In an enchanting and insightful conversation with Siddharth Kerkar, a maestro of multidisciplinary artistry, we delved into the intricate tapestry of his creative universe. Renowned for his immersive and sensory-evoking installations, Kerkar seamlessly blends various artistic realms, weaving narratives that transcend traditional boundaries. With an upcoming project on the idyllic shores of Goa and a penchant for crafting experiential spaces, his artistic journey is an exploration of rebellion, creativity, and the convergence of diverse art forms. Joining us in the foyer of his artistic mind, Kerkar generously shared his thoughts on the symbiosis of art and hospitality, the profound impact of early investments in art, and the joy of creating spaces that resonate with a myriad of artistic expressions.
Foyer: Welcome, Siddharth! It’s truly fascinating to have you here. Could you give us a glimpse into your journey and how your artistic endeavours unfolded?
Siddharth Kerkar: Thank you! Well, coming from a family deeply rooted in the arts, I was practically born into a world of creativity. My childhood was a whirlwind of travelling to my dad’s art exhibitions across the globe. By the time I hit 18, I had already experienced the Venice Biennale art scene multiple times. It was a unique privilege, considering most of my childhood trips were a global tour of art galleries and events. My canvas, quite literally, was the world.
From a young age, my artistic journey was nurtured by my family. I remember wielding a paintbrush beside my father, tackling large canvases that were about 5 feet by 6 feet when I was just 13 or 14. The encouragement was always there, pushing me to explore my creative instincts. Even during my school days, when teachers would express concern about my doodles in the math book, my parents simply shrugged it off, confident that their son was destined to be an artist. So, whether it was crafting large paintings, designing spaces, creating Instagram videos, or experimenting with cocktails in my bar, the common thread has always been creation. The joy I derive from shaping something new is consistent across various mediums.
F: That’s truly captivating, Siddharth! Now, let’s delve deeper into your artistic journey. You’ve mentioned growing up surrounded by art, but was there a pivotal moment or experience that cemented your decision to forge a career in the arts, or was it a natural progression from the very start?
SK: It’s a tale of continuous immersion. From my earliest memories, my free time oscillated between playing outside and painting. Whenever I joined my father in his studio, I found solace in expressing myself on canvas or moulding clay. I even crafted my first bronze at a remarkably young age. So, you see, the inclination to create was ingrained in me from the start. My childhood travels revolved around art events, and in my leisure moments, I was always engrossed in the act of creation. It wasn’t a decision; it was an organic evolution from the environment I was immersed in. Art became not just a choice but an inherent part of who I am.
F: Your artistic approach is undeniably unique, Siddharth. Your inclination towards conceptual and abstract art is deeply rooted in your connection with the natural world. Could you elaborate on what draws you specifically to these forms of art and how they play a role in shaping your creative process?
SK: Absolutely. When it comes to my work, each piece has a narrative behind it. The abstract nature of my creations often reflects my perception of time and its various dimensions. For me, it’s about capturing the bird’s eye view of Goa’s scenic landscapes, with its vibrant red laterite soil and the mesmerizing transformation of green fields to brown during the summer months. Living just a two-minute walk from the beach, I’ve always been captivated by the textures the water creates. This fascination finds its expression in my choice of materials – I incorporate sand and sawdust, elements sourced directly from nature. The inspiration is drawn from the ever-changing textures of the environment around me.
Take, for instance, a phase when I experimented with fireworks discovered during Diwali celebrations. This led me to explore the idea of burning paper to create art. Inspired by the seasonal field burnings by farmers in Goa, I crafted works depicting burnt fields, using ashes as my medium instead of traditional paint. Now, the interesting part lies in the viewer’s perspective. It’s akin to John Berger’s concept in “Ways of Seeing.” How you interpret my abstractions is deeply personal and influenced by your own experiences. A viewer from a desert might perceive my work differently than someone born amidst snow-covered landscapes. It’s a subjective connection, much like witnessing a sunset – everyone appreciates it, but the nuances of beauty vary based on individual experiences.
