When the studio becomes a sanctuary

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Butterflies run like a leitmotif through the works of artist-philanthropist Michelle Poonawalla, whether in works like fall from the sky, dusk or his recent work from 2021, titled water reflections. The artist has always found them beautiful and evocative. A graduate of American College London, Poonawalla was greatly inspired by her grandfather, Jehangir Vazifdar, who was also a prolific artist. In an interview with Salon, the Pune-based artist describes her workspace and how it led her to focus on meditative art practices during the pandemic.

Tell us about your current workspace.

My current workspace is my home studio in Pune. Space is a sanctuary for me surrounded by nature and wildlife.

Has it always been like this? Or has it evolved over the years?

It was not so. I usually spend time traveling between London and India. However, the pandemic confined me to one place. My process also evolved as I began to explore new larger format paintings and other practices.

How would you define your daily relationship with this space?

The pandemic made me think about more meditative practices that I felt were necessary in the midst of the crisis. I also made an effort to explore more accessible digital practices, which could present my works to a wider audience. The studio has certainly seen a lot of work over the two years.

A view of Poonwalla’s studio space
(Courtesy of the artist)


Tell us about some of the eureka moments you’ve had and some major work you’ve done from here.

I recently made a video called Reflect, which explores ongoing climate change as both local and intensely global issues. The work aims to highlight climate issues in rural and urban societies in South Asia, with reference to their interdependence. A few months ago I worked on a postcard project, which was then shown at the Asian Triennial in Manchester, which also covered themes related to the pandemic and regaining hope.

If you had to trade this place for another, what would it be?

I wouldn’t trade this place for any other at all!

What’s one thing that’s always been in your workspace over the years?

There are several objects that have been in my workspace over the years that are important to me for different reasons. I have a marble statue of two open hands that my yoga teacher gave me – the work brings a calming influence to the space and my process. On a different note, there is a Gucci Mickey graffiti bag, which is in my studio. It helps me remember influences from my childhood and brings a fun creative element to the space.

The first artist whose work you closely followed/sometimes imitated? What attracted you to them?

The first artist I admired was my late Grandfather Jehangir Vazifdar, a renowned artist, architect and contemporary of many great Indian masters including SH Raza, MF Hussain, FN Souza, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta. My grandfather first taught me his ‘uncopyable‘ technique where paints are mixed directly on the canvas, creating a thick impasto style, which is sculpted with a ruler. The result is a textured effect that is impossible to copy. Since then I have admired many artists, but I love the works of artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Jeff Koons. I also like street artists like Banksy.

What was the first media/tool ​​you used in the first years of practice? How has it evolved now?

I have always painted since I was little, spending time with my grandfather. I first formalized my practice by studying interior design at the University of London. And you could say that my first tool was the pencil working on design sketches. Drawing has remained an extremely important part of my practice. While much of my work is now in the digital medium, or larger paintings and installations, all of my work is first planned and conceived as sketches on paper.

Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creatives and their relationships with their workspaces.

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