"the conversation is between me and the canvas"
With such a booming artistic landscape, the fascinating work of Indian painter Kamal Koria is a lively addition not to be missed.
Originating from India, Kamal’s creativity stemmed from his curiosity.
Using borrowed or stolen materials, the artist would teach himself how to draw whilst experimenting with different techniques.
Developing his understanding of colour, form and shape, Kamal Koria built up a catalogue of intricate portraits. Unfortunately, the painter was continuously discouraged to follow his passion.
But after seeing his impressive talent, a family friend commissioned a young Kamal to paint a portrait of his own grandma – which he bought for Rs. 20.
From here, it was a turbulent battle between pursuing education or art.
However, after passing a highly challenging illustration exam, the first student to do so in a six-year period, Kamal moved to the UK in 1977.
Whilst Kamal’s beginnings in Britain were rocky, he established himself as a graphic designer and illustrator.
After his decadent impact on art forms such as film posters, wedding invitations and even record covers, Kamal retired but his success has continued to skyrocket.
With such a plethora of skill and gifted vision, Kamal’s pieces are reflective of his heritage, culture and environment.
He drenches the canvas with impressive shadow work, geometric shapes and deep colours that all culminate into insightful works of art.
Additionally, the South Asian inspiration is clear in his paintings.
Using fashion and the environment as clear indicators of his roots, the emotionless faces he designs mean each piece is open to interpretation.
These are just some of the elements that make Kamal Koria so skilled in his profession.
So, we spoke with the intriguing painter about his artistic influences and the aspects that have moulded his compelling career thus far.
Can you tell us about yourself and how your love for art began?
Born in Gujarat, India, I was the youngest of five children.
My mother passed away when I was three and my father ran a timber merchant business for my family’s well-being.
With very little parental guidance I became self-sufficient.
Guided by my curiosity, interest and escapism from formal education, I walked along the periphery of India’s education system.
For art, I used whatever materials I could find, borrow, steal or make to teach myself to draw and paint.
I cut hairs from various animals, including dogs, cows and horses to create the perfect paintbrush.
I stole paper and paints from my brother, pilfered wood from my father’s business and requested charcoal from my art teacher after watching him create a portrait.
When I was not climbing trees, playing cricket or causing mischief, I spent my time drawing, experimenting and learning from trial and error.
Which artists are you most influenced by and why?
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.”
Jim Jarmusch said this famous quote.
My work is influenced by many artists, films, books, music, conversations, travels through rural India, philosophy, and memories.
“Others have suggested that they see influences from Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse, Moore, and Hussein.”
My artworks are a culmination of my experiences.
How would you describe your artistic process?
Every canvas starts from my pencil and sketchbook.
My sketchbooks are a visual diary of interpretations, a bible of thought narratives capturing ideas, considerations, and solutions.
90% of these sketches remain in my book, and few of these sketches begin to shape into paintings.
Once I am happy with a basic colour scheme, I transfer the drawing to a prepared canvas and begin the painting.
There are other times when the mood takes me, I reach straight for the paintbrush, paints and canvas. I find this process liberating and freeing.
What type of messages/themes do you present in your artwork?
I’m not sure. My childhood memories inspire my work.
I often visit India, where I am now considered an outsider. I try to capture that childhood memory, that feeling and atmosphere.
“During my visits, I take a lot of photographs which inform my sketches and paintings.”
This reflective notion has only been achieved with time.
I guess others are also looking for that connection of life before we became so busy and distracted by technology.
This is why the subject of my work resonates with many. Time has been a key ingredient.
Painting in both India and the UK, what artistic differences and/or similarities have you felt?
At home, when I travel, and when I reach my destination, I carry with me my sketchbook and pencils.
Both in India and in the UK I have a studio setup where I can paint.
However, where I paint does not really matter, the conversation is between me and the canvas, and the outside world is secondary.
Though I guess the weather impacts my motivation, at times it can be too cold in the UK, and too warm in India.
Which of your creations is your most precious and why?
I don’t really know. I guess my old graphics work is precious to me because I cannot recreate them, they were of a different time.
Currently preparing for a 2023 solo exhibition in the UK, I’m looking back at my work, which I’m fascinated by.
“These commissioned works stretched my talent in ways I never thought possible.”
Every project was a challenge which I took on from necessity to earn money.
I would not have the patience, dedication or interest to create anything like them again.
Which other types of art have you been involved in? How do you want people to feel when seeing them?
In my career as a graphic designer, I have been required to design food packaging, colourised black & white photographs, portraits and logos.
I have also done record covers, film posters, book covers, greeting cards, stage banners, a ceiling mural skyscape and painting a large elephant statue.
I adapt to each project by saying ‘yes’. Then figure out the how.
It is not my place to say how people should feel. This is a difficult question to answer, each person brings their own experience to the artwork.
What challenges have you faced as an Indian artist?
I’m not sure I have felt much direct discrimination, I have focused on my work only.
As a ‘commercial artist’ I responded to orders and commissions and now as a ‘fine artist,’ I focus on creating my sketchbooks and paintings.
Maybe I could have been more successful, more mainstream and more recognised if I had spent time networking.
Or even actively looked for more opportunities and had more business acumen.
Maybe I would have experienced more discrimination if I had been more public-facing.
But maybe that would have deterred me from pursuing a career in the arts, but that was never the case, I only wanted to create art.
“I feel privileged to have had the chance to live my life this way.”
I believe I received more discrimination from my own community who were quite judgemental and never took me seriously.
Therefore, I was frequently criticised for my career choice and was often advised to steer into a 9-5 job.
What power do you think creative mediums have in your household and the world?
My three daughters have all been encouraged to choose the path that they feel passionate about.
To choose a life that is not just for money or material things, but to focus on feeding that curiosity through learning, travelling, and experiencing life.
Each of my daughters has chosen a creative path in some way and they continue to inspire me, each other and my grandchildren. I’m a lucky man.
The keys to my success are absolute stubborn dedication despite being advised to give up, the shortage of money, and the continued risk factor.
But most importantly, the endless support and faith from my wife.
Evidently, Kamal Koria is a provocative and thought-provoking artist with an eye for originality.
His pieces have this gentleness that draws you in and restores your faith in how reflective and representative art can be.
The ode to his Indian foundations yet historical influences produce poetic paintings, all oozing with cultural characters and powerful stories.
Therefore, Kamal Koria and his work is held very high globally and there’s no doubt it will continue to resonate with various audiences.
See more of the fantastic pieces by Kamal Koria here.