F: Fascinating insight, Siddharth! It seems like your Goa Affordable Art Fest is not just an event but a response to a real need in the art world, especially for emerging artists. Could you shed more light on what motivated you to initiate such a festival and its significance in the broader context of the art landscape, particularly in India?
SK: Absolutely. I embarked on the journey of organizing the Goa Affordable Art Fest when I was 21, inspired by my visit to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London. There, I witnessed a dynamic showcase featuring artists ranging from 25-year-olds to established figures like Anish Kapoor. The artworks spanned a vast price range, from £300 to £8,000,000. This experience prompted me to reflect on the art scene in India, particularly the challenges faced by emerging artists. The existing gallery model often struggles with the high costs of rent and real estate, making it difficult to showcase and promote artists who offer more accessible price points, typically between ₹20,000 to ₹50,000.
I observed a disconnect between the genuine voice of the artist and the commercial strategies of galleries. The market seemed to dictate the narrative, leaving emerging talents with limited platforms. At that time, being a budding artist myself, I faced similar challenges. Galleries were hesitant to exhibit my work because of the modest pricing—a range of ₹50,000 to ₹1 lakh. This realization fueled my determination to create a space that celebrated the diversity and affordability of art. Leveraging my understanding of the Instagram market through my influencer pursuits, I initiated the festival with the idea of featuring 30–40 artists in a group show on the top floor of our museum. However, the response surpassed all expectations, with over 1,000 applications flooding in within a month. And that’s how the Goa Affordable Art Fest came to be. We had artists from diverse corners of the world, contributing to the festival’s rich tapestry. From Lithuania to Lisbon, France to America, artists embraced the opportunity, some even overcoming customs hurdles to participate. It was a logistical challenge, but we managed to pull it off, making it a global celebration of art.
F: Your approach to the balance between representation and abstraction is truly fascinating, Siddharth. It seems like you intentionally leave space for interpretation while providing just enough essence for the viewer to connect with your art. Can you share more about how you navigate this fine line and the experience you aim to offer your audience?
SK: When I approach my work, I aim to convey the essence of what I’m creating without divulging everything explicitly. Take, for instance, my series of copper works that portray a bird’s-eye view of a beach. The panels feature regular copper and blue-patinated copper, showcasing captivating textures. While it may appear as beaten copper with interesting textures, the underlying narrative is the representation of water and sand from a bird’s-eye perspective. The balance between representation and non-representation is delicate. I don’t strive for hyper-realism, yet I avoid complete abstraction. I want viewers to engage in a bit of interpretation. When I reveal that it’s a bird’s-eye view of land, suddenly, they begin to see it—perhaps like looking at a field from an aeroplane. It’s about offering enough visual cues without spelling everything out. I draw inspiration from John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing,” acknowledging that every viewer brings a unique perspective to abstractions.
Choosing the right balance is crucial. It’s akin to why you might prefer a certain colour of jeans over another. Abstract art, like fashion, is subjective. The more exposure you have to abstractions, the more you develop a sense of what resonates with you. I aim to strike a balance between providing a glimpse of the narrative and leaving room for individual interpretation, much like a well-chosen pair of jeans.
F: Now, moving on to artistic influences, can you shed light on how figures like Sean Scully, Mark Rothko, and Alberto Burri influence your creations, and in what ways do you incorporate their techniques into your work?
SK: Absolutely. Each of these artists has left a distinctive mark on my approach to art. Sean Scully’s emphasis on balancing forms and his work with blocks of paint have influenced my perception of colours. While I don’t employ blocks of paint, I draw inspiration from the minimalist approach and the delicate equilibrium in his colour palette.
