Viraj Khanna is “absolutely not social any more”. “I have literally stopped going out... sleeping early...,” he laughs. That’s the kind of tectonic shift art has brought about in his life. Something he “never really thought about before the pandemic” has become a passion now. And, he is enjoying himself. Ahead of his second solo showing, this time in Mumbai’s Tao Art Gallery that previews on
February 25, Viraj shares his vision with The Telegraph.
So, you are taking art seriously...
Yeah and I am also planning to go to college. I have not studied art up to now and with all these shows happening, I am actually deciding to go to college. I have sent in my applications and if I get through, I’ll be going around August. I have applied to Rhode Island, Columbia, Bard, Tufts... just a bunch of colleges that have sculpture programmes. I want to go and learn. Up to now I have been doing everything without any sort of formal education and see how that changes my art practice.
What new avenues has art opened up?
Through art if there is something I have discovered about myself is that it requires a lot of isolation and I have started to enjoy that. To paint and to sculpt, you need to be absolutely alone. Whenever I am surrounded by people and even on days I have to go to work, those days, I can’t really work. There are some days when I don’t see anyone, not even my parents. That’s when I can usually create. When you are really bored, that’s the time you can be really creative. It’s almost as if there is no dopamine trigger in your head and you are just sitting and doing nothing, that’s when the real ideas can come.
Are you enjoying the sculptures more than the canvases?
It’s both. With the sculptures, it’s more a thinking process and with the paintings a physical process. There is more experimentation and movement. Both tell a different story. This time I am doing textile and embroidery. In the first show, I avoided it.... It’s easy for people to say: ‘Oh, your mom’s (fashion designer Anamika Khanna) done it....’ She has such a big name and influence. There is a sort of a shadow and it is difficult for both my brother and I to get out of that shadow. So, I didn’t want to do textile to say that this is something I have done on my own, but this time I am experimenting with embroidery. That’s what I look into the whole business as well... the pricing of embroidery. So, I have learned a lot about good hand work and different types of materials. So, I am actually taking that practice and creating figures with totally hand-embroidered works.
Tell us more...
The name is similar. The first one was ‘What My Mother Didn’t Teach Me’ and this one is ‘What My Mother Didn’t Teach Me... & Some Things She Did!’. The ‘Some Things’ are the textile and embroidery. I am also launching three NFTs. So, it’s going to be NFTs which the Tao gallery is going to put up... it’ll be NFTS on digital screens on the walls and the client can buy them. NFTS can become really big. Nobody really knows, but people are investing in it. Someone bought land on the metaverse for 20 crore and there is going to be a fashion show in two-three months. That’s what I was reading somewhere.
Apart from that (NFTS), there will be 12 to 13 fibreglass sculptures and four or five hand-embroidered works and 20-25 paintings. The paintings and sculptures revolve around human vulnerabilities and how society as a whole influences our choices... the way we dress, are supposed to speak and how we behave.
How have you evolved in the last one year as an artist?
I love the process of painting and sculpting but I also find it stressful, but I still keep doing it. It’s almost like an addiction.... Every decision, conscious or subconscious, that you make, you are still trying to figure out and almost get it perfect. In terms of evolution... from the first show, it was more collage canvas... I was cutting up canvases and sticking them on more canvases. My paintings have moved from that to more mixed media and magazine collage on canvas. Also, in terms of what I am making, earlier it was a little more abstract, now, it’s a little more figurative.
Now that you are also looking to hone your skills, what is the vision you have?
I actually want to experiment with so many different materials. I want to work with glass and wood and once I am around those materials and there are people working on them and I am learning from them, I will be able to apply it to my art as well. I am also trying to create a contemporary figure. For example, everyone relates to Mickey Mouse and there is this artist Kaws who I look up to and he is creating these gigantic Mickey Mouse figures and showing them in museums. He just created his own version of the figure. What I am trying to do is create a figure more representative of our times. It is a non-realistic figure. So, everyone can relate to it. It’s not exactly a toy, but those larger figures with the faces I do....
Will art take precedence then? Or, are you just going with the flow?
It’s almost like a 50-50. I am spending half my time there and half my time here. The (fashion) label is something we always have to be a part of and I am looking into the finance and the management and a little bit of the design work.
Are you enjoying this more?
This is something I am more passionate about. I enjoy both. I wouldn’t say I don’t enjoy that.
Works of art from Viraj Khanna’s ‘What My Mother Didn’t Teach Me... & Some Things She Did!’ that will travel to Mumbai for a solo showing at Tao Art Gallery, curated by Sanjana Shah, previewing on February 25
What has been your mom’s reaction?
She is very proud and supportive. She is also very critical of my work and if she doesn’t like something, she’ll be like ‘burn it’. (Laughs) So, I get super honest, critical feedback about what she thinks about my work. I am happy she likes it overall.
Who are the artists of the moment for you?
Kaws is a really big influence because he blurs the lines between commercial and fine arts. Jeff Koons obviously. The art critics hate him but he is one breaking all the auction records. Javier Calleja is making a lot of the fun stuff. I also look up to Dana Schutz, from New York.