The Art of Offbeat - Marzia Ali, Sri Priyatham, Apoorva B Kasaraneni, Akanksha Kargwal, Aparna Gopalakrishnan, Ruchit Jain, Shivarama Chary, Faraz Alam, Swetha Vuppala Reddy

New media has spawned a generation of unconventional artists, distinguished either by their method, medium, or art form. These are humans so special, that perfecting their art through practice enables them to perceive life differently, and quite grandly. That perception kindles creativity, reaffirming Maya Angelou’s famous quote:“You cannot use up creativity – the more you use it, the more you have it.” The result is works of art that truly challenge the boundaries of what art is, or what it should be.

You & I spoke to nine home grown artists who made two things abundantly clear: self-expression and compelling visual storytelling are cornerstones of their creations. Another aspect they share is that Hyderabad has been a special launch pad for them, given its nurturing patrons, and a burgeoning contemporary art scene.    - Namrata

Marzia Ali
Cosmic artist and Art Entrepreneur

Classic mediums like acrylics and watercolour, and modern ones like alcohol inks and resin can be seen in 21-year-old Marzia Ali’s metaphysical style. Whether it’s home decor, custom ceramics, resin tables, or whole interior projects, each piece in her body of work is refreshingly different. Marzia, currently pursuing her undergraduate studies in psychology, founded India’s first art, craft, and baking subscription service – Duende Box. She is often approached for custom work by hotels, restaurants, cafés, and interior designers, which starts at Rs.10,000. Her collection starts at Rs. 2,500.

“I am very confident of making money; it is not something that keeps me up at night,” she beams. What does keep her up, in the literal sense, is the mystique of outer space and all things astronomy. “Cosmic elements that exist out in the universe, also exist inside humans. The emotions I experience when I create space art is quite outer-worldly,” she says. Cathrin Machin, an award-winning space artist, is the reason Marzia began to focus on being factually correct with her space art. Astronomy researchers, educators, and the astronaut Michael Collins all follow Marzia on Instagram. Her work is often used to teach science through art.

Marzia credits her progressive mother – also an artist – for setting her up for success at an early age. The approach to Marzia’s schooling was unusual, and included a year off after the eighth grade to learn languages, explore religions, and practice art. Then again, after her 12th grade, she decided to pursue a diploma in interior design before pursuing her Bachelor’s degree. The emphasis on versatility and experiential learning evidently propelled Marzia’s career. Marzia’s mother has also instilled in her daughter the value of sharing her skills, techniques, and knowledge with the world. She has been conducting resin and alcohol ink workshops since 2015, and continues to empower other artists. She also launched her own line of eco-friendly, handmade paints made with non-toxic pigments and natural binders – definitely a testament to the futuristic, woke millennial that she is.

Sri Priyatham
Illustrator and Designer

Priyatham is an independent illustrator and designer specialising in story illustrations, portraits, and caricatures. A self-taught artist who humbly shies away from being called a prodigy, Priyatham has lived and breathed art since he was three years old. From casually doodling stuff from Cartoon Network, to becoming the champion illustrator for Netflix’s Stranger Things season three promo, it’s been a journey of passion and perseverance.

Film and television have been a treasure trove of inspiration for Priyatham, thus favouring his homebody personality. It is no wonder that absconding from undergraduate studies in 2010 and living in his ‘cave’ was the best decision he ever made. “All I did was practice, and watch movies and TV shows. ”As a result, he started freelancing and commissioning his work at an early stage in this golden era of creative expression. Engaging screenwriting and strong character development are two aspects of film and TV that intrigue Priyatham. This indirectly impacts how he conceptualises an idea. On the visual front, he is all about details, lines, and the manipulation of light and shadows. The influence of legends like Aaron Blaise and Jason Seiler on Priyatham is apparent in his work.

Life has come full circle for Priyatham, whose career has been filled with highs and lows. Ten years of being an illustrator extraordinaire finally led him to develop an online academy. The beta version of the four-week mentorship program went live on May 16, and is priced at Rs.4,000. What else is he up to besides putting this programme together? Going down Reddit rabbitholes, and slowly checking off The Office and Abstract from his watchlist, of course.

