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Swati Gupta- Indian under Spotlight

Swati Gupta- Indian under Spotlight

Presenting Swati Gupta, 27, an independent artist of Indian origin now based in France. Born in Delhi, Swati has always been interested in arts.




A look into her world in her words

Portrait of a young and upcoming Indian artist in Paris.

From her childhood, Swati's parents encouraged her to learn Indian classical dance and music. In addition, she learnt to play guitar and would play tennis as well. Her parents recognised her passion for arts at an early age. She decided to pursue fine arts at the age of 16 years. In the year 2000, she joined Delhi college of Arts with specialisation in painting and print making.

She has been trained by various renowned Indian and French artists such as Subroto Kundu, Rajiv Lochan, Kanchan Chander, Abhimanue V.G., Anupam Sud, Alka Pandey and Anjolie Ela Menon (apprenticeship scholarship by Spic Macay), Eric Dalbis, Michelle Waquant, J.M.Chevalier, Sylvie Blocher, Anne Pontet, B.Marcadé, Eric Maillet, Christophe Cuzin and Jeffrey Rian among others.

Here's a tête-à-tête with this promising young talent:


Tell us about your journey from Delhi to Paris

While working in Delhi, I felt inspired and attracted towards works and lives of French artists. I used to read a lot about impressionism and expressionism and that started to show in my work. A short trip to discover France and important art museums was made in 2002. Now a direct influence of 19th century art and Paris based artists- Monet, Manet, Munch, Renoir, Van Gogh & others-could be seen in my work. So as soon as I completed my Bachelors degree from DCA, I decided to go to France to continue my art studies.

In 2004, I was accepted to study in Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'arts de Paris-Cergy. I was also accepted in an art college in USA. For me, it was a challenge to come to France as French language was new to me. This also meant that I had to speak more than basic French to be able to follow the classes in my college. In addition, France is a country where I was not expecting to meet many fellow Indian expats. Despite everything, France it was for me.


'Ganesh avatar' : guache sketch on piece of Carton. size 23 x 21 cm, 2007

How were your initial years in Paris?

Well, once in Paris, the general student stuff started - meeting new people, seeing a lot around, travelling, attending Biennials, not missing a single exhibition etc. Till coming to Paris, I had only tried my hand at painting. Delhi College was not advanced at all for multimedia and installation art. So it is in this country that I started making installation art. It is a form of art which allowed me to express myself with unlimited range of materials and ideas. It is not an art limited only to canvas and a wall though it brings with it many limitations and responsibilities.


It was hard for me to sustain in this art school in the beginning as the professors and the students belonged to another art history- very different from mine and had different background. Here is when we say that art is linked to a society, culture and politics directly. This school was inclined towards European 'contemporary and multi-media' art. For me, it was tough to adjust to and feel what was right and wrong given their different perspective. Many a times, I had opinion clashes with professors. Without going into clichés, French love debating and openly disagree. It is an art in itself. It is all very complex. But that only turned out to be positive for me, as I was searching more and more inside me to merge with the surrounding elements.


What is your painting style and vision ?

My earlier painting work was based more on outside sketching- in Parisian metros, streets of Paris, portraits of people in bars etc. Then I started looking at interiors. I did a painting series on interiors ( walls, angles, floor etc). It was also linked to the loneliness I used to feel in France, being far from my family. During my student days, I moved several times in Paris and I painted almost all the rooms I stayed in. I also made some 3-D objects- Object-Painting with wood.

Since then, I have participated in various group exhibitions. I have also done commissioned work for Mairie de Vitry. Over a period of time, my paintings are more abstract and minimal , leaving the 19th century art behind. It is all a process, like we humans grow, nature changes, in the same way there are different periods in the life of an artist. Now I am back to figurative work.

Recently I also had some video screenings in Paris. I would describe some of my videos such as 'One fine day', 'The Paradise', 'Vriksh-axa-na' and 'The Bench' funny, ironical and a kitsch take on Indian society. Though abstract in nature, they are inclined towards feminist art.

