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ELLE Artist of The Month: Rhea Gupte

By Fawzia Khan  May 19th, 2021

For multidisciplinary creator Rhea Gupte, art, in all its wonderful forms, comes as naturally as breathing. She is a writer, photographer, and visual artist, all rolled into one. Her work evokes complex human emotion, which she seeks in the everyday mundane, and transforms into fanciful creations. Gupte’s work has found its place in hallowed galleries across the globe and graced many a book page, but her practice is firmly entrenched in the seemingly humble tenet of minimal to no waste generation.

A thirst for travel around the country brought her to scenic Goa, which suited her so much that she ended up staying permanently. ELLE chats with the virtuoso about art, life, the universe, and everything in between.

ELLE: You write, photograph, animate, and create physical art. Why do you choose so many mediums, and how do you hone them all?

Rhea Gupte (RG): It wasn’t intentional for me to choose a multi-disciplinary art practice. As I explored and found different ways of expression, put in the time to learn new skills, they gradually built up. I have been mindfully nurturing them like tending to a garden, sometimes one requiring more attention, more care than the other, while at other times they all need to be watered equally. I now choose to practice them because each of them allows me to communicate differently, to learn and grow within each vast discipline.

ELLE: Was there a particular moment in time that kickstarted your artistic journey?

RG: It sounds like romanticising, as there was no grand plan at the time, but I guess it might have been the very first poem I wrote when I was seven or eight. It was silly, but it gave me a thrill, the first experience of joy from having created something. Also, watching a lot of anime as a child inspired me to tell stories that would someday inspire people as much as watching those inspired me.

ELLE: Can you describe the process behind your work?

RG: Most of my work begins from scribbles, doodles or stray lines of poetry. I maintain multiple designated notebooks to write down my thoughts and come back to them often to decide which idea to expand upon. From there, I proceed to write about the subject matter, the emotions attached, what I wish to communicate, which leads to conceptualizing and exploring the medium, format, and length of the work. I then work out timelines, budgets, and habits that need to be consistently repeated to make the project a reality. The last step is to incorporate it into my existing routine or to craft a new routine around it and then create.

ELLE: Your work has a foundation in forming an emotional connection with the audience. When
you start creating, what comes first – the emotion or the actual act of making art?

RG: It can be either. Sometimes, I think of an emotion and wish to communicate it specifically, so my entire process is rooted around how can I say this most honestly and authentically. Whereas on other occasions, a visual idea may come first, an object, a landscape, a composition, after which I spend time unearthing what the emotion attached to it could be.

ELLE: How has the pandemic affected your work?

RG: The mental state and lived reality one is in subconsciously affects every piece of art one creates, irrespective of whether it has a direct relation to that reality. Through 2020, I have carried my heart on my sleeve, and my feelings have reflected in my body of work. A project where I directly addressed the pandemic is my Isolation Series which explores the feelings one attaches to being physically isolated through self-portraiture and digital art. This series is for everybody who feels the heaviness of being alone, like their walls are closing in and who is going through this by themselves. Some of the pieces in the series also question the concept of home as a place of solace and peaceful existence. Homes often manifest as threatening confined spaces for victims of abuse and those struggling with their mental health, with the situation offering them no escape.

ELLE: Your unconventional use of inanimate objects to convey human emotion stands out. Can you explain your interest in them?

RG: I have always been attracted to the mundane, the inanimate, the impermanent – in finding deeper emotional meaning. Still life is a powerful form of photography that allows objects to convey and narrate feelings. I enjoy pairing objects in a setting that may uncover an emotion. I can play during the shoot by designing the set, the colour, the composition. I like the independence this format offers; working in a controlled environment, carefully placing things, and designing the image exactly as I want it to be. I also enjoy the challenge it comes with; for example, in my Compost Series, there are times that my frozen installations topple over surrendering to humidity or gravity, so to make the shoot a success, I must be decisive, quick and know exactly what I want from it before I begin.

ELLE: What inspires you? Especially when times are bleak.

RG: The joy of being able to create inspires me to keep creating. It is a selfish act in a way – it is a way to understand myself and explore what more I could be. Also, to see others create art and dialogue inspires me to express myself. During difficult times, long conversations with my partner, pouring out my thoughts on paper, and taking the time I need to heal or just be, are helpful. Currently, I’m finding solace in the writings of Emma Goldman, in the anime Psycho-pass, and playing a bunch of Indie games.

ELLE: What projects do you have coming up in 2021?

RG: I will be continuing a few of my series, exploring them further and trying to give them a different form. I am also working on launching an online art print shop where limited edition fine art prints of my work will be available for purchase. The prospect of my art living in people’s homes is a happy feeling.