There are a few things that caught our eye when we saw New Delhi-based artist Amrai Dua’s work for the first time. Well, from where do we start? Can we begin for the fact that her body of work is bold, colourful and eye-catching with strong storylines behind them? Or the fact that she adores Frida Kahlo and calls her ‘mother’? Or, Amrais Art Studio—her firm in South Delhi is a sacred place where only important people are invited—a chic space with walls decorated with drawings, paintings and prints that are close to her heart. She dreams of having a bigger studio in her mid-30s with massive wooden ceilings, hand painted glass domes and lots of fauna where she can paint her models as and when she likes.
And why did we add this bit? In times when most 23-year olds are clueless as a brick, Dua, in all fairness has achieved quite a bit. She has her own studio, has followers that adore her, has already worked with major brands, has cutting edge work, she contributes to a weekly segment at Firstpost, and she recently unveiled a line of quirky T-shirts and notebooks through her art studio too—so life’s good for Dua to say the least. Yes, they come with a set of challenges, but that’s an occupational hazard.
We catch up with Dua, who tells us more about growing up in Dehradun, her Guy Sexual Illustrations, the merch her recently unveiled, and more.
How was life growing up in Dehradun, things that helped you create your artistic insight?
Growing up in Dehradun was sheer bliss! I practised all my skills of being a sweet pumpkin in the lush green valley. As a child, I was a tomboy and my mother always warned me before I stepped out of my house in the evening to play with the rest of the ‘decent’ kids (laughs). I was always the gang leader governing rest of the boys of my clan. I never played with dolls. In fact, I made fun of those who did. My favourite game was ‘Ice Pice’ or Hide & Seek, which we later discovered derives from ‘I Spy’ (chuckles). The beauty of the game was, 9 kids tried to hide behind one another, in between their contagious giggles. I threw lizards on them with the help of my best friend, Rishi Dhaka. We derived some sort of sadistic pleasure and later mimicked them in front of our parents just to realise that we weren’t normal kids!
My parents organised summer camps every year by the name of ‘The Little Rascals’ where I got the opportunity to discover more about myself. I could swim, skate, cook, bake, dance, act and most importantly—I could draw. For me, drawing wasn’t all about making a house with a chimney with smoke coming out. It was more about putting my thoughts on a piece of paper with the help of just a few colours. My visual memory was strong. My father being a creative person himself always told me, that beauty lies in detailing and that comes from minutely observing things around you. Human expressions always fascinated me. Since my maternal side lives in Dehradun and we all share the same locality, I drew on every occasion. I drew because that was the easiest way of expressing my love towards others.
I could never afford expensive colours and I tried utilising my sketch pens even after they ran out of ink by carefully putting my saliva into the nib. Might sound completely gross, but that’s how I grew up! All my pocket money went into purchasing crayons and sketch books. But I knew I was investing in the right things.
Why and when did you know that art is something you would like to pursue professionally?
In school, my art guru, Urmilla Verma, always encouraged me to participate in various drawing competitions. She was the driving force behind all of my little successes. Receiving merit certificates from her during early morning school assembly is something I really miss today. She is the one who taught me the art of holding a brush and expressing emotions with the flow of strokes. Some people come in your lives with a purpose. She came with the purpose of making me the person I am today! (sobs)
Immediately after passing school, I decided to choose my passion over everything. I joined my dream college, Lalit Kala Mahavidhayala also known as College of Art, New Delhi. Since then there is no looking back. I’m proud of all my achievements. The zeal to learn more and more each day is the reason why at the age of 23 I’m still exploring.
Three traits that perfectly describe you?
Resilient. Innovative. Positive.
As Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’’ I’ve been doing this for the last six years and trust me it isn’t easy. Weaving ideas and moulding them into something tangible takes time and success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s essential to remain patient and feel positive about everything we dream of. In India, people don’t like to invest a lot in art. But they leave no stone unturned when it comes to the practice of their bargaining skills which is genuinely frustrating. Most of the starving artists don’t even know the real value of their work. It’s a sad scenario. I hope with time things will change for the better. Therefore, it’s essential for every artist to remain positive.
If you ever met Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo what would you say to them?
To Dali, I would say, “I’ll make up for all the years I was supposed to be caressing your moustache.’’
To Frida,“Hi mum! It’s good to be back!”
Could you tell us a little about your Guysexual Illustrations for Firstpost—the idea and how did the collaboration happen?
My senior from school works with Firstpost as a news editor. She had been following my work for a long time and she asked me to immediately get on board. Collaborating with Guysexual has been an amazing experience. It’s the ultimate pocketbook to the gay world and talks about dating nightmares, fashion tips, style facts, book recommendations, lust lists… you name it. The writer Aniruddha Mahale himself is pretty rad and what I illustrate for Guysexual is completely atypical and free-spirited. The LGBTQ issues are sensitive in India. Homosexual males are often viewed and portrayed as effeminate, who are interested in women’s fashion (rolls eyes), while lesbians are depicted as exhibiting masculine traits with short hair, funky ripped clothes and tattoos. I take every new article as a challenge, because in no way should it hurt anyone’s personal feelings. For me, showcasing talent on Firstpost every week is a matter of pride and I do get a lot of love from the LGBTQ family.
We found out that you started your company on your own right when you were in college. Why did you feel something like this was necessary at the time? Fun and challenging things you might remember?
Coming from a disciplined school background I realised my college schedule was taking me nowhere. They were still following the same old pattern and I had no clue what was happening in the real world since they focused more on manual drawings and laid less emphasis on digital media. I felt an urgent need of a pen tab and an iMac desktop. These gadgets could have been easily gifted by my parents but I chose to earn it. I started to freelance. I had to name my alter ego, so I called it ‘Amrais Art Studio’. It started for money but when my passion got marinated in hues of my palate, it gradually became a strong part of my life. The biggest challenge was, and still is, to quote a price for the artwork that is going to be created. In the beginning, it was a real task. I felt nervous while setting up a price because there was no one to guide me. My oldest client (who is now a dear friend) still chuckles over the fact, that the painting I created for her 5 years ago—was cheaper than her Zara jacket. To my defence, I tell her that it was more of a gift to her, but in all my honesty, I think I was plain stupid and unaware of my worthiness! (giggles)
You recently launched t-shirts and notebooks under Amrais Art Studio. Could you tell us a little bit about the project? Why did you create them? What can people expect? What are/were the challenges like?
I began posting my ‘just for fun’ illustration works on my Facebook and Instagram page and started to get some great freelance work because of it. I’ve always believed in earning my followers, instead of paying these social networking sites, in order to have people on my list who don’t even understand art! So, they are pretty limited and many of them know me personally. My followers have been the driving force behind all of my latest creation. They are the ones who pushed me towards getting my designs printed on notebooks and t-shirts and yes, the demand for these products is incredibly good! Over the period of time, I’ve realised that their expectations have risen. They have persistently been encouraging me to launch a proper store where they could just drop by and shop. People share their thoughts and ideas. They talk about music, dance, nature, drugs, love, prostitutes, sex, women, gays and various other things which they want me to illustrate. The pressure to ‘always’ be creative is rough sometimes, but turning those ideas into a finished piece and then into a physical product is so rewarding!
I do dream of owning an art shop in the future where I can not just find a way to earn a living, but turn my imagination into clothing for enthusiasts who understand my work. It’s a challenging journey of course, where I’m still exploring and polishing my skills and saving a bit for future too so that I could live up to people’s expectations.
Could you tell us a little about your style and things that you like to work on?
My style is pretty bold. I like to use a lot of colours in my drawings. When I’m at work and all my creative juices are flowing at its best, I feel that even my bloodstreams are producing colours. And no, I am not high on drugs at the moment, as you might think (laughs). I concur that I am a ‘madwoman’, but that’s exactly how I feel! I derive most of my inspiration from people around me. Delhi never fails to amaze me. Especially it’s nightlife. I’d been noticing quite a few African prostitutes near my area around midnight. Their active participation with drunken men with so much confidence has grabbed my attention many times without fail. I have been studying their nature from a distance, and I’ve made a few sketches that are still in the process of being fully digitally illustrated. I’ll try finishing this series by the end of this year!
Three places you would like to visit in 2017? Why?
One journey has been covered so far. It was the Gosainkund trek in Nepal with my best friend Lakshay, who is a die-hard mountaineer. I’ve travelled the US and the best of Europe but this trip was beyond everything. I tested my inner strength for the first time by carrying a 16 kilogramme rucksack on my back and climbed all the way up to 14,600 feet. The pain was excruciating. While descending the snowy mountain and coming towards the end of my journey, I realised, that true happiness lies in conquering our fears and understanding that life is not just about surviving, but thriving with the passion for achieving that’s unthinkable. I found a new me and a friend who could risk his life in order to save mine. The other two places are yet to be decided, but again it’s going to be the mountains.
What is on your playlist at the moment?
Chhap Tilak by Abida Parveen, Coke Studio, Pakistan.
Feature picture by Manpreet Kamal Kaur.