Mark Rothko, with his minimalist style and fluid transitions between colours, has inspired me to create a series focused on plain surfaces and textures. I appreciate the simplicity and fluidity in his work, and that has translated into my exploration of shadows and tones in my pieces. Lighting becomes a crucial element in my work, revealing the depth and texture when appropriately illuminated. Alberto Burri’s use of textiles and materials has also made an impact. I find myself drawn to the incorporation of material in art, and his influence is evident in my choice of texture-rich elements. Much like Burri, I explore the possibilities of materiality within my creations. While I don’t replicate their techniques, I incorporate the essence of their approaches into my work. It’s about understanding and interpreting their use of form, texture, and material, and infusing those insights into my artistic language.
F: Now, delving into your extensive travels, could you pinpoint a specific location that significantly influenced your artistic sensibilities? Furthermore, how did this experience translate into a subsequent artistic creation?
SK: London holds a special place in my artistic journey, having spent 4-5 transformative years there. Unlike my experience of working in a generously spacious 200-square-meter studio in Goa, London presented me with a rabbit hole studio, a mere 2 meters by 3 meters in size. This transition reshaped my creative process, prompting me to navigate the challenge of creating smaller works due to limited storage space and the practicalities of transportation. The unique aspect of London was its impact on my exploration of copper as an artistic medium. It was during the city’s frigid winters, a climate I found far from my preferred beachy environment, that I delved into researching various techniques to colour copper. Today, I can patinate copper in approximately 35 different ways, resulting in a diverse colour palette across my copper works.
While my formal education at Chelsea College of Art might not have been as influential, living in London proved to be a masterclass in itself. The city’s vibrant art scene, with its daily abundance of art events and exhibitions, became an integral part of my education. In London, engaging with art was akin to a cultural norm, contrasting the perception in India where art is often associated with the elite. Europeans and the English, much like Christians in Goa attending Sunday Mass, made visiting art museums a part of their weekly ritual.
Moving on to the digital realm, particularly social media, my experience with galleries and the challenge of selling prompted a shift. I began documenting my artistic process, sharing images and videos on Instagram. This transition marked a transformative phase in my career, turning Instagram into a global gallery for my art. By showcasing my work on this expansive platform, I bypassed traditional gallery channels, retaining control over pricing and market positioning. I feel Instagram democratized art, providing artists with a direct line to a global audience and enabling direct sales.
F: It’s a more transparent process for an artist.
SK: Completely transparent, yeah. And also you control everything.
Now you just need to do it right. I mean, if your art is good, it will always find an audience.
F: In one of our previous discussions, you mentioned your support for smaller artists and designers during your travels. Could you share a specific encounter with an emerging artist that left a lasting impression on you or any particular artwork that you found particularly compelling during your journeys?
SK: Certainly. Whenever I sell a piece of my work, I make it a point to reinvest a percentage, typically around 10–20%, into acquiring artwork from emerging artists. Over the years, I’ve amassed a collection of around 50–60 pieces through this practice. Even during events like the India Art Fair, I bought a piece from an artist who was around 35 years old. His work was priced reasonably, and I found it to be a gesture of encouragement. Supporting emerging artists, whether through purchases or appreciation, is vital. It’s not about comparing values; rather, it’s about fostering a sense of community and encouraging the creative spirit. I recall acquiring an abstract piece from a Bengali artist during one of my travels, and the encouragement it provides to the artist is immeasurable. The feeling of someone genuinely appreciating and connecting with your work is priceless. I extend this support not only to visual artists but also to creative individuals in various fields, be it clothing brands, jewellery designers, or any form of handmade creations. The encouragement such gestures provide is truly invaluable.
F: On a related note, could you share a specific incident or story from your artist residency in Loule, South Portugal, where you were tasked with creating artwork using an olive tree? What was your inspiration, and how did that experience unfold?
