Sandeep Mukherjee

Painter, Claremont/LA // March 2012
I want to create an experience more than a picture or a thing, and I hope that between the viewer and the work there is a shared vulnerability, which then provokes an aliveness in the viewer. I want to move the viewer, make them stop and reflect, and create a break in the flow of time.

Klea and I visited Sandeep at Pomona College in Claremont, a small town about 30 miles east from downtown Los Angeles. Sandeep lives in LA, but as an Assistant Professor of Art he’s been provided with a studio on campus (lucky him!). After getting a bit lost and stopping for a quick lunch at a random Mexican family-style diner, where we feasted on tasty pozole and camarones del diablo, we finally made it to Sandeep’s studio. The space is big; it’s a wide, long room with a little office area at the front, and it’s extremely tidy and well organized— not one thing appeared to be out of place, and everything is color-coded and meticulously labeled. There was lots of work on the walls, and for the first few minutes Sandeep wildly darted about the room, enthusiastically gesturing, and breathlessly explaining this piece and that piece, and to be honest, I was having a hard time keeping up. But finally, we settled into his office area with cups of green tea and his high-octane energy mellowed a bit and we fell into easier conversation. Sandeep’s thoughts move quickly, and they don’t follow linear paths, instead they zig-zag, whizz, and dash about, but they circle back upon themselves, and are brought and held together by recurring themes. Much of Sandeep’s art is fueled by his curiosity about in-between spaces— when something is no longer what it was, but hasn’t quite yet become something else. His work explores the territory of collapsed tangibility and structure, when meaning and corporality become destabilized, allowing new understanding and perception to emerge. When discussing his current work, which incorporates painting and embossed drawing on Duralene, Sandeep said he was inspired by the idea of a landscape folding in upon itself, where the valleys, the mountains, and the horizon give way to abstraction, but the topography still manges to come through to the viewer. This mutability is enhanced by the film-like quality of Duralane, which creates a range of variation in the material— translucency, opacity, and dimensionality simultaneously exist within the striated colors and black spaces. Sandeep’s work reveals the nature of materials and the impression of the hand and body, as much as it emphasizes the amorphous quality of space and experience.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
Artist and educator.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I’ve been a Professor of Art at Pomona College since 2006. It’s a very significant part of my artistic life and practice, as it structures and supports my life. It allows for pedagogical and philosophical concerns to intersect and inform my process.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
Acrylic inks and paints on duralene (a polymer film). My work is process based, intuitive and improvisational. The work investigates materiality and sensation as a strategy to engage perceptual subjectivity and emotional resonance. The material transformations push the conceptual limits of the work while insisting on the physicality of the human body and its index in the work. Although the images seem referential to organic forms and patterns, microscopic histology and macroscopic cosmology, they equally refer to their specific process and history of becoming. The process and image jostle for equivalency. Often this resulting tension between process and image is considered within the specific architectural context so as to heighten the viewer’s experiential relationship to the environment. In other words, the works attempt to hold space but also invade it.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I’m reading Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind by V.S. Ramachandran, Sandra Blakeslee, and Quill William Morrow; Beauty: Documents of Contemporary Art by Dave Beech; Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.

I’m also looking at a lot of science, cosmology and physics documentaries on PBS, BBC, NOVA, etc. Such as The Fabric of the Cosmos on NOVA, Hyperspace on BBC, and Multiverse on PBS, etc.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
I don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything, but I try to be more patient with myself and stay centered. Meditation helps.

The art world is super interesting and super frustrating at the same time. I have made good friends with people, and have been lucky enough to create a truly nourishing community, but the art world is unfortunately often based on exclusion because resources and discourse are limited. I try to engage with it in small doses and in the spirit of generosity. I fulfill necessary obligations and I actively support my friends, but the schmoozing aspect of it can be very challenging. In my mind, the schmoozing doesn’t seem to be successful in the long term because in the end it’s all about the work. Being involved in teaching and students helps to provide distance and perspective.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
I’m in my studio about six days a week, and I see it as both the physical location as well as the intellectual/emotional petri dish for my process. It’s very important to have a space that’s open and well organized.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
My process has become a lot less controlled in a way and more focused at the same time. I stand less in the way of my work now and try not to map out exactly how it will end up. I want to function more like a conduit for something larger than myself. I guess all work is autobiographical to some extent, since the maker is reflected in it. But my work is not autobiographical in an anecdotal or narrative manner.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
Starting work for a solo exhibition in NYC that opens in mid October!!

What do you want your work to do?
I want to create an experience more than a picture or a thing, and I hope that between the viewer and the work there is a shared vulnerability, which then provokes an “aliveness” in the viewer. I want to move the viewer, make them stop and reflect, and create a break in the flow of time. I want images and signifiers to collapse upon themselves to get at something more central, more elusive but very real and experiential.

What advice has influenced you?
Service the needs of the object instead of your own needs.

How will you know when you have arrived?
When I stop hearing all the voices in my head during my creative process— when all the fears, insecurities, critiques, comments, etc. go away and I am alone.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
Currently, I’m in the following shows:
Selections from the Hammer Contemporary Collection at the UCLA Hammer Museum.
“Drawn”— a group exhibition at Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles. (It just closed two days ago).
Upcoming shows:
“Meticulosity” at Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College, Los Angeles. April 28 – July 7, 2012.
Group Exhibition at Project 88, Mumbai, India, which opens on March 29th, 2012.
Solo exhibition at Brennan & Griffin, New York City, which will be in in mid-October 2012.

To see more of Sandeep’s work: