Living design

Different strokes

Living design

Be it silk fabric or junk material, Jayshree Poddar finds it fascinating to express the spiritual in the material. Giridhar Khasnis talks to the artist-designer.

“I am basically a weaver,” says Jayshree Poddar, for whom the sound of warp and weft are intricate musical notes coming from a loom. A woman of many parts, she is the head of design of a home textile major with a global footprint; a long-serving textile designer; a spiritual seeker and a mixed-media artist who is inspired by the suaveness of a silk thread as much as the rugged radiance of junk material.

Here are the extracts of a conversation with the designer-artist on her professional and personal interests and influences.

On her background and formal entry into the world of design

I was born into an atypical Marwari business family in Kolkata. Even as a child, I had a fascination for making things by hand like mud sculptures. After graduating in Home Science, I joined the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad with an intention to pursue ceramics, but opted for textiles instead — by pure chance.

After graduating, I could have joined the crafts sector or a traditional textile mill, but my brother-in-law Dinesh Himatsingka, who always had a passion not only for weaving, but also for modern design and technology, was setting up Himatsingka Seide Ltd near Bengaluru. He urged me to join the company as the director of design. This was a momentous decision with amazing consequences and I am with this organisation since its early days of operation.

On what it takes to be a good designer

Understanding and respecting the qualities of the material; whether it is gold or iron, silk or cotton, a good designer appreciates that each material has its own persona. Being open to new ideas and influences and creatively converting them into an aesthetic plan. Also, combining human skill and technology to translate the design into a product, which is both beautiful and practical. It is essential to provide ample room for playfulness, experimentation and innovation in the entire process of designing.

Occasional failures will not deter a good designer from venturing into the unknown.

On where the inspiration comes from

Nature is the primary provider of ideas. The capillaries of a leaf; the colour and expanse of the sky, can start the design process in unusual ways. A new pattern or structure of woven cloth is often detected in serendipitous finds of various objects, sometimes in the most ordinary and junk material. I truly believe that there is a deeper spiritual aspect, which is the driving force. It is difficult to explain, but in essence it means exploring the unknown and the mystical; and regarding the universal force which binds all our ideas and actions with reverence.

On what it means to be spiritual

I come from a family of Arya Samajis. We did not have any religious idols or symbols in our house. But that did not prevent us from appreciating the poetic beauty of a dancing Shiva or a graceful Saraswati. I have enquired into the geometric symbols of Tantra and the meaning of the Great Void. The stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata are also deeply moving in their exquisiteness. I absorbed all these without being overtly religious in my daily life.

I have worked for long years with fabric. And I have also found out that fabric has an important if subtle presence in our epics and sacred texts. To give one example, the intensely dramatic episode of Draupadi Vastraharana shows the power and seamlessness of fabric as a striking metaphor of good over evil.

When it comes to my personal art practice, I do not hesitate to present mythical moods and characters. My first installation was called ‘Chasing the Orange’ that had a floating Hanuman figure in the outside; while the same figure stood abstracted when one stepped inside the installation. My recent works have looked at the five elements and their inherent spiritual qualities.

As a designer and artist, I am able to spot the not-so-obvious things in life. I find it fascinating to express the spiritual in the material. The study of light and its appearance as luminous reflective centres of a visual arrangement has been a constant fascination. This, in my mind, gets linked to the emergence of conscious energy in matter.

On people who have influenced her thought and art

On a spiritual level, I have found  guidance in Sri Aurobindo, The Mother and Ramana Maharshi. Traditional Indian sculptures and miniature paintings have also fascinated me. As for artists, Mark Rothko, Paul Klee, Miro, and Lucio Fontana have provided deep inspiration. In fact, one of my recent works is a tribute to Fontana’s art of slashing the canvas. All these writers, philosophers and artists have helped me realise the importance of space, time, colour and sound in art as much as in life.

On the use of technology and working with associates

Given the sophistication of our products and the speed of production, modern technology is not only vital but unavoidable in my work as a designer. Also, designing in a corporate setup is essentially a team effort. I am fortunate to have a group of highly talented and professional designers who work in full strength in pursuing perfection with a clear spirit of co-operation.

On art & design being elitist

I do concede that the art and textiles I make may be labelled by some as being somewhat elitist. The sphere in which I operate is quite limited in the sense that my work may not touch the man on the street. But I am really interested in taking my art to the open and finding larger audiences.

I am fascinated with fine silk as a material, but I am equally keen to work with cotton khadi. I want to collaborate with artisans and craftspeople in rural India. A project with a group of leather puppeteers from Andhra Pradesh was enriching for all concerned. I need to introspect and keep experimenting in order to manifest the “seed ideas” in my mind into the material medium.

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