‘Making art makes me happy and allows me to sleep peacefully at night’

Inside Arnav Man Singh’s studio in Thamel’s Kathmandu Art House (a space created by KGH Group and Museum of Nepali Art’s CEO and director Rajan Sakya for Nepali artists to work and showcase their artworks) are paintings hung and placed on the wall, and the floor. Some paintings have purposeful shapes and lines, while others feature layers that create an unusual and unsettling visual. Unless enveloped by their emotions, his paintings will look messy to the untrained eye.

“When making art, I don’t like to think about what I want to make. Instead, I prefer to let my emotions and feelings guide me. I don’t like to think about the consequences of my art,” said Singh, looking at his paintings on a recent afternoon in his studio.

Twenty-two-year-old Singh is an emerging expressionist who has been making abstract art that most would view as opposite from mainstream contemporary art.

In this interview with the Post’s Srizu Bajracharya, Singh talks about who he is, what art means to him, and the challenges he has faced in his journey to fulfil his passion for art.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How old were you when you realised that you had a passion for art?

Art has always been around me. As a child, whenever we visited our mamaghar, my grandmother would give my brother and me chart papers and coloured pencils. We were allowed to draw anything on the chart papers; we would smear all kinds of colours on them. Back then, we didn’t really think about anything before making art. It was the same whenever I drew at home as well. I have always believed in this kind of art where you let your intuition take over and guide you. I believe that if I am making something without thinking about the outcome, it eventually becomes art. Being able to trust this process has been key to my artistic journey.

When did you decide to pursue art full time?

When I first told my family about my interest in pursuing art, they suggested that I choose architecture because the subject has components of art but, at the same time, has a promising scope. I think it’s natural for people to think of outcomes before doing anything. Until I was in grade ten, I tried hard to ace in science so that I could pursue architecture.

But science wasn’t something I was good at, so I decided to study management after finishing high school and joined a college in Bangalore, India. I think I was a good student, but my grades always suggested otherwise. Each time I expected to get good grades, I got an ‘F’, which bothered me a lot. Even people started considering me a failure. I was unhappy, frustrated and tired of trying to do well in my studies, so I decided to quit college and reject this educational system that was rejecting me. That’s when I decided to just focus on making art.

How did your decision to drop out of college to focus on art go down with your family members?

I was 20 when I decided not to go back to college and focus on art. My family members were unhappy with my decision and concerned about my future. At the time, I found their refusal to support my decision frustrating. But looking back now, I understand where their fears and worries were coming from. While expressing their concern, they said things that they didn’t mean and I got hurt in the process. I know they were hurting as well.

In these last three years, we have all learned to walk in each other’s shoes and understand each other better. This has allowed us to heal together. Right now, my family understands me and my decision. I know it was a huge gamble to drop everything to just focus on art, but I have never regretted making that decision.

Three years after making that decision, you get approached by art enthusiast and collector Rajan Sakya, and he offers you a studio at Kathmandu Art House. How important was this for your confidence?

Before I met Rajan Sakya, I was just a nobody painting in my room. I used to lock myself in my room and paint day and night without talking to anybody.

But ever since I got my own studio here at Kathmandu Art House, I feel much better about what I do. I can just be me in this place, and my art can just exist, which is why I am so grateful to Rajan Sakya. I still make a mess with my work. I still like to make things spontaneously without thinking about consequences, but people around me now give me the sense that I am on the right path. The artists here encourage me greatly; their appreciation has stopped making me feel anxious. I no longer seek validation from people because I now have healed enough to understand I validate myself.

How do you see art and approach it?

Art is my most preferred medium to express myself. Making art makes me happy and allows me to sleep peacefully at night. This is how much art means to me.

As for my artistic process, I think it’s pretty simple. Whenever I sit down to paint, I prefer to do so with an open mind. I do not approach the art-making process with a preconceived notion of what I want to make. For me, art is more about questioning and exploring. It’s a curious mind finding its way to find what it is looking for. This is why I believe that being too conscious in the making process robs you of the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the experience of making an artwork. I prefer to submit myself to my emotions and mental state while creating artwork.

As you fully immerse yourself in this artistic journey, what have you been looking forward to doing?

If I were pursuing art with a purpose, maybe I would have quit. But I am just here and doing what I know, and I am not thinking of making more art with the sole intention of selling them. I just don’t have an end goal, and I am not thinking of the benefits or consequences of my art, so I have never thought about quitting if things don’t work out. If things don’t work out with art, I think I will make another art, and then another art. Going forward, I plan to do whatever I like. I am thinking about getting into making sculptures. And I plan to learn it. I am hopeful that whatever I do will be an amazing journey.

In all these years, I have come to a place where I can differentiate where my doubts are coming from. That has helped me to become the main character of my own story. I have come to a point where I can feel enough for myself and be happy.

Arnav Man Singh’s artworks are on display at Kathmandu Art House, Thamel.

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