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Interview with artist Lakshmi Mohanbabu

Artist Lakshmi Mohanbabu is a Singaporean who grew up in Kabul Afghanistan during the 70’s and 80’s. She is a trained architect (B.Arch, Manipal University) and fashion designer who graduated from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in New Delhi. Lakshmi has also taught fashion design, illustration and design history in various educational institutions including Singapore’s LASALLE College of the Arts and NIFT (India). She has also illustrated books for WHO (World Health Organisation) about disability.

Having travelled the world, Lakshmi spent a significant amount of time in Europe and Asia researching art, architecture and design – all of which can be seen in her work.

As an artist, Lakshmi has a plethora of works in various mediums including; pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, acrylic and watercolours.

Rare and incredibly gifted, her’s is the exemplary Singaporean voice, bridging the gap between the past and the present. Her hypnotic, painterly language evokes notions of a transcended existence.


What made you continue to paint and illustrate books even after studying fashion design?

For me, fashion design was just another extension of the design and creative field. It actually motivated me to further explore art and design.

“Disabled Village Children” by David Werner, 1995; Illustrations by Lakshmi Mohanbabu

What is your art vision? How do you portray it in your artwork?

My focus is on individualism, cross border interaction and contemporary social issues. I recognised the power of religion and scriptures - specifically their signs and symbols which have become increasingly pertinent in our daily lives. During these times of uncertainty where meaning has almost disappeared from most physical realities, I truly believe it is the task of an artist to delve deeper, beyond surface textures and into the realms of the transcendental instead. It is an act of defiance to uncover ideals of personal and universal “truths”.

The world we live in today is a melting pot of influences from across the globe. For me, art is the perfect medium to link people of various races and communities. I strive to find common ground and interlink elements of various cultures, languages, symbolism and art.

With my architecture, art and costume history background I believe I have a global perspective that has helped me develop my style. The best way to explain my ‘art vision’ is to give you a brief rundown of my body of work.

My Colours Of Unity series is a commentary on issues of racial discrimination and gender bias. More often than not, we tend to be dragged into the abyss of isolation without recognising the fact we are all part of the same universe. We live in an ever-changing world where the only constant is change. The change we need is an acceptance of people of various cultures and getting rid of racial, gender and sexual bias for the human race to live in harmony. It is vital that these issues are addressed and acknowledged. We are interconnected and interdependent having common threads that bind us, not divide us. We can’t live in isolation.

“My Colours Of Unity series is a commentary on issues of racial discrimination and gender bias.” ~ Lakshmi Mohanbabu

Left to right: ‘Green Onyx’ & ‘Iris Vision’ by Lakshmi Mohanbabu, acrylic on canvas with bespoke acrylic colour frame, 2017

My Interactions series draws from the cross-cultural patterns and paths of the Mandala – a concept common to all religions; a representation of the universe, a microcosm and macrocosm seen as a motif in Hindu temples, Buddhist stupas, Muslim mosques and Christian cathedrals. Patterns and lines drawn from ancient times coalesce beautifully with a series of bold colours, to illustrate the magicial wonders of achieving balance in our lives – the yin and yang of our personal dualities. Add a dash of Sir Isaac Newton’s colour wheel and you have the basis of my Interaction pieces.

“Patterns and lines drawn from ancient times coalesce beautifully with a series of bold colours, to illustrate the magicial wonders of achieving balance in our lives – the yin and yang of our personal dualities.” ~ Lakshmi Mohanbabu 

 Left to right: “Primary Interaction – Blue” & “Tertiary Interaction – Dromenon Red / Purple“ by Lakshmi Mohanbabu, acrylic on canvas, 2016

The Fibonacci Nautilus series is based on our existence and our interdependence and interconnectedness with the world we live in; our immediate surroundings; the network of friends and family and ultimately the universe. The focus of this series is based on finding the harmony in art inspired by totally different cultures or styles which have roots in the same inspiration or interpretation.

Our DNA and our galaxy both follow a spiral like the Nautilus, which is the form used. The spiral is seen in all aspects of life from the unfurling of a leaf bringing forth new life to the unwinding of a spool of thread - like the unravelling of the mysteries of life. The spiral serves the creative purpose of giving expression and form to something that does not yet exist, something new and unique. A single and continuous line divides the whole canvas. This creates a shape, which outlines the void that reflects the same shape in rotational geometry creating two spaces; what is there and what is not; the known and the unknown; the yin and yang.

Over the years my study of global architectural forms and buildings has helped me explore the idea of complimentary and interdependent spaces.