SK: At 22 or 23, I joined an artist residency in Lulay, South Portugal, set amidst an olive farm. Tasked with transforming an olive tree into art, I chose wooden pegs. The result was a unique land art piece blending nature and man-made elements, showcasing the limitless possibilities of artistic exploration in diverse landscapes. Diving into my artistic ventures, I recount the tale of Chinese pegs—an intricate installation featuring around 2000 wooden pegs, meticulously arranged to mimic the orderliness of ants. This narrative unfolds as the wooden material, symbolically seeking its arboreal origins, reunites with the olive tree. The installation becomes a metaphorical dance of elements, a delicate choreography between man-made artefacts and the organic world.
A chance encounter in a lady’s house leads me to the works of revered artists Serge Poliakoff and Gottlieb Soland. Their stories inspire lessons in art appreciation and foresight—investing early in what one loves can yield invaluable returns. These acquisitions, once modestly priced, now potentially worth millions, stand as testaments to the prescient act of supporting emerging artists. Shifting to diverse ventures, I explore mixology in projects like Sopo and Feri Bar. Happiness, for me, lies in doing what I love, whether crafting Instagram videos, experimenting with mixology, or envisioning unique interior spaces.
Moreover, when I create a restaurant, it’s not just about having art as secondary, but it’s about combining all art worlds; culinary arts, visual arts, good hospitality, and music—all combined, and it’s about bringing arts together to make a more enriching experience for the guests. So dining at one of the restaurants is not just an experience, but it’s a special experience we’re trying to bring where all these arts combined and we give the customers an experience to remember. And how this happens is basically that it’s very rare for an artist to be designing a restaurant entirely. It’s usually given to interior designers and architects where art becomes secondary.
You know, I have had interior designers calling me saying that “Hi, you know, I have a wall that is free and I have a green sofa. Do you have a green work available or do you have a blue work available where art has always been secondary and added to a project towards the very last? But here what we’re doing is adding the art first and then creating the space around it. So art becomes a primary kind of point in our design. In the realm of hospitality, I express my belief in the convergence of various arts. Spaces like RoomOne, a speakeasy cocktail bar, exemplify this fusion—recommended by 30 best bars in India within three months of inception. Transitioning from artistic installations to mixology and hospitality, I credit the European Bartending School (EBS) and the partners Bonita Mascarinus and Bipin Ramen as the cornerstones. So, all my restaurants are with them; Bonita manages the space and Bipin heads EBS and owns the master franchise to it so he handles all the operations and staffing. But for me, it was more than only designing the space. So I’m not really into mixology as such, but of course, I love experimenting with flavours and, you know, experimenting with cocktails. But all this I’ve learned.
IP: Now, I’d like to know about your upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re most excited about in 2024.
SK: Currently, I’m in the process of opening Feri Bar in Goa (recently opened), a riverside space. Simultaneously, I’m exploring potential solo exhibitions in Delhi, with discussions and plans yet to be finalized. I also collaborate with Sarita Handa, contributing abstractions to her stores across India in the design domain. Exhibitions are on the horizon, with potential shows at the India Art Fair and collateral events during the fair. However, my participation in the fair is constrained this time due to my sister’s wedding and other commitments. Another exciting venture is the opening of SOPO in Bangalore, a restaurant franchise, and SOPO in Goa by the beach. Currently, my focus is on creating more and more spaces; I’m caught up in the rush of that endeavour.
As we bid farewell to our conversation with Siddharth Kerkar, we find ourselves enriched by the profound insights and contagious passion he brings to the world of art. From the genesis of his Chinese pegs installation to the dynamic fusion of art and mixology in ventures like Sopo and Feri Bar, Kerkar’s narrative is a testament to the transformative power of creativity. With upcoming projects promising to captivate our senses and unfold new dimensions of his artistic prowess, Kerkar stands as an embodiment of rebellion, originality, and a relentless pursuit of crafting spaces that transcend the conventional. In the realm of contemporary art, Siddharth Kerkar’s name resonates as a beacon of innovation, leaving an indelible mark on the canvas of experiential creativity.
Image Credits: Siddharth Kerkar