Somnath Bhatt compiles a series of charming pixelated drawings for his new book, Ode
Risograph-printed with scarlet, cornflower and metallic gold inks, the book is a 40-page emblem to his multi-media approach as an artist.
- Ayla Angelos
- 9 December 2019
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
For Somnath Bhatt, growing up in Ahmedabad, India, was to “live in a city constantly in the making and breaking,” he says. Surrounded by makers, objects, crafts and stories, his immediate surroundings were an impactful influence to his growth as an artist – whether it was the city’s Calico Museum and Sarabhai Foundation, or the street vendors at Pool Bazaar and the Ravivari Gujari Bazar market filled with flowers, fruits, electronics and textiles.
Despite having little formal training in art as a subject, Somnath would spend his childhood drawing “all day long” and on “any surface” he could get his hands on – including his grandmother’s bedroom wall that, to this day, is still covered in his earliest drawings. Later, he went on to study graphic design at Rhode Island School of Design, due to the idea that it “felt like the most versatile of all disciplines” – “design education taught me visual thinking, methodology and systemisation,” he tells It’s Nice That, “but as useful as a design education was, I also often found it boring and cruel.”
Moving on from his home doodles and creating experimental videos, Somnath now refers to himself as a designer and artist, travelling between the United States and India. His work has been shown internationally at the ICA and Lewisham Art House, London, Institute of New Connotative Action, Seattle, Brooklyn Art Fair, Art Week Dubai and various others. And most recently, he has created Ode, published by TXTbooks – his second instalment of pixelated drawings and a sequel to Mohenjo-daro.
Risograph-printed with scarlet, cornflower and metallic gold inks, Ode is a 40-page emblem to his multi-media approach as an artist. “My work has no loyalty to a specific form or media,” he says on the topic of defining his work. “It might be described as a shuffle between genres, centuries, cultures and emotional states through algorithmic relationships.” He refers to the book as a “love song” filled with the “recreations of things,” compiled through imagery that provokes a sense of intrigue. “Ode is about awakening, blooming and what happens in a world that you’re seeing for the first time,” he says. “I consciously chose to print the whole book in gold because when the light shines on it, it activates the forms that are drawn.”
Visually, Ode appears as a minimalist collection of drawings that look as if they’ve been hand-stitched on paper. In fact, these drawings are devised solely through digital processes. “There was a time when I was thinking a lot about the metaphor of edges, which led me to play around with the ‘Sharpen Edge’ comment in Photoshop,” Somnath explains. “I would find existing images and then Shift+Cmd+F ten thousand times.” The outcome is a pixelated and structured composition envisioned through a blue, red and gold colour palette, used to represent a mound of earth, a clot of blood and a heap of gold.
As his second instalment of pixelated drawings and the sequel to Mohenjo-daro, Ode is a beautiful follow-up that sees the artist elevate his style and technique. “The title Mohenjo-daro (Mound of the dead) comes from an ancient Indus Valley archaeological site; I extended the metaphor of archaeology and topography to inner excavation,” says Somnath. “I like the metaphor of exaction because it denotes alters: narrative layers, psychic layers, layers of Risograph ink and Photoshop layers.”
“I wanted Ode to be an expansion pack for Mohenjo-daro – there were instances when I took the same drawing and drew the scene that would follow it,” he continues. To fulfil the trilogy, Somnath concludes that the third book would need to take a different form. “Maybe it would be a scroll, a mixtape, an animation or a shrine. Their third thing would be about ultimate power, pinnacles, and a queer world at the peak of its ecstatic thriving.”