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RITHIKA MERCHANT

Interviewed by Robin Tung

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The Montréal Review, July 2012

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Q: There is a thematic repetition of the life cycle in your work. Did you find yourself immersed in the ideas of life, death, and rebirth early on as an artist?

A: Yes, I've always been very interested with the cyclical idea of our existence. While I am not religious at all, I think perhaps growing up in India and being exposed to many of the teachings of Hinduism like rebirth, reincarnation, karma have definitely played a role in the way I live and by extension - make art.

Q: Your two drawing series Origin of Species and Comparative Mythology present many spheres of life as harmonious: sky, earth, and ground. Death is sometimes symbolized as roots or bulbs, life-giving sources.

A: With these two series, while they are in the same style, the concept behind each one was different. With Origin of Species I was very interested in hybrid creatures. I love the idea of two creatures gently merging or emerging, embodying the duality that is within everything in nature. I also explore the idea of many selves in conversation with one another.

Q: I found Comparative Mythology strikingly beautiful and expansive in its cross-pollination of creation myths and other stories. This series also incorporates a wide use of symbols. Did you struggle with how to tell each story?

A: Thank you! - and no, not at all. The stories themselves are so rich and varied, and while researching them, I was immediately very inspired to translate them visually.

Q: Was this project heavily influenced by your time at the Hellenic International Studies in the Arts in Paros, Greece?

A: I was actually more inspired by the year I spent living in Lisbon. This series of paintings has been inspired by Portuguese hand painted tile murals. During my stay there I noticed these murals everywhere. These tile murals or azulejos are a big part of Portuguese culture and architecture. They can be found on the interior and exterior of most building and houses. They are extremely beautiful and usually depict historical and cultural events.

With Comparative Mythology I was more keen to explore the common thread that runs through different cultures and religions, but I wanted to do it using the creatures and symbolism that were part of my personal visual vocabulary.

Q: How did you decide what geometric patterns to use?

A: I usually map out the patterns in a way that will best complement the work. I use it as a framing tool, where I will place certain imagery or colours only in certain sections. I also like the idea of individual pieces being put together to form a picture, much like putting a puzzle together. Another reason I like to work with fragments is that is it allows me to make large scale work in a very small space. I started working on this series of paintings when I was traveling a lot and living in small houses. I found I could work on the individual fragments on trains, buses and at my desk.

Q: For viewers, it's often interesting to theorize about why the artist chooses a certain medium. Why did you choose gouache, a more opaque method, and ink?

A: I love gouache as a medium. Personally, I feel like I have more control over it than I do with watercolour, and I can adjust the opacity much more easily without having to use lots of water and soaking my paper through. The detailing I do with ink is an important part of my process. I use an ink pen and when I am drawing each tiny little line for hours at a time it's almost like meditation for me.

Q: What is your creative process like?

A: I usually start out with a vague concept which I then mold into something more concrete. Then I spend a lot of time researching. With Comparative Mythology I read a lot and researched all the different myths and how they tied together before sitting down to draw. For Origin of Species I spent hours just looking at pictures of animals. As much as my work doesn't really depict animals that realistically, I like to have little details or mannerism that are anatomically accurate.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Currently, I continue to work on my Comparative Mythology series. There are many more myths that I want to explore. I am also going to Garana, Romania in July to an artist residency. The theme of the residency is ethnographic richness and this year it will focus on the women who still live in that village today and who know and practice the customs of the past. The plan is to create a series of work for the regional museums art collection.

Q: Where can we expect to see your work in the next year?

A: This year I will be represented by Galeria Espai b at Swab Art Fair in Barcelona in May. My work can also permanently be seen at the B-Space of Galeria Espai b.

In August the work created in Romania will be shown at the Triad Gallery in Timisoara. I am also contributing to a book about the visual interpretation of hip-hop music titled The Art Album which should be out sometime this year.

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Rithika Merchant was born in Mumbai, India. She earned her BFA from Parsons The New School for Design in New York and her work has been featured on Daily Serving, Juxtapoz Magazine, and Gawker Artists. Her work can be found on her website rithikamerchant.com.

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