From beautifully painted kettles to stunningly upcycled furniture, Aarohi Singh loves telling stories through her work
After spending many afternoons browsing through Aarohi Singh’s website and a couple of delightful hours chatting with her, we are left with just one question: How do we describe this multifaceted lady? Is she a brilliant artist and painter, a skilled wordsmith, an IT professional , a working mother, a passionate animal lover or a history buff?
We don’t have an answer, but we’ll let you draw your own conclusions from this chat with one of our favorite artists. My Big Red Bag in conversation with the versatile Aarohi Singh.
Aarohi, Thanks for talking to My Big Red Bag! Tell us how ArtByAarohi came about?
Thank you, Hina! To tell you about the beginnings of Art by Aarohi, I’ll need to go back to my beginnings (laughs). And that starts during the time I was studying History at Delhi University, with a finger in at least twenty different pies – drawing and painting (my first love), participating in theatre, preparing for the IAS entrance exam and dating my then boyfriend/ now husband.
And then life happened. I got married, did some freelance work in design and content, took on a full time job as an Information Architect. I continued to paint on the side, for myself and for my patrons who’d discovered my work through word of mouth. The pace of life accelerated with the arrival of my two kids, and for a while I just didn’t have time for anything else! This was also a time when my husband was travelling a lot, and we would be furiously emailing each other. One day, on a whim, I picked up an old kettle and painted it over with my signature doodle – the side profile of a man and a woman. My friends teasingly gave it the moniker of the Lovers Kettle, while I got hooked to the art form.
I ended up painting several more kettles and holding an exhibition at The Cha Bar (in Leela Palace, Bangalore) in 2008. The exhibition was a great success – more than half of my inventory was sold out on the first day itself, and I wasn’t left with a single unsold piece by the end. Incidentally, every kettle in that exhibition was inspired by my own life or that of people around me – and that is a philosophy I stick to even now. The Lovers Kettle was a Miss You note to my husband; The Chequered Past Kettle that has a montage of images was a protest against domestic violence.
The Chequered Past Kettle
It was at this time that I also decided to create a website – I wanted to share my work but I also wanted to kickstart a conversation around art, design and life in general. I picked up the name ArtByAarohi simply because the other names I was interested in were already taken, but over the years the press has turned it into my brand name.
I must admit here that I have been very fortunate to have had the freedom to pursue my passion without worrying about money, thanks to my husband who provides the bread and butter (though I keep on reminding him that I provide the marmalade!)
As a fan of contemporary vintage (I think your art is much more than “kitsch”), I love your work around up-cycled furniture. I admire the manner in which your art transforms these decades-old items, but what I like even better is how you tell a story through this art. How did you hit upon the idea of reviving old furniture ?
I wish I could claim that I had a Eureka moment when I realized that up-cycling furniture was my calling, but really it was pure serendipity again. During my exhibition at The Cha Bar, I was approached by a couple to refurbish an old pair of teakwood chairs for their children. I accepted, under the condition that I would be given complete creative freedom. After that, I spent time talking to the entire family, getting to know the children’s hobbies and trying to unpeel the what and why behind the project – and that’s how the time stamp chairs were born. I hope that these chairs remain a faithful partner to Tanya and Sid through their lives and serve as a reminder of who they were as little kids. So you see, I don’t see myself as simply a painter, I see myself as a preserver of memories. And I follow the same ethos – who is the work for, why it is being done, what remembrances does it want to capture – in every piece of furniture that I renovate.
The Time Stamp Chairs: Sid’s Chair (L) and the detail on the base of the chair (R)
Tell us a little bit about your inspirations, design philosophy and creative process
I know I have said this before, but all my work is inspired by life, memories and storytelling. I’ve already talked about my project of repainting my brother’s old trunks on my website, and every motif on the box – the book covers, the branches, the number 17 – are my way of preserving memories of the past while looking ahead into the future.
I don’t think I ever stop thinking about art, but whenever I’m stuck, a cup of tea always helps. Sometimes I brew a cup just to get my brain cells tingling , I don’t intend to drink the tea! Apart from tea, I also find inspiration in people (laughs again). My role models are David Kassan, Tim Okamura, Sebastian Kruger and Karin Jurick, and I’ve also been a longstanding admirer of Amrita Shergill’s paintings – I literally grew up in the company of her work as our home had many of her prints.
My design philosophy is no different from my philosophy towards life – of never getting into a comfort zone, of believing in the power of choice, and of standing up for your beliefs and convictions. I think my art has evolved over time thanks to my willingness to challenge myself and my quest for inspiration in the world around me – I have learnt as much from the unlettered but highly skilled sculptors in Pragati Maidan as I have from the works of maestros like M.F. Hussain and Atul Dodia.
Tell us a little bit about the Poonchh Collection
I am devoted to animals, but sadly I can’t keep a pet right now, nor can I patrol the streets to help them. So when Rakesh Shukla of The Voice of Stray Dogs drew my attention to the plight of strays, I decided to do my bit. I pledged 50% of all profits in perpetuity from the sales of a collection dedicated to animal birth control and trauma care programs for stray dogs. I remember my husband asking me if I was upto it while we were crossing the road to visit a bakery, and there by the roadside we saw a destitute woman sitting next to a stray dog that was howling. It seemed that the woman hadn’t eaten in a long time, we were about to offer her something when she took out a bun – and gave it to the crying dog.
I had my answer there, and there are few things that equal the joy I feel while working on my beloved Poonchh collection.
What’s keeping you busy these days and what else is brewing at ArtByAarohi?
There’s so much happening right now that I find it difficult to keep still! First up is “Chai with Aarohi” at The Purple Turtle store this Saturday (Aug 23), where patrons can see my up-cycled furniture, the painted kettles and the much loved trunks.
From Bro, With Love: The Upcycled Trunks
Next up is a range of ArtByAarohi bags and accessories, which I plan to debut on my online store next month. You know that all my work is hand crafted – I create the concept, design the art and finally do all the paintwork myself. For my new collection, , I will continue to carry out the design and the execution, but I also want to involve a few women karigars to help me assemble the piece, and I plan to set aside a share of the profits for educating the children of these women. So this is my way of providing them a vocation and also contributing to their children’s future.
Also up is the next edition of Poonch, which includes a series of dog portraits, and a collection on the (figurative) masks that people wear, which is inspired from my Kathakali series. Using the metaphor of a painted Kathakali dancer, I want to explore what happens when you start unpealing the layers, when you forget whether someone is Brown or Fair or a Sadhu or a CEO, but simply focus on the “person” within.
You can purchase some of Aarohi’s work at Purple Turtle, Indiranagar, Bangalore. For a full catalog of her work or to discuss a custom project, visit her website or mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you are in Bangalore, don’t miss the chance to share a cup of chai with Aarohi this Saturday, August 23!
All images are the property of ArtByAarohi, please do not reuse without prior written permission