his fingers. These past few months, it’s been a phenomenal NYC based artist, Brad Kunkle, who happens to be my neighbor as well. The detail in his work is truly masterful.A close friend introduced me to Shakil Saigol last year. He took me through his work, his studio and actually took the time to talk to me about ‘art’. He doesn’t confine himself to any medium, or a theme or a style,and I distinctly recall him saying “Even if I live to be a 100, I don’t think I can get out all the things I need to paint” and that really comforted me. By nature, I get bored very easily and I’m always on the search for something new.

What’s the longest it’s taken you to complete a piece? The shortest?

The longest it took me to do a painting was “The Waiting Room” from the ‘Catharsis’ series. It took me over a year to do it. I started it then I left it, then came back to it, then left it again. I just couldn’t figure out where it needed or wanted to go. I had to wait for “it” to come out. and when it did, it started a whole new series. The shortest it has ever taken me to do a piece is “Unravelling Symphony” from the same series. This one was fast, under three weeks, which for me is ridiculous because I also have a full-time job. But I can’t let the length of “time” stipulate the emotional value of a piece for me.

Is there an artists equivalent of “writers block?”

Happiness! Haha. Trust me, my best work is when I’m miserable and sobbing uncontrollably.

Tell me about your latest collection,“Catharsis”.

‘Catharsis’ is the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. The series is my translation of the crisis of ‘self’ into the language of figurative realism. It seems ironic then, to realize that the rendering of these pieces have actually been the conditioning for my unease. The significance of this goes way deeper than a few words or sentences – all I can say is that each piece was physically taxing and emotionally consuming. There was a constant ebb and flow of memories and experiences, and a battling inner dialogue that continues beneath the surface. The manifestation of each piece is a “discovery” process – one that still mystifies me.

You exhibited at the Miami Art Expo recently. What did you show there, and how was your experience?

I exhibited one of my pieces called “The Sacred Whisper” at the Miami Art Expo in June. Being part of a massive event like that is always amazing. Most recently, I exhibited at the Florence Biennale as well. It is a massive exposure, in terms of not only being part of some of the most sought after Art Events, but also the opportunities it opens up for you. That being said, going forward, I would probably aim to do maybe one of these a year and focus on doing more curated exhibitions.

Any advice for up and coming artists?

I don’t want to be held responsible… But they should really try dipping bagels in coffee.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

With abs of steel bending a tablespoon (matrix style) with newly developed Jedi mind tricks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *