Karthikeyan Balaraman is a former student of College of Fine Arts Chennai and a post-graduate from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. He was trained at the institute by some of the industry’s greatest and foremost designers. After working in the silk jacquard industry for some years in Bangalore, Karthikeyan moved to Brighton in the United Kingdom where he established a store retailing Indian arts and crafts, named Coconut. However, after some years, Karthikeyan felt a deep calling and moved to India to his home town Chennai where he became an empanelled artist for Development Commissioner of Handicrafts and Handloom Export Promotion Council. In 2009, Karthikeyan joined the National Institute of Fashion Technology as a faculty member of the Textile Design department where he now develops the designers of the future.
Karthikeyan Balaraman has been fascinated by the indefinable Poojyam and has created a series of paintings to explore the concept of the infinite void which in itself is nothing but, created everything within itself.
Karthikeyan Balaraman shares with Marie Banu the concept of Poojyam and how his life has revolved around it.
When did you realize your interest in Arts?
When I dropped out from school, many asked me what I was going to do. This was a big question! I actually did not know as I had tried whatever was possible and somehow was considered to be not worthy.
I had a teacher Mr. K. Seshadri who was good in Art. He motivated me to visit art exhibitions and I accompanied him for competitions. This is the time I realized that I have something else that a normal school going child does not. Every time I drew, I felt happy! If you gave me more colors, I would enjoy!
Once I sketched my Grandfather. It was on the back of a greeting card and my first portrait. It resembled exactly him and he was so happy that he gifted me a color cake (water colors). Immediately the thought that come to my mind was: “Yes, I can do Art!”
From there, everything else started!
Your education and work experience?
I joined the five-year course in College of Arts in 1992 and chose textile design for my specialization. I pursued my Post Graduation Diploma in Textile Design at National Institute of Design (NID) Ahmedabad.If there is something that I learnt from College of Arts —it is Art! Moving to NID was like understanding design in terms of Art. I feel that Art is important for a designer. Skill and Knowledge has to complement each other.
Today, I see that there was an Artist inside me which was not making me understand design as one needs to think about—what people like and what market needs are. This is where NID turned me towards design and enhanced my artistic skills to develop better designs.
While at NID, my graduationproject was with Xylum, Delhi. This company deals with handmade paper and my project was to apply textile sensibilities on handmade paper. I explored dyeing, weaving, printing, stitching, and embroidery on paper. At that point in time, there was an exhibition in Delhi where I was given a 10 feet by 18 feet spaceto create a mood board. I explored with paper and worked on a collage.My boss, who usually does not appreciate, said: “You are reminding me of Shri. Darshak Patel.” That was a big compliment!Darshak works usually with collage and works with whatever materials he finds locally.
After NID, I joined a company in Bangalore called Bharat Tissue where I practiced textile designing for European market. I left the company after three years and went to UK where I launched my boutique in Louise called ‘Coconut’ along with a partner. I returned to India in 2005 and worked with the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts Export Promotion Council. I am also one of the empaneled designers for Ministry of Handicrafts.
I came to a point that I was not doing something what a regular person does. That was again a ‘Zero Point’. I realised that I needed some kind of discipline.Being a consultant or a contract designer,I had my own time to work. Hence, I joined National Institute of Fashion Designin 2009 in the Textile Design department.I found a big vacuum as there were no industry experts invited for lectures.
Every time I see my life scale going up and then down and starting from zero again!
About the concept of Poojyam?
At college, I was taught that every line you draw starts with a dot. The dot is an important point as everything starts there.I see a dot, I feel happy! It can be in any form. It all started when I recently visited Australia. During my entire trip, I was seeing dots everywhere. I clicked a series of photographs where I saw–from signages to grippers to blind people to be in the shape of dots. Also, the aboriginal art is amazing as they use only dots. I got my inspiration from these paintings.
A child seeing his mother wearing a bindi, makes him focus immediately on it and tries to pick it up. Otherwise, the focus goes to the eye. Somehow the round shape has something to do with attention. There is a philosophy on illusion and one of the important point of the human body—the eye—is in the shape of a dot.
I have been thinking from a designer point of view. You need an identity, inspiration, concept, and a theme to start working. Unlike many artists who say that this is my style or my identity, I wanted to have a theme andhave people relate my work with my theme.
I therefore chose Poojyam as it is relevant to me and has been important at every moment in my life.
When I returned to India, I convinced my seniors that I am starting my career as an Artistand mentioned about my theme to them.I told them that I am just exploring to see how far this dot would take me. They accepted it and never cross questioned me. That was my starting point!
Initially, it started as Shunya. People used to comment that my work resembled that of Raza’s. It was just a coincidence as his colors and style are different. I like Raza’s paintings a lot and have a lot of respect for him. It was a challenge to break that myth. I started exploring with dots and was careful not to imitate Raza.
About your recent Art Exhibition for a cause? How was the response?
I createda series of paintings on the theme Poojyam. Saraswathi Educational Charitable Trust organized my exhibition at Lalit Kala Academi and even sponsored the materials that were required for the paintings.
During the exhibition, I interacted with all the guests to gain their feedback and understand their perception of the paintings. It was amazing to learn that some saw a spiritual connection. One referred to a single dot to be a third eye, and the nine dots to means navagraha.
I am happy that the exhibition went off well, and that we raised around 5 lakh rupees for a cause. I donated the entire funds raised to the Trust on one condition—to assist needy children who are pursuing art and design.
I realise that life is all about giving and not keeping everything to yourself. Yes, you have to save something for the next level, but on a process, give away some for others to enjoy.
Your future plans?
I wanted to break the illusions, and hence moved from dots to lines. This was a movement for me to explore something different. I have certain likings of colors and started using silver, gold, and bronze in my paintings which is usually considered not to be used by a painter.
I wish in the coming future that 50 percent of the Chennaites will have at least one of my paintings.It has been a wonderful journey! My scale has been up, down, and up!