Text by Shirin Mehta. Styling by Sarah Rajkotwala. Photography by Mallika Chandra. Art direction by Aishwaryashree
Rekha Goyal, 42
Why ceramics? What initially drew you to this art/craft form?
I can trace my fascination with ceramics back to my early years when I lived in South America – in Venezuela for a few years and then in Curacao – where my mother had an eclectic collection of ceramic tableware. I distinctly remember moving my hands across the undulations of those beautiful pieces, perhaps to understand these seemingly inanimate objects. I also loved playing with terracotta toys.
My first structured introduction to ceramics was through a course in school when I was 12 years old. That was the start of the process of unravelling the many layers of this craft. And since then, it has been a continuous process of discovery, learning, experimentation and finding my expression through this art form.
Where do you work? Where did you get your training?
I grew up surrounded by engineers and doctors, and the expectation was that I too would go into either of these streams. As a test for myself and as a reassurance to my parents, I got admission into one of the top engineering schools and then opted out. That was the moment I made an active choice to follow my heart.
So, after a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from the Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai, and a master’s in Art in Architecture from London, I have continued working professionally in ceramic art and building my studio practice in Mumbai, which is now 22 years old.
What is your process of creation, in physical terms?
There are really two simultaneous processes that influence each other. One is the longer-term, slow process of evolving an artistic thought. It includes developing one’s language, experimenting with materiality and fine-tuning techniques.
The other process has a shorter cycle, centred around the creation of a specific artwork or a body of work. Here, the emphasis is on ideation and then translating that idea into physical form. Once the artwork is ready, it needs to be installed at the site. I detail out the installation early on, so that the process on site is precise. Depending on the scale and complexity of the work, this entire flow can take anywhere from between a few to several months.
What inspires your shapes and silhouettes?
The ability to translate an emotion into physical form is what inspires me. Everything is an inspiration – a conversation, nature, history, colour, or simply my mood. To me, sadness and despair are as alive as joy and freedom. And art is my passage to create this flutter – whether in the mind or the heart.
Do you sketch these before you start or go with the flow?
Every single one of my works starts with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil.
What are the shapes that you love to create?
The shape or the form, is led by the thought that a specific artwork commands. But when I look at my body of work, I would say organic, delicate and evocative forms are the ones that I enjoy the most.
What has the process of creating from clay/mud been like for you? Has the thought occurred that somehow you are tapping into the cycle of nature – of death and regeneration?
Creation and destruction are integral to clay, as birth and death are to life. Clay undergoes continuous change as an artist engages with it. It is dynamic. We construct and deconstruct to create a form. We recycle clay. We add water to make clay pliable, and the same water can destroy it before it is fired. Clay transforms with fire. The parallels between clay and life are many and has been the inspiration of one of my works, titled “The Memory of Water”.
Did you always have a desire to create, even as a child?
I believe all children have a desire to create, and I was no different. I was fortunate that my mother spotted this trait, encouraged me and introduced me to different art forms.
Does your work tap into childhood memories in any way?
My work taps into everything I feel and experience, whether past or present, or the anticipation of what is yet to come.
What would you normally wear when you work?
Whatever is most comfortable. It’s pretty much always in cotton.
Does your art inform your style in any way?
The values with which I lead my personal life are the same as the values with which I approach my art. In fact, I think the two reinforce each other. Living and working with honesty and passion are my two treasured values.
Is there any form of traditional Indian ceramic creation that you love? That you gain inspiration from?
I love the terracotta vessels used in traditional Indian cooking. I use some of them myself at home. My “kulhads” – their sensuous feminine forms, the curvaceous midriffs and narrow necks – are a direct inspiration of their Indian counterparts. Each series that I create plays with a thought, a mood. They are minimal and expressive, using the language of colour and texture. These are my interpretations inspired by the Indian kulhad.
Has there been a defining creative moment in your life that informs all others?
Every moment is experiential. Every moment defines another. My years at art school were defining for me, they shaped my creative outlook. The depth that one gets through years of intense immersion informs our idea of life. From an interest, art became a way of doing things, a way of life.
Do you have a favourite piece that you have made? Why do you love it more than others?
There are memorable ones – the ones where I have learnt and grown the most as an artist, the challenging ones. “Flight of the Bird”, a suspended installation spread over 10 feet and weighing over 50 kilograms and “The Seed”, a seven-storey-high mural that took a team of 20 people to install, are two such artworks where I attempted something new and pushed the limits of my practice.
What are the emotions that feed your creativity?
I am inspired by every mood, every emotion. I have created some of my most moving visuals on days of despair and some of the calmest forms on days of elation and excitement. It’s almost as though the process of creating the work balances out the emotion of the moment. The learning for me has been to be able to identify and channelise my emotions through my work.
How did the lockdown affect your creative process?
The lockdown, for me, was a period of contrasting emotions constantly intersecting each other. The world outside was in turmoil. My studio inside was silent and calm. My life was undisturbed by the world outside and yet disturbed by the knowledge of what was happening. It was like living two lives simultaneously. My creative process was fuelled by this double life.