Painting Her Dreams - Michelle Poonawalla

She’s the daughter-in-law of the famous Poonawalla family of Pune, and an ace artist herself. A mother of two, Michelle Poonawalla is always impeccably dressed from head to toe in the latest designer trends. She’s often seen at the family’s annual derby: the Poonawalla Breeder’s Multi-Million. In a tête-à-tête with You & I, she tells us about her love for horses, and the inspiration behind her splendid art.

Your family owns one of the best stud farms in India. Do you play an active role in it?
We visit the farm on weekends with the children. My husband Yohan and I were instrumental in the renovation of the farm with Susanne Khan and her team. We have a well-trained team of people that manage the maintenance regularly, but we still like to see that things are kept up-to-date.

Do you share a love for horses with your husband?
Yes, our love for horses is surely mutual. I believe they are most majestic and elegant animals. However, when it comes to our children, we are hesitant to introduce them to horse racing due to the danger factor. However, we bought miniature ponies for the children, so that they grow up being familiar with gentle horses and are not scared to handle them.

Horse racing is known as a sport for the elite – a very fashionable one at that. What’s your take?
I disagree with that. This is because I believe that horse racing is a sport that should be enjoyed by one and all. The derby held in February in Mumbai is a testament that horse racing is for all strata of society, and one should not limit any sport to the elite. Yes, it is a high-fashion event, but one can be well turned-out irrespective of social status.

What can one expect to see at any of your horse racing events?
A great amount of excitement! Every horse racing event has a certain adrenaline-increasing vibe that is infectious. This is due to the nature of the game. Other than that, we personally look into the food and beverages served, seating arrangements, and various other things, as it’s always about the little details. We like to see that there are extra seating arrangements with umbrellas. We promote fashion and girls and women to be well-dressed and wear hats or fascinators. We as a family encourage people to be well turned-out, and there is also a prize for the best dressed gentleman and lady.

Moving on, tell us how your love of art came about?
While the study of art is important, I believe one is born an artist. I was always an artist; it is something that was around me in my formative years. I got an A+ for my art A-levels and History of Art. I graduated with honours in interior design and did a BA course, so I did in fact study art. However, while the practical and theoretical study of art is great to widen one’s horizon, the calling to create a particular form of art comes from within.

Which medium of art do you most enjoy?
It is hard to pick one medium. There are several types of artwork and styles that I immerse myself in depending on my mood and inspiration. The Ruler Technique is a special one-of-a-kind method that was passed on to me by my late grandfather, Jehangir Vazifdar, who was a contemporary of Hussain, Souza, and Ram Kumar. His work was shown in the Abbey Grey Collection in 2015 amongst these great Indian contemporaries. The technique can never be copied or recreated, and therefore he called it his Fake Proof Technique. It involves drawing the picture, applying paint with a knife or from the tube, mixing it up to one colour, upon which at one point the canvas turns a grey/brown. Then a ruler is used to scrape off the thick oil paint and reveal the picture below. This is all done in one go, while the oil paint is wet. Without this technique, the image will not come through, and to get a sharp image is almost impossible.

The Palette Knife is an oil painting technique that only employs knives of different sizes to create the work. This practice does not use brushes, and in it, I like to play with light and shade. The Flower Series are abstract works using a paintbrush and thick paint strokes that give a three-dimensional effect to the works. They reflect beautiful summer flower fields.

I am also known for the Video Mapping and Art series, wherein the image appears to run off the canvas and onto the wall. My art is a new, innovative ‘digital art’ that combines art with projections, some of which are also interactive and motion-sensored. I believe that technology with art allows an otherwise static piece to come to life. The digital art allows the person to imagine and dream the experience. Unlike the physical, the use of digital technology can liberate art, and it is very important for the spectator to feel part of the experience.

Who is your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from my everyday life – from my travels, my visits to museums and galleries, and also social media. Today, with tools such as Instagram, one can see art galleries and artists all around the world. 

It’s important for me to feel the piece that I’m going to do and I always know exactly what I want to do before I step in front of my canvas. Ideas just come to me. There’s a quote I like. It goes, “I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

Any artist you wish to emulate?
No one in particular, as art is about being yourself and not emulating anyone.

How do you balance your personal and professional lives?
That is a good one. I am always a mother first and then everything else. Therefore, my children take priority for me. I do not do any overnight journeys for work, and I am particular about being there when they are going to bed, and spending as much time with them as possible. Our family holidays are also dear to me as that time is valuable and will never come back.

What’s your personal style like?
I prefer to be dressed in casuals if I’m painting. For meetings,I am formal. 

For leisure events I love dressing up, be it a party or a red-carpet event. I like to keep myself up-to-date with my fashion. And even though I’m a classic at heart, my style is contemporary classic.   ----- as told to Niharika