Ruchi Shah is an illustrator working both in large scale -including murals, as well as books. In much of her work there is a capturing of the intangible, of movement of a visual culture steeped in artisan tradition and yet ever reinventing itself. At the core of the artist’s practice is the tradition of textile handiwork. As well, Ruchi finds herself particularly drawn to the details and repeated lines of the work of the Madhubani and Gond visual arts. Other pictorial cues include the vibrancy of regional signage and truck art.
And so, we see art is more than something made at a desk, but part of a living culture. In keeping with this more kinetic model of creativity, for Ruchi movement has meant transformation. Interested in the artistic and creative process of construction and destruction, the illustrator points to the dynamism of art making, reminding me of the chaotic yet rich visual culture of Mumbai, the way marketplaces are full of reused objects, the compartmentalization and chaos, and indeed this theme of reconstruction, distortion, and assemblage informs much of Ruchi’s work.
“Materials and their physical qualities fascinate me as they can be rough, sharp, permeable, light, airy, translucent, liquid, viscous, impermeable, floatable, hollow, ribbed and so on. Letting the material itself become the message at some point while creating: to me thread, ropes, icing tubes and pipes look like a way to create lines, and they coincide with ink flowing from a pen, looping, connecting, and disconnecting. “
One of the artist’s most interesting projects includes the 2013 illustrated book Farmer Suicides, based on a series of interviews with sixteen families affected by suicide in Vidarbha, India. The graphic novel focuses on the aftermath of a rash of suicides after a failed crop.
As well, Ruchi is in part inspired by her travels and teaching experience with a NGO. A few years ago, her sister Riddhi, who works in the field of education— suggested that the two women might work as volunteer teachers and so they found themselves in remote villages in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India, spending time teaching at four different schools.
As Ruchi travelled, the scenery, landscape, the openness of the children and their untrammeled expressive creativity stirred something new in the artist. She came to the realization that one could exist quite differently than what she was accustomed to, e.g. learning to live with less. It seemed as well that the untaught had much to teach the expert.
The elements of the journey unfolded into a beautiful story — “the regions, the scenery, the shyness of the children, their curiosity, the colors, the language spoken by the locals, their daily life, and the relationships we forged…”
Ruchi has a poetic way with words, she describes the experience in colors, feeling and a sense of transformation:
“Languages and regions, no matter how remote and different, have never been a boundary for me. I discovered how beautiful my country really is. I step out on a hunch, go by my intuition and trust people, and they have not failed me yet. I am waiting for more amazing places to be revealed to me and to meet more incredible people along my path. The idea is to keep walking.”
Of her work with children, Ruchi says she finds her own work reveals more texture, more flowing of color, the accidental spillage of ink –more beautiful carelessness reveals itself somehow.
“And when they began to draw they brought certain innocence into their work. Their hand is naïve and the way they hold a brush or treat a medium creates so many different effects. Nothing is right, wrong, perfect, or imperfect. I would love going back to working that way. Embrace everything and allow it to flow into artwork, and to have flaws become perfection….”
Explore more about Ruchi Shah’s work at be.net/ruchishah