Art of Rithika Merchant : Myths, Rituals, and Folklore

Rithika Merchant is an Indian artist. She’s in Europe since 2008 and divides her time between Mumbai and Barcelona. Her art is composed of visual representation of various myths, rites, and folklore abound in cultural traditions around the world. Her mosaic-like multilayer drawings and paintings created by creatures from her imagination are rich with visual narratives of histories to convey the ideas of creation, fertility, transcendence, and liberation. Rithika emphasizes the complexities and inter-connectedness of humans and natural world. Her hybrid or metamorphosed humans and animal forms are delicate and inspire fear coupled with reverence as with deities and also hint at duality that is prominent in Eastern traditions. In our simple interview with Rithika, she’s telling us a bit about herself and her art:

2. Sister BansheePlease tell us about yourself and things you like doing:

I was born and raised in Bombay, India. I studied Fine Art at Parsons the New School for Design in New York. Since graduating in 2008 I have spent most of my time in Europe – first in Portugal at a residency in Alentejo region and then a year living in Lisbon. I now divide my time between Barcelona and Bombay.

I love to travel, cook and spend time in the outdoors – I love camping, hiking, swimming – anything that involves the wilderness. I also spend lots of my time drinking tea and reading.

3. Supernatural GuidesWhat is your artist statement and place of art in your life?

I consider myself a feminist and I choose to portray strong female characters. I strive to break the stereotype of how women are often portrayed in art – either as muses or for their aesthetic qualities. I would like my work to open up a discussion about how women are viewed within society and the role that they are often forced to play.

6. Imaginary FriendThe fact that I can even spend my time making this sort of work and have the outlet to express my ideas regarding this makes me feel grateful.

My art has a profound effect on my personal life as I am lucky enough to be able to survive solely from my work.  I work at it almost all the time – it’s my favourite thing to do – I am usually either in the process of making something or thinking about it.

10. Hildegard von BingenHow do you create your artwork and how much time does it usually take?

It really depends on each piece – size, level of detail etc. but on average I would say two to three weeks (if I work steadily). I spend a lot of my time reading and researching ideas I have, or subjects that I am interested in.  Once I have a clear idea or image in my head I usually just start to draw directly onto my paper – I rarely sketch beforehand – then I add ink and paint. Sometimes I may do a colour wash or tint on the paper before I begin.  If I am working on a folded piece, then I will fold the paper or make any cuts before I start drawing. I do have a notebook in which I make lots of written notes but I almost never make sketches or studies of things.  I sketch more with words than images.

12. Uncanny ClosenessBesides mythologies and folklore, what other theme would you like to explore in your art?

I am currently exploring the idea of “Magical Thinking”. I am exploring the effects of the beliefs in superstition, ritual, alchemy and the uncanny. The idea that stories and legends associated with witches and female ghosts can be viewed as protofeminist tales. I also explore psychological phenomena exhibited by some historical figures and the role they played in historical events.

13 MotherTell us something about your style and how did it evolve:

I love detailed, almost decorative works. I like the aesthetic of desaturated colour, in the vein of old maps, and botanical drawings. I am inspired by religious iconography and late antiquity. I enjoy colour and paper that looks like it has been exposed to the sun or folded up and put in the pocket of an adventurer. My newer work is a bit darker and more macabre, but not grotesque.

13.The Magic FlightWhat equipment do you mostly use?

I primarily work with gouache, watercolour and ink on paper.

Tell us about your future plans, projects and ambitions:

I am currently working towards a solo show I will be having in Nuremberg, Germany in November as well as a two person show I will be part of in Mumbai in early 2015.

15. EC I (Chimera)I also hope to continue to exhibit my work and bring it to a broader audience within India – so far I have only shown in my hometown and I would love to share my work with those outside of Mumbai as well.

Tell us about your favorite artists and stuff that inspires and motivates you:

I am a huge fan of Indian artists such as Mithu Sen and Nalini Malani. I am also inspired by Walton Ford, Ana Mendieta, Frida Kahlo, Hieronymus Bosch, Giuseppe Arcimboldo and Kiki Smith. Recently I have been looking at the drawings of Fortunio Liceti and Luigi Serafini as well as Renaissance alchemical drawings.

17. EC III (Ancestor)In terms of books a recent favourite has been “Just Kids” by Pattie Smith. “What I loved” by Siri Hustevedt and “London Jungle Book” by Bhajju Shyam are old favourites of mine.  Since my newer work explores psychological phenomena and they uncanny,  a friend lent me her copy of Freud’s “The Uncanny” which I really enjoyed.

I really like listening to Podcasts while I work – “Radiolab” is the one I listen to the most. I learn so much and get so many ideas from it.

rithika_merchantTravel is also a huge source of inspiration for me. I recently went to Turkey and was very inspired by the patterns and colours, well as the intricate decoration in the art and architecture. I visited some old cave churches in Cappadocia and the coloration of the paintings on the walls as well as the stories behind them were fascinating and inspiring.

Also, good music, tea and snacks keep me going when I am feeling stuck.

All images © Rithika Merchant : Website | Facebook

About Nishant Mishra

Nishant studied art history and literature at the university during 1990s. He works as a translator in New Delhi, India and likes to read about arts, photography, films, life-lessons and Zen.

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