Illustrations, Installations, InnovationsShreejan Shrestha got into art not because he planned to but because he realised that Science, which he was studying, was not his cup of tea.
Shreejan Shrestha got into art not because he planned to but because he realised that Science, which he was studying, was not his cup of tea. He enrolled in an art programme, discovered that he had found his life’s calling and has ever since delved into various forms and styles of art—from street art and installations to illustrations and product designing. In this interview with the Post’s Gaurav Pote, he talks about himself and shares his views about the culture of street art and product designing in Nepal.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a designer by profession and an artist by passion and training who enjoys experimenting with different media, from product design to street art and everything in between. My surroundings and audience largely determine my work because I believe designers should be aware of the environment around them. Ever since I graduated from Kathmandu University with a BFA (Bachelor’s in Fine Arts) I’ve been involved in conducting street art workshops in different cities in Nepal under the street art project called Prasad. I’m also continuing my graduation project, for which I design various products.
How did you decide to take up art?
I’ve always had a keen interest in art, even as a kid. I fondly recall collecting a lot of random objects just to make something out of them. I think that’s where I picked up the knack for product design. Drawing and sketching were something I enjoyed very much, ever since I can remember. I was a science student in high school, but I realised upon completing high school that I wasn’t cut out for science. The only thing I found enjoyable about science was sketching diagrams of the biological specimens in the lab. Thus, without the slightest clue that I would be pursuing an artist’s career, I enrolled at the KU School of Arts, Centre for Arts and Design; and frankly, I haven’t look back since. Each work that I complete actually inspires me to keep working more and do better next time.
How are you involved with ArtLab, and what do you guys do?
ArtLab is an art collective inclined towards the urban and street art culture in Kathmandu. We’re basically involved in commissioning artworks such as illustrations, art installations and deco and indoor as well as outdoor murals; we also have a small array of merchandises. We have recently opened our own store at Base Camp, Jhamsikhel. At the moment, ArtLab is more focused on making murals for the Prasad Project, a project that we’ve been successfully pursuing for the past two years. After the recent devastating earthquakes, we have also been working on another project called Recolor. Both are street art projects.
I’m a designer for ArtLab, but I also facilitate workshops for young street art enthusiasts, wherein we share experiences and techniques we have learned over the years. We have conducted many of these workshops here in Kathmandu as well as other places outside the Valley. Recently, we also had a chance to facilitate 10 different workshops forover 300 art students in Denmark.
How do you relate street art and murals with the common Nepalis, who form the majority of your target audience?
Since the beginning, one of the main objectives of ArtLab has been to make art accessible to the general people. Art in general should not be confined to a small group of
enthusiasts or within a gallery. Taking art out of the enclosed space of galleries and putting them out there in public for the common Nepalis is what ArtLab has been trying to do. To that end, there couldn’t have been a better medium than murals and street art; and with social icons and issues as our subject, I think everyday Nepalis are certainly able to relate to the art pieces.
What kinds of artworks do you usually create besides murals? Do you have a particular style or principle that you follow?
Besides murals, I do illustrations, paintings, graphic designs and product designs. But I don’t follow any particular style per se. Since taking up art was never a conscious decision for me, I don’t think I will ever be bound by one specific style. I like to challenge myself in every artwork that I create and following a particular style somehow feels a lot like desperately staying in the comfort zone. That’s the reason my works are usually different from each other.
How do you perceive the Nepali art industry?
The Nepali art and design industry in recent years has received a lot through globalisation. With so many art festivals and workshops, and hordes of international artists visiting Nepal to get involved in local art projects, the scope of the sector has definitely broadened. This has had some major impacts for the Nepali art community. First, more people have grown into art; they have developed an understanding and appreciation for art, and many believe in the notion that art can bring positive changes in society. This brings more work and respect for the artists. Second, with more demand, we now feel that people value Nepali art, which has also led us to a point where we have actually broken the stereotypical perception that art is a difficult profession to sustain. And lastly, there is more competition now, as more creative artists continue to emerge. Struggles and competition exist in all professions—even engineers and doctors don’t have it easy these days—so art is no exception.
What’s your creative process like?
I think I follow a slightly different process than most practicing artists, because I rarely make art for myself. As a designer, we are obliged to keep our target audience in mind while creating products. Whether I’m designing posters or products or making a canvas piece, the first thing I do is determine who I am catering to and plan my work and develop perspectives accordingly. Perhaps that’s the outcome of my training, but half my work is done after that.
We’re curious what a product designer’s job is like. Can you tell us more?
Product designers are basically problem solvers who try to make everyday life a lot easier through innovative product designs. Every object that we see around us and buy is actually designed. But it is the product designers’ responsibility to make those products more utilitarian and durable with the aid of sophisticated designs and aesthetics. Professional product designers specialise in making products more user-friendly too for consumers and more useful for daily living. If a product designer can design a user-friendly, durable and aesthetically pleasing product with limited resources and at low cost, that is considered the most ideal situation. Basically, a product designer’s job is to find that balance in the products he or she designs.
How do you see the product designing in Nepal as an industry/profession?
Right now, it is mostly limited to the handicraft sector here, but even that sector requires much exploring and could do with better marketing. We import almost 90 percent of the products that we consume, and consequently we have discontinued the production of many traditional and modern products in Nepal. That is adversely impacting our economy on the one hand, and on the other, we are losing the opportunity to develop efficient ways to design products. It is not just the fancy, expensive gadgets that I’m referring to but a lot of common products that we use, as well. We probably need to be designing our own products and start depending less on imported ones. Nepali designers and companies haven’t yet fully realised this, but there are already some here who have initiated a handful of product design projects in the country. It would thus be wrong to say that there is no scope for a product designer here, but we still have a lot of ground to cover before we turn it into a major profession in Nepal.
Who are some of the artists that you follow?
For product design, I look up to Dieter Rams and a few Nordic designers. When it come to illustrations, I’m always inspired by the works of Si Scott, Kerby Rosanes and also our own Abin Shrestha.
What’s next for Shreejan Shrestha?
I would like to explore more, refine my skills further in product design and perhaps get a few years of higher education.