Studio Visit: Sandeep Mukherjee’s Abstract Visions of Topography

As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Sandeep Mukherjee. See the full studio visit and interview with Sandeep and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.

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.

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.

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

To read the full interview and see more of Sandeep Mukherjee’s work go to www.inthemake.com.


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