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Personifying the inanimate

The opening show of the season at Sunaparanta ‘Still Life’ – curated by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi under the patronage of Dattaraj and Dipti Salgaocar – is a true amalgamation of east meets west. Two renowned design artists, Gunjan Gupta teaming up with Paul Mathieu from France to exhibit works on the theme. NT BUZZ gets talking to the two designers

Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ


Aesthetics and Jugaad

Gunjan Gupta is a celebrated design artist known for her unique, cerebral interpretation of seats and tables, among other objects. Some of her classic works – such as Potli Chair, exhibited at the Triennale Design – are on exhibit here

Gunjan Gupta’s work borders between design and art and have a unique philosophy that captures the cultural narrative and paradoxes of India. Gupta who grew up in Mumbai believes that resourcefulness is the key to survival, and it was this problem solving approach to life that was a huge influence in her growing years and led her towards a career in design.

“While growing up, my mother imbibed the traditional Indian way of life that expressed itself beautifully in our home through festivals, rituals and food. As a child, I found these cultural differences very fascinating and started travelling alone at the young age of 10,” Gupta reminisces.

Thanks to the travel, she developed a unique aesthetic sensibility early on and design came as a natural career choice. The other defining moment, she says was when she married and moved to Delhi. Here, she discovered traditional craft workshops, ancient streets and monuments that inspired her to think deeply about the transition from tradition to modernity that India needed to make.

And thus when it comes to inspiration for her work, Gupta in a broad sense feels it is the day to day life lived by people, both, dead and alive irrespective of class and culture and the objects that surround them anywhere in the world that are truly inspirational. “I love travelling, meeting people, visiting their homes, eating different cuisines and learning their histories through family albums, collections, books and museums,” Gupta tells us.

With a thorough understanding of culture and diversity and all things India, she says that the concept of ‘Rasa’ or ‘taste’ in the spiritual tradition refers to the essence of human experience; and it is emotions that govern human life which translates itself into an aesthetic flavour in the context of the visual arts.

She says: “Design is very nascent in India and being an early proponent of contemporary Indian design, I had to rely on my entrepreneurial spirit to get my work out there on the International platform.”

Talking about the creative process she uses, the conceptual designer who has created a niche for herself, says that stories are essential to her creative process. The 3 C’s that are foremost for her are concept, craft and context. “At the heart of my work lies this interest in India’s vast cultural heritage and its contemporary relevance to our lives. I blend Indian forms with western meaning and /or fuse Indian folklore with western forms,” she tells us.

However, at the top of her creative process is who makes these objects, and how it is done. So, the process, mostly collaborative has skilled craftsmen and artisans who know the job and art well. The creative highs that Gupta looks out for most are when mistakes happen and stories are shared.

Gunjan Gupta’s signature statement is a playful blend of Indian forms and rituals transformed into contemporary handmade objects having universal appeal that are functional and sculptural at the time. Art to her is a way of life – a way of seeing things. And finding the extra in the ordinary!

She believes that each culture as its unique approach toward the art of living. “In India it is deep and spiritual with a holistic approach. I love the French joie de vivre and how it has manifested itself in daily life across time periods in how things are made and consumed,” she says before adding that it’s wonderful when you can view life through a different lens – and that’s what art means to her. “At the end it’s a common quest for beauty that unites humanity” she says.

Gupta has no limitations on the materials she works with, especially because of the diversity of India’s material culture and its production capabilities, that encompass centuries old master crafts on one hand and street style innovation called ‘jugaad’ on the other.

“This is a treasure trove for any creative practitioner. I mostly work with natural materials like wood, stone, terracotta, bamboo, jute and metal,” she says. Besides, she also works with precious materials like silver/gold leaf and semi precious stones, animal bones that are intrinsic to the decorative arts of India. “I love this contrast of mundane and precious materials that India has to offer, their juxtaposition is so real and beautiful. It mimics the visual landscape of urban India where it is common to see a Bentley and a bullock cart in the same realm,” she explains.

Of course, everyone faces challenges, and for Gupta, the biggest challenge of being a designer in the 21st century is authenticity. “It’s a big word that addresses all aspects of any creative business today,” she states.

The French connection

French designer Paul Mathieu’s powerful design exhibits influences from France and India. Extraordinary pieces such as the Hanuman Chair, held in his private ‘haveli’ in Udaipur, make their first public outing to Sunaparanta.

Paul’s encounter with architecture, furniture and design took place when he was a child. He was surrounded by traditional Louis XVI style of furniture at his grandmother’s house. He was never allowed to enter the parlour but as a curious child he would peek inside the room through the shuttered windows and admire the classical pieces mixed alongside the furniture from other parts of the world. In the late 60s his father brought in some contrast to the existing antique furniture – a Florence Knoll dining set, some cabinets, and chairs. “This interesting connection between classic and modernity opened my eyes and mind to be free, explore and adapt the techniques necessary for an artistic approach on my creation,” says Paul.

He was later introduced to India through a friend Stephanie Odegard, who was internationally recognised for her contemporary designs. He fell in love with India and that reflected through his designs. “She introduced me to craftsmen she knew from North India. I have always liked working with artisans to create unique, customised pieces for my interior and architectural projects. As we travelled together the architecture and the craftsmanship of the monuments like Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Fatehpur Sikri greatly inspired me,” he says recounting a memory that inspired one of his work in New York.

During one of his visits to India, Paul was quite enchanted to see how the artisans created the jali work to complement the source of light. He then tried using a similar pattern and the concept of ‘Joie’ for a marble table collection in New York. “One of my favourite Indian discoveries was the light through Jali work carved on stone or marble, how the light is filtered and becomes pattern on the floor or the opposite wall, on the body of the cloth of the one who passes by,” he adds.

For Paul light plays an important role in his designs as it brings about depth and style. “I love the light, for what it makes us see, but also for what it makes us look like and feel. It is a great tool for a visual conversation with the surrounding environment. As designers it allows us to reinforce or give the direction to the function to space,” says Paul.

In India, he designed the famous Gyan museum in Jaipur which has over 3,000 objects including textiles, utensils, manuscripts and antique jewellery. “It was indeed a fabulous feeling to recreate and put together a great collection of decorative arts, from different parts of the world – in an architecture that already existed. Every piece of furniture was custom designed. Also, late Gyan dadha (as fondly remembered) had given me the freedom to explore and experiment,” he says.

Paul enjoys working with the Murano glass technique of shaping solid matter while in liquid form which is done in motion, like a ballet, back and forth from the masters to the oven, until the desired form is accomplished. He also works with Bronze which is different from Murano where the metal needs to rest, cool off and is then worked on by reshaping it and perfecting to adapt it to a particular piece. With marble, I see my design as we select a stone from the quarry, which is brought to life in the hands of a sculptor. I have also created an altar for a 17th-century baroque church in Aix-en-Provence, France and a table for my good friend Stephanie Odegard.

Recent work with the Luxury Living Group an Italian brand, allowed Paul to explore more innovative techniques that extend the limits of the materials towards more lightness and finesse while keeping comfort and presence. Presently, he is working with Ralph Pucci in his sculpture studio in New York on a new lighting and furniture collection that will be showcased in January 2019.

Paul believes that every piece of his work has a story which needs to be told. “The reference that it brings is more like coming to a space where people can engage with my creations and associate with something special. From the moment that I draw a sketch on a book till the time it reaches its destination, it should draw people to feel the energy that I have put in making these pieces,” he concludes.


(The show will be open to


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