“The focus of this series is based on finding the harmony in art inspired by totally different cultures or styles which have roots in the same inspiration or interpretation.” ~ Lakshmi Mohanbabu

Left to right: ‘Fibonacci Nautilus - Black & White” and ‘Fibonacci Nautilus - Inverse Black & White’ by Lakshmi Mohanbabu, acrylic on canvas, 2017

My Expressions series, was inspired by Chinese opera and Japanese Kabuki theatre. It is a plethora of complementary emotions. The yin and yang of expressions such as: joy and sorrow, agony and ecstasy, are executed in a unique precision of painting style, using acrylics on paper. The influence of Chinese and Japanese culture over the last century and a half is notable and is an art form to be preserved and appreciated. Inspiration for this series came from every aspect – from the costume and makeup to the artist’s skill and technique of performing and expression, which is dealt with a high level of perfection. In Kabuki theatre and Chinese opera the artist brings life to expression, ‘the perfect inspiration’. Minimalism, an intrinsic part of the Japanese psyche has been much copied in the west, a major influence on styles such as art nouveau in the design of object d’art, buildings and costumes. The use of painted faces to symbolise qualities of human nature with its bold linear symmetrical patterns in red and black defines the character of the facial expression were to me the perfect resource in the creation of the series. You’ll notice most facial outlines have been eliminated with an approach to minimalism.

“My Expressions series, was inspired by Chinese opera and Japanese Kabuki theatre. It is a plethora of complementary emotions. The yin and yang of expressions such as: joy and sorrow, agony and ecstasy…” ~ Lakshmi Mohanbabu

Left to right: ‘Love - Butterfly Kiss’ and ‘Hate - Piercing Stare by Lakshmi Mohanbabu, acrylic on paper, 2015

How do you make people engage with your art pieces? What is your ‘secret’?

My painting process begins with extensive research of a chosen topic which can take over a few years of researching context, subject matter, history and techniques. The fact that a painting has a story and a deeper meaning behind it engages people on one level.

On another level I use strong value contrasts and perspective with the play of light and shadow on surfaces to add depth to the painting that draws the viewer’s attention. I also feel the difference is always in the detail and in every series, the frames are an intrinsic part of the painting and add to the viewing experience.

For example, in my Interactions series, I used a value gradation of a single colour in the perspective of the painting. The frames were custom made with 3D printed plugs of the same design as the painting and placed on the four corners of the frame adding yet another dimension.

“For my ‘Interactions’ series, I used a used a value gradation of a single colour in the perspective of the painting. The frames were custom made with 3D printed plugs of the same design as the painting and placed on the four corners of the frame adding yet another dimension.” – Lakshmi Mohanbabu

The Expressions series demanded I develop a unique style of minimalistic painting on a large scale, using just two colours - red and black - acrylic on paper, which required extreme control and precision, with months of careful preparation. Each emotion is described and painted with just a few lines with equal amount of control of the medium.

Dreamy - Chimerical Haze” by Lakshmi Mohanbabu, acrylic on paper, 2015

In the Colours Of Unity series I use strong colour and value contrast. The canvas is framed by a transparent coloured acrylic sheet that matches the colour of the glasses on the face of the character in the painting creating an illusion of the light, cast by the frame on the wall, is also making the glasses cast a similar coloured shadow on the face.

“The canvas is framed by a transparent coloured acrylic sheet that matches the colour of the glasses on the face…”

Left to right: ‘Oriental Purple (unframed)’ and ‘Oriental Purple (framed)’, Colours of Unity by Lahsmi Mohanbabu, 2015

Which are your favourite states of making art? What do you mean by meditative when you say, “Making the artwork is meditative?” How exactly did you feel during that process?

The actual painting process is the most fun. I develop a deep personal connection to my work. For me, it is vital to paint and once the process starts I listen to classical music which allows me to channel my inner self on the canvas. This period is the most intense where I can sometimes paint over days or weeks without much need for breaks. I find it difficult to break away and do little else.

What’s next for Lakshmi?

I’m currently working on a series of paintings which dwell on inner emotions – the smokescreen we create for ourselves. There is an inner self waiting to be unleashed but always hidden behind the mask we create for ourselves which reflects emotions and reactions expected of us by the outside world. Lost to the adult is the innocence of childhood where every thought and need is openly expressed as we are forced by experience to analyse and resort to more complex behavioural patterns.

A sneak peek of Lakshmi’s ‘Smoke Screen’ Series, acrylic on canvas, 2018


Interview with artist Lakshmi Mohanbabu Reviewed by My Blogger Profile on 11:23:00 AM Rating: 5
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