Art-itecht

I am Mayuresh Shirolkar. I come from a family of doctors. Both my parents were doctors, and so were both my grandfathers. We had a hospital in Kasba Peth, the heart of Pune city. As a child I was reserved, but not an introvert. One of the reasons has to do with physical dimensions. If you are built small, you tend to stay away from the bigger, more gregarious kids. Times were different in our days, with no TV or social media. At school, I don’t remember making distinctions on the basis of caste or religion. My best friend in school was Gyomrd Buhariwala – an extremely difficult to pronounce name, thanks to the presence of a solo vowel. Friends call him Gayo. Looking at the spelling, you may have guessed there is some Parsi idiosyncrasy behind it – and you are right – Gayo is bawa as bawa can get. Gayo is currently director at his family agri business firm – NHB Agro Industries.

When I was 10, my dad had asked me to observe a tonsillectomy. I went into the OT, proudly wearing a self painted creative mask. Failing in Biology in grade 11 was the final nail in the coffin of my medical career. My dad had hired a home tutor to help me hone my drawing skills. In my school days, I enrolled at Chitraleela Niketan, where apart from visual art, I picked up a liking for performing arts. I also had an opportunity to take part in a workshop by David Greaves, a British dramatist who promoted a genre – physical theatre. This was an intense workshop that ran continuously for 30 days, 12 hours a day. David had hired experts to teach us Bharat Natyam, Martial arts, Acrobatics and Gymnastics. 

In my generation, kids were expected to be part of the furniture, unless they were explicitly asked by adults to respond. In some sense children of my generation were born with a bubble around them, which ensured that we kept our distance from others. Physical theatre helped remove our inhibitions by puncturing this bubble. In physical theatre, you use your body as a medium to communicate, as the protagonist, as the prop. In this form of theatre, the body is bereft of voices – so that our solutions to contemporary problems are understood universally. On some occasions where voices do get used, they come from behind curtains. I remember our group staging the Indianized version of Romeo and Juliet – with Romeo’s family portrayed as belonging to the nomadic Dombari community. And the audience sitting all around the performers. 

Sometimes you are faced with situations where your parents don’t understand your interest. What should you do in such a situation? Understand the parental perspective – they are bringing their own upbringing to the table. They grew up in different times with different contexts. They are as afraid about your future as you yourself are. What helps in such situations is conversations. Keep the communication channels open. Try to understand the challenges at home. Introspect about what success means to you. Discover your own values. And most importantly, keep your dreams alive. Persistence usually pays. Parents need to find out if your dream is an infatuation or a passion. 

I had decided early in life that my calling was architecture, not knowing what the course entailed. I got admission to the local architecture college, where we were taught architecture in the most mundane and uninspiring way. I decided that I would become a teacher and show the world how architecture should actually be taught. I am currently the head of the interiors department at the Brick School of Architecture, Pune. My interest in drama helps me introduce architecture to my students through the human body. We use role plays to understand the needs of users of the spaces designed by us. 

When I joined the B.Arch course, there was only one college in Pune – Abhinav. Today, there are 28 architecture schools in Pune alone. Admission is through a centralized exam – the NATA. You need to be a science student with math as a subject to qualify for the NATA exam. Architects today are involved in not just building design, but you can find them working in the fields of set design, landscaping, urban design, visual communication, product design – and even the software industry. Whereas designing a building takes into account the site and the climate, designing the interiors is about knowing client sensibilities. Some of my clients have been influenced by sets in TV serials – and that goes into the spec sheet. Others give me a broader canvas of using themes like seasons. In finalising the working drawings, inputs are also taken from vendors and consultants to arrive at what is feasible and what is not. 

One of the fundamental choices that an architect makes for a building is about whether it should stand out or it should blend in. The same choices exist for cities too. Should all cities be skyscraperish? Can each city have its own character? Do we build for eternity or do we build for only our generation? Should we force our architectural choices on the next 3 generations? Can buildings be lego-like, so that we can dismantle and make a new building, recycling the same material? If travel to work loses relevance, maybe car ownership would too. If work from home continues to persist, will the acoustics need to be reworked for living spaces? If people will consume entertainment on laptops and mobile phones, will the TVs need to be replaced? Would sustainable households want to grow their own gardens fertilised by compost recycled from their own waste? 

Architecture is art in practice. There are no normal people – everyone is an artist. Art is not just for the rich. It is not something that is always sold. It is something that you find around you as you go about your everyday life. People are finding solace and strength in art. Did you notice how our walls have been used for centuries by artists to express themselves. Art is a perspective of sensitivity. Art is a means of individual expression in a world that is increasingly getting commoditized. An artist does art for herself – the joy that others derive from it is merely a byproduct. And for that reason it has a great future. 

Do artists make money? If you like what you do, you cannot but make money. The road to making money is a long one though. Where this journey will take you tomorrow, you have no idea today. But when you are enjoying the journey so much, would you want shortcuts? Your art teacher can teach you 20% of what you need to learn, mostly techniques, but the rest has to come from experiments, failures and experiences. Travel a lot to get inspiration for your art. When you start working on your art, don’t use erasers. Preserve your mistakes – that is one way you can keep the past alive. And start small. Don’t have high ambitions for canvas size. Learn to appreciate art. 

My favourite artist is Hyder Raza, who combines simple geometric forms and colors to come out with some outstanding work. And installation artist Subodh Kerkar, who makes sand craters lit by earthen lamps. Who dumps ceramic plates in the sea – and recovers them after a few months with organic art growing out of the plates. (You can visit Subodh at the Goa Museum of Modern Art.) And then there is Arzan Khambatta, who makes installations out of kabaad. I owe to Milind Mullik my love for watercolors. Btw, Milind’s dad was the illustrator of most of the Amar Chitra Katha comics that were popular in my generation. 

Every Sunday morning, from 8 to 10 a.m., I meet with my group of urban sketchers at a pre-decided location and we show the world our city, one sketch at a time. The group goes for sketching trails to nearby places and even outside India. Being an architect, most of my sketches focus on buildings. In my sketches, the Pune auto rickshaws are a motif. (For Milind Mullik it is the cycle.) I love the yellow and black theme colors of Pune’s auto rickshaws. My sketches try to capture the moment – the reflections of the car tail lamps caught in the puddles in front of buildings. My group of Pune urban sketchers have now been invited to sketch heritage structures. The structures may go away with age, but it is hoped that our sketches will live on. 

So what do I want to next learn in my life? Digital Art. So this Diwali, my  iPad Air 2020 with 2nd gen Apple pencil are being delivered by Amazon to start my new digital journey. I get asked about why I did not pursue a career in theatre. Theatre artists lead nomadic lives – and I wanted to develop roots in my native Pune. I did try my hand at acting in Marathi serials. I played a small role in a serial called Peshwai, but did not enjoy the un-spontaneity of multiple retakes. 

For me the journey in life so far has been a bit selfish. Like in airplane announcements, where the air hostess will always remind you at the start of every flight, that before you help others with their oxygen masks, ensure that you put on your own oxygen mask. Art is that oxygen for me – and I feel that this happiness is what I radiate to others around me. Urban sketching has made me learn about watercolors. I love the way water gives life to colours. In my life, I want to be like this water. 

Here‘s the video of the talk.