Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hands & Hearts: An Interview with Story of a Seed

This is the third instalment of a weekly summer series showcasing various Canadian artists and delving into who they are, what they make, and why they do what they do.

I met Japneet, the artist behind Story of a Seed, when we were both exhibiting at the One of a Kind Show. The moment I saw her work, it took my breath away. I picked up cup after cup, exploring each exquisite detail, running my hands over each and every fingermark (Japneet pinches each and every one of her pieces) letting their stories draw me in. Japneet is an exceptionally skilled illustrator and she combines this skill with her work in clay to create pieces that are nostalgic and meditative and that aim to connect us through narrative.

Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do. 

I grew up in a small town in Punjab, near a tiny pond in the company of many lyrical frogs and birds. Like a tortoise that carries its home on its back, I carried mine and came to Toronto in 2006.
I love mangoes, the moon, listening to stories and sleeping under trees.
I make pottery, paint and also like making tiny films of things around me.

How long have you been working at your craft? Tell us about your journey.

I grew up surrounded by people whose hands were always making things; knitting warmth, pickling summer and making chutneys, embroidering lush gardens of thread onto hand- stitched dresses and textiles. As children we were often given bits and pieces of material to work with alongside the adults.

I have many warm memories of sitting with my Biji (grandmother) and learning from her to knit. I also remember hand painting bouquets of flowers on bedsheets and pillow covers with my mom and forming tiny birds out of the dough that she used to make our daily roti.  Although I graduated in 2003 with a fine arts degree from The Chandigarh College of Arts in Punjab, my informal initiation into the world of art and craft started quite early.

A few years later I migrated to Canada where I found myself a bit lost in terms of culture and language, and this is when I learned the importance of my own visual language to better connect my inner self with the outer world. I started with drawing and painting and began learning pottery from Joy Eluik, a potter in Toronto in 2009 and have been developing my practice since then.

What drew you to this medium specifically?

I am the vessel, I am the vessel maker, I am the clay of the vessel. - Rumi

I feel that the clay works on you as you work with it. I am inspired by its ability to respond to the slightest touch and to stretch and bend and mold. The fact that something so brittle transforms under immense heat into an object that has the ability to contain our nutrition, our sustenance, is very inspiring.

Clay contains in it stories of all of us. My pieces speak of a few of these tales- of homes, habitats, ecosystems, of people woven together with each other and with flora and fauna around them. My hope is that my pieces bring a tiny piece of extraordinary to the mundane as they sit cradled in hands being eaten or drunk from.

Have you had any mentors? Who are they and how have they helped shape you? 

An important mentor who helped me develop my creative practice was my teacher Sanjeev Soni. From him I learned that art can be not just a vocation but a source of strength and a way of life.

Tell us about your process. What’s your favourite part? Least favourite part?

I like to follow the form that clay dictates, I mostly hand-build and welcome imperfections. I explore my visual language by drawing regularly in sketchbooks but once my vessels are formed and fired, my drawings are always spontaneous and inspired by the form.

The most favorite part of my work is that it gives me an outlet to connect my inside world to the outside and vice versa.

The least favorite time for me is right before I start a formal body of work. There is always the initial fear of starting but it evaporates very soon after I start. The journey of making then takes over the pressure of creating a finished product. But I forget that every time!

Describe your workspace.

I work from my home. In summers I love working outside in the garden.

Tell us about a time (art-related) where you absolutely and utterly failed and what you learned from that.

The one thing that I feel I struggle with is sustaining a routine that enriches my creative journey for me- and that for me is drawing every day. I have not been able to do it consistently till now. I feel I wobble less and have a clearer head to understand the world when I do so and hence, I intend to keep on persisting to draw every day!

Where do you want to be in five to ten years (in art or life or both)?

Telling my stories through art and being more open to listening to others while being able to financially support myself through my art practice.  I also aspire to create finely produced children books in Punjabi. 

Why is handmade important?

Handmade items are important to me because when I purchase or use something handmade, when I wrap myself in a shawl that was hand-woven, it feels a bit warmer! It seems to have an extra heft - that of a history, a story, a song of its maker, its form and the material.

Our contemporary world seems to be exhausting itself in extracting, producing, consuming and disposing mindlessly while chasing an unhealthy, unrealistic idea of perfection. The wobble or blemish of a handmade item makes it more alive, contemplative and human for me. Handmade items also represent a unique, more sustainable future where people collect / purchase fewer but more meaningful possessions that they personally connect with and where individual makers are valued and financially rewarded for their work.

To see more of Japneet's storytelling and work, find her on Flickr, Instagram, Twitter and Etsy. She's always open to having visitors come by her studio, so if you're interested in meeting her and seeing her work in person, email storyofaseed[@]gmail[dot]com.

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