play ground, tape and corrugated board on ground, brooklyn NY
designboom (DB) talks to the new york-based artist aakash nihalani (AA)
about his influences and recent projects.
DB: please could you tell us briefly how you came to work in your current capacity?
AA: both my parents are from india. I was born in little india (jackson heights, queens),
but grew up in jersey until I came back to new york in 2004 to attend art school.
I stumbled upon using tape by accident… I was using a painter’s roll to attach some
screen prints to the wall for a student exhibition. there was a pedestal in the space
that was casting a cubic shadow on the floor that matched the shapes I was using
in my prints, so I outlined the shadow with the tape. it all made sense in that moment…
sum times, tape and corrugated board on wall, brooklyn, NY
DB: which have been your most significant and satisfying projects to date?
AA: most recently, I did a residency at the de kooning estate in the hamptons where I had
the freedom to explore some new directions for my work. it was ironically liberating to be
working more in nature, with more fluid organic forms than what I’m used to working in
the urban city. plus the history of the de kooning estate, and being around his works and
studio was an amazing source of energy and inspiration.
DB: what draws you towards using geometric shapes?
AA: coming from a suburban neighborhood, I was captivated by the urban architecture
of the city when I moved here: big boxes, filled with smaller boxes, an endless network of cubes.
DB: you use many different mediums to produce your work – do you have a personal preference?
AA: I find that work I do in one medium, like animation, can influence what I conceive of in another medium,
like painting or sculpture. I’m always finding new ways to express an idea, so my process is still evolving.
portal, tape on wall, new york, NY
aakash, tape and corrugated board, brooklyn, NY (photo by noah kalina)
courtyard, tape on ground, de kooning artist in residence, hamptons, NY
(photo by lovis ostenrik)
DB: do you prefer to work indoors or outdoors?
AA: during school, I became frustrated making work in studios, then packing it up in storage
until it was time to exhibit. i find working outdoors allows me a lot more spontaneous creativity.
it also allows me to close the gap between creation and exhibition, which, for me, gives the work
a real life of its own. that being said, working indoors has since presented me with a lot of
other opportunities and challenges that i also enjoy. the works also have a relationship
to each other, which you can only see when they are gathered together in a gallery.
DB: did something or someone in particular influence your aesthetic?
AA: honestly, my biggest influence has been the city’s architecture itself.
the colors and tones everywhere are mostly neutral, so using bright colors allows me to really
highlight and set apart the architecture that’s most interesting to me, kind of like a highlighter.
plus the fluorescent palette I use doesn’t really exist in nature, just like the man-made concrete
structures of the city.
I also was really into magic tricks as a kid, and optical illusions, so I’m sure that’s still embedded
in the way I approach things, manipulating positive and negative space to create an alternative
vision of our urban landscape.
bricks, tape and corrugated board, de kooning artist in residence, hamptons, NY
impact, tape and corrugated board, , de kooning artist in residence, hamptons, NY (photo by lovis ostenrik)
DB: what are the main differences between street art and graffiti for you?
AA: historically, I think graffiti was all about making personal statements
and just straight up repping yourself. it’s not really about how the spray-painted tag fits
with an environment or if anybody else really wants to look at it.
with street art, there’s more of a commitment to interacting and enriching the viewer,
whether it’s political or whimsical or whatever. but its much more contextual and takes
into account who is going to see it, and what they’re going to get out of it.
working with tape, my work differs from other street art in that it revels in the temporary.
I like the flexibility of it, and that it’s not damaging to the built environment I’m working on.
magdalena, tape and corrugated board, de kooning artist in residence, hamptons, NY (photo by lovis ostenrik)
platforms (temple), tape on ground, new delhi, india
won way, tape on ground, vienna, austria
DB: how do you think online design resources have influenced art and design being produced today?
AA: without a doubt, it’s made the scene much more global and connected.
there’s no way I’d have folks reaching out to me from australia or japan or wherever
without the online support from design blogs and other websites.
for me, I try not to make my work too culture or language-specific,
so the global universality is extremely important.
where the red fern flows, tape on wall, brooklyn, NY
fill in, tape and corrugated board on wall, new delhi, india
exit, tape on wall, arario gallery, new york, NY
optiprism, tape on wall, jonathan levine gallery, art fair, miami, FL
duality 1, acrylic on canvas, 36” x 36”, jonathan levine gallery, new york, NY
x, acrylic on wood, 48” x 48”, jonathan levine gallery, new york, NY
assorted paintings, acrylic on canvas, each 24” x 24”, jonathan levine gallery, new york, NY
whole 1, acrylic on wood, 36” x 36”, jonathan levine gallery, new york, NY
cloud, painted steel, 72” x 72”, seven art limited, new delhi, india
upright, acrylic on wood, 108.75” x 46.5” x 2”, jonathan levine gallery, new york, NY
DB: besides your professional work – what do you have a passion for and why?
AA: I always listen to music while I’m working, thinking and planning.
so I end up listening to a lot of it, mostly independent hip hop.
what I love is the creativity of articulating something in a completely new way
that still has some form and flow.
DB: what is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
AA: don’t take advice.
DB: what is the worst piece of advice you have ever been given?
AA: don’t take advice.
aakash’s most recent work can be found on his blog.
all images © aakash nihalan