It has been rightly said that there are two kinds of artists. One who paints 'your' life and the other who paints 'his own' life, showing the world inside him. And I ? I let people decide which category I belong to.

 Viewer in front of video projection 'Yoga in the country', Centre d'art, Bazouges la Pérouse, 2007

What sort of material and inputs do you like to work with ?

Installation view of 'Bhool bhulaiya' , 2006, Abbaye de Maubuisson In Situ
 I was already using 'sarees' as a material for my installations. My exhibition 'Bhool-bhulaiya' was the most important in this medium that I had done so far. I used 25 sarees, stitched them together to form a labyrinth. I studied the colours of sarees as I do for my paintings. This installation was made for the garden of Abbaye de Maubuisson. I wanted to create an atmosphere with these colourful monochromatic sarees- an environment of meditation- where people would enter from a door, feel taken away surrounded by colourful pieces of cloth and walk towards the center, the inside. Everyone wants to find out the secret of life, the great mystery, the inner self. Finally everyone would find himself inside the 'bhool- bhulaiya' and can have another vision of the maze.

People's reaction was unexpected for me. I was overwhelmed by their responses.


Some memorable experience as an Artist so far ?

In 2007, I met David Chevrier, an art director, who invited me as an 'artist-in-residence' in Bazouges la Pérouse during a festival. It was the richest experience ever towards my artistic development at that stage. I worked with people from that village. It needed improvisation, creating 'sur-place' , in-situ installations, photos and video installations. It is like a spiritual yatra* for an artist to live this experience. Because one is given a certain time and a certain theme, everything from budget to space is restricted. And that is when it tests your passion and devotion towards your art. I saw my art building-up and growing each and every day of Residency, as if going through a creative process towards the creation of an exhibition.

Another memorable experience I have is working on 'Occupations'- exhibition in Pontoise (Théâtre des Louvrais) in 2009 in collaboration with my art school. Here again, I worked on the same principle, the In-situ concept. I did not bring my old paintings and impose and tuck them on the walls of Theatre. The idea was to bring out a project suited to the location. So I visited the place beforehand, sat & sketched there. Just like an architect who constructs. I came home and made a 'brouillon/ maquette'* for my paintings on my computer. And I found the project to be presented.

I finally produced 10 oil paintings for this show, directly related to the chosen space where they were shown. Spectators could move and see the paintings from any viewpoint. Just like floating spaces in a space. A play of colours, angles, composition and shapes.

  View from exhibition 'Expose-toi', 2008, Centre CIJ, Cergy

Who are some of your favourite artists ?

There are many artists that I admire the list keeps changing. Some of them are Ellsworth Kelly, Réné Magritte, Olivier Mosset, Bill Viola, Martin Parr, Sol le Witt, S.H. Raza, Richard Serra, George Rousse etc.


What do you do to relax and unwind ?

I practice Yoga as it helps me to find mental stability, physical and spiritual balance. I also teach languages and dance as I love this art. I have also organized atelier d'art ( art workshops) for children and adults. I like listening to all kinds of music, from classical to Coupé décalé. I love travelling. I usually get ideas for my upcoming or future works while travelling.


What can we anticipate from you in future...

'Illusion of space' - Mix media on wood ( aggloméré) , 25 X 50 x 16 cm

I would like to cite an artist Yves Klein " Jamais par la ligne on n'a plus créer dans la peinture une 4ème ou autre dimension. Seule la couleur peut tenter de réussir cet exploit. La monochrome est la seule manière physique de peindre permettant d'atteindre à l'absolu spirituel."

Now, things seem to have changed for me. I got married to an artist. I am done with art degrees. I would like to concentrate on my work whether painting, video, photo or installation. I am working on a series of paintings, which, I will unveil once accomplished.

India has played an important role in my art works as has France. Taking distance with something you have been close to, sometimes helps understand it better. I see myself between both art scenes, which makes me feel intellectually rich. I have many projects in mind. In near future, I should be exhibiting my art work in India, the way I have been doing for the past few years in France.


photo courtsey: Swati Gupta, 'View from exhibition 'Expose-toi, 2008' (c) IIP

* yatra: journey, voyage; maquette: model