The artist-entrepreneur set up a multi-award winning design and art studio, The Grafiosi, in 2005, and a decade later, launched his retail label OriginOne.
His digital art moves from the abstract and fantastical to the figurative and fun; his installations are more sculptural and interactive, and use a variety of media from analogue to digital. Through street and travel photography he explores the plurality of locations and identities. Illustrations and poster art also form part of his artistic vocabulary. His work has been exhibited in Frankfurt, Istanbul, Kolkata, Mumbai, New York and New Delhi.
Pushkar speaks in a freewheeling chat:
How did the multi-hyphenate practice happen? What came first as you work with everything from painting to digital art, photography, interior design, product design and branding?
Thakur: One thing has led to the other. The role of a graphic designer itself has a lot of assimilation of different practices. Say, if one is doing packaging design, you must be using photography, typography and other skills for it. It’s required while creating identity through OriginOne – which began with creating innovative stationery; that’s how the multi-hyphenate tag has come about.
You had your beginnings in advertising…
Thakur: Very brief. I was with a music magazine ‘Rock Street Journal’ in college, and then I joined an ad firm for five months before starting my own studio.
You have once stated that ad agencies frustrate you?
Thakur: (laughs) More than anything else because of their working structure. There’s too much of Chinese whispers going on through the chain of hierarchy. That’s the most frustrating thing. The one time I did got the opportunity to work directly with the client, because of a rush, there was politics around not going through designated channels. Nobody in the team liked the campaign but the client absolutely loved it. A lot tends to get lost in the process of this senior-junior.
How are you changing the notions with The Grafiosi?
Thakur: There are a lot of preconceived notions that come about when you say Indian design. You immediately attribute a very kitsch kind of look and feel to be the design narrative. This is what we wanted to work against and say, it’s probably one form of Indian design but it’s not all-encompassing; it’s not the only thing that can be the ambassador for Indian design because there are so many different languages and art forms. There is a global Indian design language as well.
Where do think this kitsch design stereotype comes from?
Thakur: That’s simple, Bollywood. There is nothing wrong with it but it’s only one side of the story. It also comes from truck art.
Can you elaborate on what you mean by a global Indian design language?
Thakur: There’s a certain stereotyping based on demographics and different factors. From that perspective, I don’t buy into the logic of segregating people. When you start coming up with the more generic things which appeal to everyone across the board, then yes, it is global design.
When you draw a parallel with the rest of the world, it doesn’t appeal only to an Indian customer? Why wouldn’t it then appeal to a customer from any part of the world? Therefore it could be Indian, global and you could put it anywhere and it would work for them, barring language limitations, of course. But why should Indian design have to bend over and be a certain way and not be able to compete with any of the international brands that are coming to India and performing really well here? Why should we not have the same ethos, design language and modernity to design?
Coming back, what has branding taught you about art? Or vice versa?
Thakur: Interestingly and simultaneously, one becomes a relief from the other. Design always has a purpose to serve and art is purely for aesthetics and shouldn’t have to serve a design purpose. Design comes with those constraints of ‘Why are you doing this? What function are you trying to serve’?’. They’re very distinctive and objective.
Can you tell me about your art?
Thakur: I didn’t feel the need to limit myself with a specific material to work with and to be able to create the art I want to create without limiting it to one form, like say, painting. I choose the medium on the basis of what I want to create. If I want to create a photograph, I should be able to, and if I feel like creating a sculptural piece/installation, I should be able to choose my medium and material. I don’t want to limit myself to being a specific type of artist.
Is it hard as a contemporary artist to get visibility in a market which is so top-down?
Thakur: Absolutely. It’s a difficult market to survive in as just a pure commercial artist. I chose the path where I didn’t want my art to be my sole bread and butter, and me not being able to create what I want to create. Therefore, I kept my art practice in a private space. I didn’t want to do a certain type of work and create a certain number of pieces because of my reliance on money. I basically skipped the whole art market process completely, with private collectors coming to the studio as and when they want to, to like and buy a piece of work.
What’s next on the cards?
Thakur: A big focus on the OriginOne brand. Last year we expanded the portfolio from being a purely stationary brand to being a home brand as well. We created a whole range of rugs too. We’re doing very modern, edgy and funky rugs to traditional and also custom rugs. That’s a massive addition in the last year itself. This year we hope to launch more products in the home section, anything from kitchen accessories to linen-based products. We’re also using the online platform to bring a lot of my art and photography at very affordable price points for people to be able to purchase it.