Rithika Merchant is creating a language. A language that can be interpreted in any culture across barriers, boundaries, and beliefs. Its alphabets are a script of rhythmic visuals borrowed from her rich visual vocabulary that paints botanical plants, fantastical creatures, and religious iconography. The language that has been constructed by stitching together pieces of history and myths separated by borders and civilizations. It narrates the same tale over and over- that there is a common thread that connects all the human histories together, which is the relationship humans have with nature and the fact that collectively we have always tried to look for analogy and relationships, be it in shapes, purpose, and power. And its quest, in exploring this concept and push the boundary of human understanding; a new perspective in looking at the world.
Rithika Merchant is a visual artist who practices her art in Barcelona. Born in Mumbai and having studied at Parsons The New School For Design, New York in Fine Art and Hellenic International Studies in The Arts, Paros, Greece, travel fascinates her. She is intrigued by the mixture of different traditions in India, Europe, and the US, and is able to see parallel histories everywhere. She has found that the history of myth and traditions show a link between cultures and that isn’t often highlighted in classical history. She has participated in various solo as well as group exhibitions around the world and recently was present at the India Art Fair (presented by TARQ) in New Delhi, India in February 2018.
Artist Rithika Merchant
“My works are an exploration of epics and myths across geography. I create mosaics of myths that question received histories that are available to us throughout the culture. “
“I have always been very interested in narratives, myths and received histories that are available to us. I am also interested in how these different fragments are “woven” together to form a complete image. Most cultures use imagery to tell stories and represent ideas. I try to use these ancient means of storytelling in a more contemporary context”, informs Rithika. As a child, nature, animals and outer space fascinated her. Art in the form of fairy tales, illustrated books, graphic novels and music videos- the idea that you could create a feeling or step into another world through these mediums is what amazed her.
Describing her work as a semi-surreal, intricately detailed visual story, she is attracted to desaturated colours, veins of old maps, botanical drawings and an interest in religious iconography.
“I enjoy colour and paper that looks like it has been exposed to the sun and the way paper and ink looks after it’s been folded up and put away for a long time. Nature plays a pivotal role in my work and is emphasized by the use of organic shapes. My paintings are made using a combination of watercolour and collage elements, drawing on 17th-century botanical drawings and folk art, to create a body of work that is visually linked to our collective pasts.“
L : Prisoners, 2017, 64x50 cms, mixed media collage with gouache, ink and graphite on paper.
R : Ghost Town 2017, 64x50 cms, Gouache and ink on paper.
The purpose of her art is an attempt at self-discovery and aimed towards solving contemporary strife; created by what we may describe as a conflict of civilizations, which is negated by locating a mythical strain of unanimity. She wants the viewer to react to the art in his or her own personal way and interpret the drawing with relation to their own culture. She looks at objects as makers of identity and tries to reinterpret them in the present day to solve problems and act as agents of change. She also believes her art can play a small part in saving the world by acting as a medium for expressing the problems of the current world and create a response and empathy in the viewer. This was the basis of her latest work “Where The Water Takes Us” which deals with the issue of forced migration and the European refugee crisis she has witnessed, in her habitat. As she is sensitive to the environment, she is unable to help but contaminate her art in a direction that addresses such political and social problems. “It’s an urgent time. This weighs on me and I am finding it difficult to make art about anything that is not a response to this.”
L : Voyagers, 2016, 100x72 cms, Gouache and ink on paper.
R : Descend into Nidra, 2017, 32x32 cms, Embroidery hoop with gouache and ink on paper.
“I’ve always seen stories and ideas visually and have always felt compelled to bring these visions to life.”
Her studio is part of her house in Barcelona. And she enjoys waking up in the same building and walking down to her studio room and start creating. In the process of creating a new work, research about the subject she is interested in is crucial. And often that’s when she instinctively get visualizations or flashes of a visual language in her mind that is a response to the story, spun together by borrowing symbols and ‘script’ from her visual vocabulary.
Once she has a clear idea or image in her mind, she starts drawing them out on paper directly-she rarely sketch beforehand-and then add ink and paint. “Sometimes I may do a colour wash or tint on the paper before I begin. If I am working on a folded piece, I will fold the paper or make some cuts before I start drawing. I also have a notebook in which I make lots of written notes and diagrams but I almost never make sketches or studies of things. I sketch more with words than images.
I usually fold the paper before I begin drawing and then after I finish the painting I fold it back up along the same creases to store it. Often, I am able to fold it into some sort of smaller geometric shape, and the paintings then turn into an object. In this way, the paper itself is part of the narrative.”
L : Syzygy, 2015, 70x50 cms, Gouache and ink on paper.
R : Detail.
Rithika recently collaborated with the Parisian feminine luxury fashion house Chloé to make prints for their ‘painted dresses’ for its Spring Summer 2018 collection. “This collaboration came out totally by chance. Natacha Ramsay-Levi (creative director) was browsing the Internet and pulling images and she came across my work. She really liked them and said that it fit what she had in mind. They then just googled my name and saw that I was living and working in Barcelona and so they sent me an email asking if I wanted to collab with them. It was totally out of the blue for me and a very nice surprise! Within a week or two we had chatted on Skype, I had been briefed on the scope of the project and that was it. They invited me to come to the studio in Paris to work with them on the dresses, and so I spent about 2 weeks there working with Natacha and the rest of the team to place my drawings on the garments.”
The prints created for the collection are more bold and graphic than Rithika’s usual work, and they are exploding with esoteric, botanical imagery and spiritual references. The prints were also adapted to fit on the garment accordingly.
Chloé Spring Summer 2018 collections are being sold right now worldwide, and Rithika’s prints have been featured in its store as interiors as well.
Genesis, 2015, 70x100 cms Gouache and ink on paper.
“I am taking the time and space to let my practice lead me forward.”
Reflecting on what art means to her, she says, “It is a way for me to convey certain ideas and emotions - I am much better at expressing things visually than verbally. My work is everything to me. Art is something I have had with me as a companion since I was a child - it’s my catharsis, my relaxation, and my way of making sense of the world. It’s my way of life and the thing I love to do most.”
Talking about her upcoming project, she is currently working on commissioned pieces, and at the same time, reflecting and absorbing the past few months which have been intense for her, also thinking about what she wants to do next.
Website - www.rithikamerchant.com
Instagram - @rithikamerchant
Text Tony Jacob
Modes of Displacement (Exploration), 2016, 34x71 cms, Gouache and ink on paper.