Simply put, Priyatham is a drawing whiz, whether he’s using pencils or digital tools. His work is priced anywhere between Rs.6,000- 30,000, depending on the number of characters, the complexy, and story requirements. To enroll in his online academy or place an order, write to Priyatham at sripriyatham@gmail.com.

Apoorva B Kasaraneni
Architect, Artist and, Interior Designer 

Fluidity, simplicity, abstraction, and nature are hallmark elements of Apoorva B. Kasaraneni’s artistic vocabulary. Although she’s a trained architect and interior designer, she chooses to brand herself as an artist and maker. “Architecture opened me up to a world of creation where the prospects were limitless,” she recalls. Apoorva is from Hyderabad, and currently locked down here, although she lives in New York with her husband. Being home, although in uncertain times, made her realise the importance of owning where she comes from. Apoorva is exploring ways to include cultural references in her work, experimenting with gold foiling, among other hints of Indian influences.

When creating, Apoorva consciously uses her artistic voice, something she developed whilst settling into NYC. This was the silver lining of being away from home and not being able to work yet due to visa restrictions. The creative flow has now become clear: fragments or flashes of an idea are converted into a sketch, which evolve into artwork. The Architist (a term used in her Instagram bio) tries to correctly apply the principles of design, but allows drama and whimsy to permeate. Plants, leaves, and foliage are constants on her moodboard.

In her ‘Windows Series’, she depicts windows as our beacon of hope, giving us a peek into the outside world, and keeping us company as we quarantine. While choosing windows as a subject was Apoorva the architect’s decision, it also reflects Apoorva the artist’s ability to see beauty in the mundane. “I imagined being in a room without windows. It was so…unsettling,” she said. To summarise her relationship with art: “It [my art] doesn’t have sadness; there is just memory, inspiration, and…happiness.”

Apoorva’s Etsy store is set to vacation mode, but works for sale include coasters, framed art, custom orders for pet portraits, and anything imaginative featuring watercolour and/or alcohol inks. Explore more of her work via her Instagram: www.instagram.com/elephantearart.

Akanksha Kargwal
Interior Designer & Painter

Call Akanksha just an architect, and she just might correct you. Although she received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in architecture, her gaze shifted to painting furniture, ceramics, mugs, leather bags, you name it. After completing her graduate studies in Barcelona, she worked with a well-known architectural design firm in Hyderabad for four years, followed by a year at a furniture studio. She then met her now-husband, and soon moved to New Zealand. This planted the seed to start independent projects that added value to her portfolio and enabled her to freelance in New Zealand, too. Architecture, a few years ago, was not so mechanical and AutoCAD was not widely used. All that hand-drafting made freehand drawing second-nature to Akanksha. Her work features a lot of florals, landscapes, and nature in general.

She has done at least 15 furniture painting projects in the last year alone, but is subconsciously always seeking novelty. When she started ceramics and plates, it was unheard of, but as soon as it became mainstream, Akanksha felt the urge to move on to newer things. That’s just her way of staying curious in the ever-evolving world of art and adding more feathers to her hat. “Furniture painting is fairly new right now. It changes the interiors of your home because it takes up visual space in the minds of people,” says Akanksha. Painting her own IKEA shoe rack, and then a client’s fifty-year-old antique trunk (Rangoon Box) made her realise that this was a brilliant way to spruce up old furniture. There is no better time than now to think about recycling and revamping. Driven by the need of the hour, Akanksha feels like this is the area where she can carve out a niche for herself – especially because it utilises her sensibilities as an architect.

For now, she hopes to fly back soon to her husband in New Zealand, maybe land a job as an architect, and figure out how to also be an artist there. “Perhaps one day I’ll design a bespoke line of painted furniture,” she shares.

