SHADES OF UNDERSTANDING ART
The ancient tradition of Murals existed in the Paleolithic Era, mostly on the caves. In the Middle Ages, the murals were carried on dry plaster. In the 14th Century, the technique of fresco-secco was developed, which is a significant unfolding in the quality of art. Among the famous artwork produced during the era was Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper along with Michaelangelo’s The Last Judgement and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The artists were supported and commissioned by the Church itself, hence the murals then were heavy reflections of Christianity. However, with the proliferating intellect and artistic movement and interest in Greek ideas leading to establishment of Humanism, the Murals moved away from the Church and out of the focus of politics, culture and religion.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, Muralism is a form of practical and advanced form of public art. Muralists use their artwork to send messages and ideas to large masses whilst maintaining credibility. It’s a social responsibility to be communicating and moving forward with a definite idea and one such artist is Kiran Maharjan. He considers himself a Muralist and on that note, works mostly on the street walls and the exploration of the idea itself. He also works with Kor Art Collective which mainly focusses on pushing the boundaries of what street art means, and experimenting with different materials. His work style is a mix and match of traditional and new styles — mostly digital aesthetic with a hint of classical style painting and photo-realistic approach. All of his works are deeply rooted with the concept of order and chaos, the deconstruction and juxtaposition of ideas.
Maharjan first began with black and white portraits with calligraphy which ended up becoming very limiting for him, causing him to shift towards digital aesthetics allowing him to explore bigger ideas whilst keeping it within the realm of street art because style is a major part and the artist is known by his art-style. On a rather gloomy Sunday, TNM sat down in his studio to take a picturesque ride on his art journey.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO STREET ART PARTICULARLY?
I got introduced to street art through skateboard culture when I was a teenager. I developed an interest in the graphics on the skateboard decks which pulled me to a whole new scene of graffiti and art of such kind. Ironically then, even though I was into art, I wanted to be a gallery artist and street art wasn’t my line of focus at all. I wanted to be more of a contemporary artist, showcasing my work at galleries and studios. After my twelfth standard, I had pretty much decided that I wanted to be an artist so I paid more attention to the craft of art and at the same time did some researching on street art and what I could do with it. During that time, I made multiple drawings and the only way I knew that could make my work known to the public was gallery showcasing my work. So, I approached some of the art galleries with ten/fifteen pieces of my work, requesting for an exhibition which actually got rejected. This frustration of not being to share the message is what pushed me into the street art. One needs no permission to manifest artwork on the streets.
WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS LIKE?
It depends on what I’m working on. If I’m working on a private wall or a wall that I have fancied, I come up with my own designs. But if I am commissioned a wall to work on, I am usually given a concept on the basis of which my art builds itself. But then, in both cases, it starts with research. My major focus with any of the pieces I do is the contextual meaning. If I’m working on murals about pollution here at Jhamsikhel, it wouldn’t be as relevant as it would be next to the Bagmati. It has to be relevant in order to be effective. I make sure I read enough and have a good understanding of the community around the wall. I start my research with that. I do talk about issues in my works but as mentioned before I like to have contradictory themes in it, so that people don’t get the message at once; they spend some time with it and study and understand the elements of it.
My design process goes through digital aesthetic approach because it has to be photo realistic. Therefore, 80 to 90 per cent of the decision is made in the draft and the remaining 10 to 20 per cent is prompted on the wall because the wall sometimes has different demands and it needs to be considered as well.
IT IS NOT EASY TO BE CREATIVE AT ALL TIMES. WHEN YOU FEEL YOUR CREATIVITY WANING, HOW DO YOU KEEP YOURSELF FRESH?
I understand the whole concept of creative block where someone gets confused about what they’re doing but I also believe that inspiration doesn’t hit you when you feel like it. Rather, it hits at 10:00 in the morning and 5:00 in the evening because at the end of the day it’s not like you’re
not going to work until you get that inspiration. Instead, you keep working and you keep on drawing inspiration because the work must carry on. For me, I keep myself busy with what I’m doing, big or small, interesting or not and somewhere along the line, there lies a motivation.
WHAT IS MORE CHALLENGING – TO START SOMETHING NEW OR TO KEEP WORKING ON SOMETHING FOR A LONG TIME?
Especially with street art, it is tricky to start something new as well as keep the thing going on because in street art, the style is the representation of the artist. If you have a style and people see it, they recognize it that it’s you. But sooner or later, it gets too boring. At one point, I found my style too tedious and I decided to change it. It was tricky for me because I had a fear that I’d lose what I had earned so far. Like I’ve been saying, the style symbolises the artist and the general appreciation for the artist. Therefore I’d say it is important to have consistency in what you’re doing but also it’s equally tough to start something new because almost every style has been embraced already. The only way to make it fresh is by making the style personal by incorporating elements of your personal experiences.
HOW IS STREET ART PERCEIVED IN NEPAL?
Presently, it has gained a little bit of popularity with general audience because they understand it as a form of art and not as a form of advertisement. The decent understanding has exponentially grown in the last eight to nine years. I feel like there are quite a few artists with a lot of potential but not enough support. I say that with regard to what street art is in India. Muralism in India and Nepal started at almost the same time. But look where they are; they do a lot of festivals and events inviting national and international street artists, doing these amazing projects and here we are still struggling on funds and supports.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES IN THIS FIELD?
One of the biggest challenges one faces while doing a street art is the process itself. Normally, street isn’t a place to hang around and paint. It takes a lot of determination and courage to even make an effort to stay and paint a wall. There is a lot of insecurity amongst people as they are concerned about how others might perceive it as. Apart from that, the other problem is from the logistics side. There are so many good artists who make amazing pieces on massive walls, but then we don’t have enough logistics for it. The most we can have is metal scaffoldings, and if we don’t have a metal one, we make do with bamboo, which is a sad situation because it affects our workflow.
WORD ON THE STREET, YOU HAVE LOONEY TUNES’ CHARACTERS HIDDEN IN YOUR ART. ANY PARTICULAR REASON FOR THAT?
That was actually a part of a project I once did – Kathmandu Trainalaya Festival. I had painted five murals and two paintings based on the “Seven Deadly Sins” and called it “Seven Moderate Sins” because it had a concept that sins aren’t bad if done in moderation. It had layers of imagery, and meanings to it. Looney Tunes was especially interesting to me as I was layering my major elements on the animals. For pride it is Lion, for wrath it is Bear et cetera. They had the entire traditional standpoint but I wanted to add a quirky element to it. I wanted to make my work interesting so that people would have to sit down and look at the paintings and spot a Looney Tunes character if they can, hidden in plain sight.
TEXT BY ABHIGYA SUBEDI | PHOTO BY SARAS STHAPIT SHRESTHA
PHOTO COURTESY: KIRAN MANANDHAR