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Q & A With Artist and Book Designer Ahlawat Gunjan

Meet Ahlawat Gunjan: 

Book designer and visual artist, Ahlawat Gunjan is graphic design graduate of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad with a Masters in design from The Glasgow School of Art, UK and Purdue University, USA. Professionally trained in book design at Lars Mullers, Switzerland and Faber & Faber, London. Currently, he is managing the design department at Penguin Random House, India.

His overlapping interests in art and literature inspired him to pursue a career in publishing and heightened his keen interest in visual authorial interventions and curatorship. Ahlawat also relishes the many ways and levels at which a designer can play the role of an artist to take narrative construction forward through text and image.

Nature informs your art. How close have you been to nature? Living in urban jungle Delhi, when and how often do you get away?

My dad is a farmer, and I have spent all my childhood in and around the farms near Meerut. Harvesting season being closest out of all. Winter is over and summer is arriving surely, but slowly. Koels perching on Mango trees, water flowing in small alleys from the tube well, our helper’s families busy cutting preparing for the harvesting machine to arrive and there is this sense of festivity, some sort of celebration. So I guess my relationship with the nature goes back a long long way. Then, I went on to study at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and the lush campus needs no introduction. It was actually a jungle patch in 1960s, and probable the architects only chopped the area that was required to construct the building. So, sometimes it gives you that sense of being in a jungle. And having lot of family and friends in army and air force, sums up my closeness to the nature. Given the first opportunity, I would like to escape Delhi and go to Himachal. But I have made so many small small commitments to myself (I’m learning piano, I’m trying to bring discipline to my painting and much more) that getting away is becoming harder.

A creative person has a fresh way of looking at a place. So when you travel, what are some of the ways you like to explore?

Flea markets, people-watching at cafes, getting sort of lost in the crowds.

What is your travel style?

Making other person so connected and comfortable that they start sharing their lives, and personal lives I mean, they fears and inhibitions. And I’m saying this from my very many personal experiences, nationally and internationally. My style is simple and be honest.

An artist whose life and work inspire you to travel.

Hercules Brabazon Brabazon

One place you think an art lover simply must travel to.

Tuscany, Italy

An underrated gem of a place for art lovers?

Ruins, in and around Delhi.

Of all the places you have been to, pick one where you could live forever.

I can never get over our Indian Air Force campuses. I have my eyes on a bungalow in Subroto Park in New Delhi, which is more like a dream than reality. And I strongly believe in dreaming.

A location you would like to paint during autumn.

Togetherness, is my favorite place.

How do you spend time during long layovers and long haul flights? 

I have stopped carrying books and work on my laptop. Because I realized that I was neither reading books nor working on my laptop. For me, it is the most peaceful time to introspect, to reflect on life, relations, work and future. And somehow I always got some meaningful answers out of it. So, I just want to be with myself sipping tea, if possible.

A must-watch film for lovers of art and travel.

I’m very bad at films. But if I have to recommend, I will pick Central Station. It is a 1998 Brazilian–French drama film set in Brazil. It tells the story of a young boy’s friendship with a jaded middle-aged woman.

And a must-read book.

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Your favourite stretch of road in the whole world.

Driving around the villages in Isle of Skye, Scotland.

Food is a passion with you. Share a beautiful meal memory with us.

Oh, a lot. In abundance. But I guess the most beautiful one is the one I made recently. I recently went to work with my tutor Dan Williams, in his studio in London. It is based in the attic of his independent house in North London. We both were so busy discussing my work, that we passed the lunch time. Around 3 we realized that we haven’t had the lunch. We both went down and there wasn’t much cooked stuff around. Dan decided to quickly put some salad, by picking fresh rocket leaves and tomatoes from his garden. But the whole idea of picking produce from your backyard gave me high. In today’s age and date, where the world is turning into a concrete, glass and steel jungle, I found this whole deal amazingly beautiful. We had this simple salad in hand-made olive colour bowls with homemade berry juice (again from his garden) on the bench in his garden. The whole setting was no less than a painting for me.

Pick three of your favourite paintings and tell us the story behind them.

Lavenders in North Yorkshire. We were driving from there and I spotted this lavender field, which did seem beautiful to me, so I took a few photos. I never knew this will become part of my first solo show. But when I actually started thinking the narrative of the show, this piece played a very important role. I borrowed a lot from the photo, research over the internet coupled with my own imagination.

North Yorkshire

Hampshire: I have a tutor in London, who tutors me online. I sent him some work and he wasn’t pleased with the sky. So in his critique, he referred me to Nodle and asked to study his skies. Nodle was a new name for me, but when I studied his work…it blew me off. So, the sky in this piece is heavily inspired by Nodle’s style, and rest if my imagination.

Hampshire

Mother: In June 2013, I went back to my school, The Glasgow School of Art, to take a short summer course in watercolour. This was the first time, I was painting anything in professional setting. And this is mother’s portrait that I painted towards the end of the summer course. I feel in love with this, not because I got colours, strokes, details right, but the way it started talking to me. Personally, I managed to get the true essence of her personality, her past. Some people, including her, felt that it is sad, but probably that is what I wanted to evoke.

Mother

Give us a travel secret very few know.

There are always flower for those who want to see them-Henri Matisse

I find beauty in everything, delayed or cancelled flight, lost luggage. Because you need chaos in your soul to be a dancing star. So just enjoy what comes your way.

 

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