Aparna Gopalakrishnan
Caricaturist and Cartoonist

Agenius caricaturist and cartoonist, witty doodler, and artist with a first-class sense of humour, enter: Aparna Gopalakrishnan. Her Instagram handle is @doodlesoupforthesoul and her bio reads “I draw stuff.” It gives a clear picture of who she is, but at the same time, is mysterious enough to keep one scrolling down her feed. In doing so, one gets to dive deep into her inner workings, which is as delightful as swimming with fish. “I started doing this in a professional capacity only one and a half years ago, but it feels effortless,” she reflects. Aparna also offers branding services for companies, whereas caricature orders have usually been gifts, e-invites, or personal collectibles. A single person caricature ranges anywhere between Rs.2,500 and Rs.6,000, depending on the theme and detailing.

Many of you might know Aparna as the fashionista behind the once-famous women’s boutique, Wundershop. Ten years of designing apparel, and Aparna finally felt like it was time to venture out. It is not a very strange crossover, though. Fashion has been obsessed with cartoons for a long time now – Jeremy Scott for Moschino or Masaba Gupta, for instance, have relied on quirk, nostalgia, and symbolism to trigger an emotional response. The art of dressing people has certainly contributed to Aparna’s ability to understand the human psyche and identify their unique traits. These have been major factors when creating caricatures as gifts. “I gather way more information than people volunteer, because art consists of a lot of things that people might not think I need to know,” she explains.

Getting back to her Instagram – many strangers have written to Aparna about how they instantly connected with her doodles, ergo her experiences. That organic connectionis the only thing that matters to her right now. Aparna feels like Hyderabad is experiencing a paradigm shift in how it consumes art and culture, and more of these connections are bound to come her way.

Ruchit Jain
Graffiti and Mural Artist

Ruchit is an audit analyst at Deloitte, with the soul of an artist. Seeing that there is no trace of art in his DNA (he was a doodler growing up), he never imagined that his innate ability could become a parallel profession. He was introduced to graffiti and mural art through Edwin, inspired by the talents he discovered on Instagram, but his own experience is still his best tutor. Today, his work has been splashed across the city in hip places like By The Bottle, Karma, Smoky Pitara and over a hundred other locations. Ruchit’s brand/alter-ego, Abused Ink, specialises in hand-painted murals, spray-painted graffiti, doodles using paint markers, or a mix of all three media.

“My USP is that I’m the sweet spot between efficiency, economic pricing, and quality,” says the artist, who goes through the most spray cans in Hyderabad! He has never once taken a day off from his full-time job to fulfil his art commitments. He works in the morning before his 12 noon shift, on weekends, and often pulls all-nighters to get it done. “It is passion that keeps me awake, not coffee or tea,” says Ruchit, who prides himself on speed and accuracy. He never does a base coat, so there is no chance of fixing an error by simply painting over it.

The hustler’s right-hand man is Maria Dass, an accidental discovery and gifted muralist, who is currently learning the craft of spray painting. “I was painting near Trimulgherry one day when I stumbled upon a garage with wall art of a big jeep. It was an exceptional piece of work and I got Dass’s contact details right away,” he shares.

Be it a message for corporate spaces, quirky art for coffee shops, 3D installations, or floor art, Ruchit creates work that stirs you in some way. “I have a concealed signature and those who see my work often almost always spot it,” Ruchit said. For those unfamiliar, his work is thought-driven, and characterised by finesse and neatness. That, in a nutshell, is the story of how Ruchit adds both pigment and personal narrative to otherwise bland surfaces. Check out his stellar work on Instagram at: www.instagram.com/abused_ink_

Shivarama Chary
Sculptor

Shivarama Chary is a veteran sculptor, with a career spanning over two decades. His father was a traditional temple sculptor, and naturally, Shivarama’s teacher, inspiration, and gateway into the sculpting world. Extensive early exposure came by virtue of assisting his father, his coursework during undergraduate and graduate studies, and commissioned pieces. Today, his mastery of the craft and the way it continues to evolve with technology, have earned him acclaim and a devoted following.

His work is quite collaborative; he often works with architects, individual art collectors, and government organisations. He beams with pleasure while talking about the Golden Jubilee project at Sri Venkateswara Bala Kuteer, which involved a stunning land art installation, an homage to the institution’s founder. Ms. Manga Devi’s hand mould was transformed into a pristine white resin sculpture, engraved with the names of 5,000 students that resemble fingerprints.

