When did you first know that you wanted to make art?
There was a turning point for me when an art instructor saw my painting of three apples at a group show in college. He walked up to me said , “You are so talented… but let me tell you…if you do not become an artist, God may punish you.” After that I painted every day for months.
Recently, you have been spending more time away from New York. Can you explain why?
For my spirit…inspiration, renewal…and to be able to focus, away from everyday distractions. To learn about other people’s cultures and lives. These experiences have given me enormous inspiration. There is a saying: ”If the water does not flow and stays in one place, it smells…”
How has New York influenced your work?
New York definitely challenges me. It makes me feel like a young artist! A poem that I found accidentally while in high school might be a good answer.
“A lonely white sail in a fog in a blue sea,
What are you looking for in a far away place?
What did you lose in your loving country?
The waves are dancing and wind is screaming…
He does not run for his happiness
He wants a storm frantically.
As if there is a calmness in a storm…..”
Does your art carry a private or public meaning? Overall, it looks minimal, but it’s very expressive inside.
Both, I think… I hope, in a private, personal way, that it breaks people’s prejudices towards the discarded and humble things in life; towards gender, towards regionalism. I also hope it quietly breaks the chains of commercialism in the art world. In regards to its public meaning, I am fascinated by old, abandoned, disappearing things that people usually don’t value; by spaces that have been marginalized. They hold a great attraction for me because of their humble and collective history and humanity. When I discover sites like these, I intuitively envision how people might connect with them. Through my public art projects, I have experienced that art can bring many rich and lasting benefits to the community. People start to see their environment with new eyes and with a new understanding. Art is a way of reclamation and renewal for me, even of redemptive transformation.
Overall, it looks minimal, but it’s very expressive inside.
What kinds of materials do you use for your sculpture?
Anything abandoned by people and made of wood that I find from the street, dumpsters, garbage piles etc. Doors, chairs, frames, branches, wooden panels — really anything. My interest in humble, found materials began early during my studies, originally out of necessity due to financial hardship. I collected abandoned and discarded wooden materials, particularly old plywood on which to paint, because I could not afford to buy canvas. Instead of being discouraged when a professor and leading contemporary artist dismissed this choice as “not good art material,” I saw in his dismissal an undeveloped land, something to be explored and developed. Since then — for the last 25 years — I have focused on discovering in these waste products, infinite possibilities; finding in them a certain esthetic and transcendent quality.
How do you see the connection between your drawings, paintings, sculptures, installations and performances?
I have explored the boundaries between painting and sculpture for many years. Over time I have found that it has also become an exploration of the boundaries between space and form, art and architecture, destruction and rebirth, past and present, material and spiritual…all these things. My work is a hybrid. I think my drawing is like sculpture and my sculpture is like painting. My painting is also like sculpture and my installations are like painting as well. My installations are also like architecture. Performance combined with installation becomes theatrical. Also, public art creates an interconnectedness between art and humanity. I transform materials and in turn viewers are transformed.
Much of your work touches religious concerns—can you explain your interest in this subject?
I would prefer to say “spiritual”. I believe spirituality is the highest form of all. In the early years of my artistic career, I had many sad days because of my parents’ strong objection to my being artist. There was also financial hardship and people’s superficial values and insincere judgments. It was very hard even though on the outside I looked fine. I would sometimes console myself with reading “Tagore’s Prayer”, some lines from the Bible and the teachings of the Tao Te Ching. I also would go to a quiet space like a chapel where I felt comfort, a healing and lifting of my sprit. I remember sometimes holding in my heart a dream to create beautiful works that would uplift people’s spirits and hearts.
Tagore’s prayer read:
“Give me the strength never to disown the poor
or bend my knees before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.”
What are your other favorite arts (music, literature, dance, etc.)?
I love them all , although I’m a little lazy when it comes to reading literature. One of my dreams is to create an interactive/theatrical piece, working with talented musicians, performers, actors, dancers, lighting designers and writers, etc. I have already done several performances in collaboration with musicians and audiences but it’s a dream I’m still reaching for.
Stylistically much of your work comes close to American minimalism. Would you call yourself a minimalist?
Overall, it looks minimal, but it’s very expressive inside. It looks static, regular and symmetrical but it is intensely fluid, irregular and asymmetrical. How about “expressive minimalistic constructionism”?
What kind of projects will you do in the future?
Unexpected and inspiring works! Works that can connect with people genuinely and lift their spirits. That enhance the industrial urban environment and bring nature back into it. Works that can create harmony in collaboration with many diverse people in different fields. I will continue to photograph and document “disappearing architecture”, “signs” and “people” which I started in 2006 in India, Brazil, Korea, China and Istanbul. My first photo book of common, decaying grave sites in Brazil has been recently published, entitled “Elegy”. I also will continue to create new public art art projects ( also collaborative); and look to discover a series of neglected/ marginalized sites, transforming them into public communal spaces. I will look for the possibility of collaborative art projects as I have learned from my past experiences that collaboration can bring many rich and lasting benefits to the community; that it can actually generate positive energy and offer hope. I will definitely expand my work into more interactive and theatrical collaborations with talented musicians, performers and other artists. Right now I preparing for a show at the John Schmid Galerie in Basel, Switzerland for late 2010, and as a part of the “Walter Gropius Master Artists Project” at the Huntington Museum of Art in Huntington, West Virginia in 2011. The work there will center on new installation and wooden assemblage, drawings, sort of revisiting my earlier work from a different perspective.