Shivarama’s conceptual art and original work explore the nuances of the human mind and the processes of the universe. His signature style enhances that which already exists in nature. This quality also reflects in the inventive installations he does for clients, although there are guidelines and requirements. In his opinion, “along with personality, art should take into account parameters like what the takeaway will be for future generations, your culture, your identity.” Once a week, Shivarama teaches IBDP students at Sreenidhi International School, where he gets to step into his father’s shoes and help sculpt careers.” I fine-tune their strengths, openly discuss what needs improvement, and help them inch closer to their goals,” he shares.

Beyond the usual plaster or clay, he adds that “fiberglass, bronze, wood, automobile parts, everyday objects…anything can be converted into a sculpture.” That’s also the reason Shivarama is drawn to this pursuit – the media are experimental and simply boundless. Get in touch with Shivarama via his website www.sculptingspace.in.

Faraz Alam
Maker at Fresco Signs & Graphics

There aren’t many signage creators in Hyderabad who have their own neon gas plants. Fresco Signs & Graphics, spearheaded by Faraz Alam, is one such. It is a young, spinoff company of the 78-year-old Saba Signs Pvt. Ltd., a pioneer in the field. Faraz’s grandfather can be credited for bringing outdoor signage advertising to Hyderabad! But to call Saba or Fresco an advertising signage company would be akin to saying Da Vinci just painted a woman.

Neon signs were primarily used in outdoor advertising, but they dwindled when LEDs came about. Now, not only have they have been resurrected as a buzzy decor trend, but neon is a frontrunner in the ‘light as an art form’ movement. The making is an art in its own right, which demands crafty hands, patience, and precision. Glass tubes are bent using heat to form a design, vacuumed completely, filled with neon gas, and sealed with an electric unit that feeds current into the tubes. The colour depends on the combination of neon gases used. Since it’sa high-voltage product, Faraz cautions against using it in high-touch areas. “We do have plastic ribbed casing to conceal the wires, but it is far safer to let the wires and electrodes show, because people can see what they should not touch. That is also a neon sign’s raw, natural look,” he says. Fresco’s artful neon signs can be seen in hip café bars like Le Vantage, at weddings (think hashtag installations), as wall art in party pads, living rooms, and bedrooms! Faraz is skilled at calligraphy, which helps get the aesthetic and font right.

When Subway forayed into India in 2001, it came with the challenge of importing the actual parent company’s signage. It was Faraz’s family that then designed and manufactured Subway India signage across the nation for the next 10 years! Faraz’s mother, Ishrath Qadri, is celebrated in the city for her commitment and passion towards the family business, which she only recently retired from. Faraz Alam, too, is clearly continuing the family legacy by keeping up with the zeitgeist.

Swetha Vuppala Reddy
Founder, Gifting Yoda

From making up stories while playing with her Barbie dolls, to becoming an official storyteller for children at her friend’s library, Swetha’s earlier years laid the foundation for her artistic journey. She feels strongly about telling all kinds of stories through her work, especially when it comes to gifts. “My father is a self-taught painter, and we have this family history of customised, thoughtful gifts,” she remarked about early influence. Swetha felt like gifting started to become very trend-based and impersonal, thus nudging her in this direction.

And so she founded Gifting With Love Hyderabad, and then its digital counterpart, Gifting Yoda – your go-to for digital templates, a customized, intimate greeting for your loved ones, a digital avatar, or even a WhatsApp profile picture! The use cases are limitless as they extend beyond a static image, into videos, animations, and GIFs.

Swetha works with commercially purchased illustrations, does the initial sketch, animations, fonts, layouts, and all the designing. For custom orders, she gets illustrations made from Ravi Mohinigari. Translating personalities and stories into concepts for Mohinagiri to turn into visuals, is another pivotal role Swetha plays. It starts with gathering both general and specific descriptions of who the subject of the artwork is. “I connect with people, the very foundation of who they are, not just what you see on the outside,” says Swetha.

Gifting Yoda’s starting price is a modest Rs.1,500 for a basic creative, and goes up accordingly depending on the design and customisations. You can contact Swetha via her Instagram for any personalised and creative digital needs at: www.instagram.com/giftingyoda