Saturday, January 17, 2015

Art Nouveau (and Filter Coffee!) with Smruthi Gargi Eswar!

Aalayam signifies “a place of residence”, a confluence of ideas and inspiration. And you know that, at Aalayam, we house our musings in the vibrant world of multicultural design, culture, gastronomy and art. We have had abundant opportunities over the years to celebrate the visual and cerebral appeal of Indian culture. We have brought to you inspiring artists who revel in retelling mythos, folklore, history and culinary art in their own individualized ways…leaving their indelible impressions in this impersonal, mercantile, fickle universe. And how enriched have we been with those people. And how thankful are we that they have shared their stories with us!

I am proud to bring to you one more such artist. Smruthi Gargi Eswar.

Smurthi Gargi Eswar is the featured artist on Aalayam. Picture courtesy Ninfa Bito - Manila

Smruthi is a graphic artist, designer and modern art aficionado who is interpreting Indian mythology through her bold retelling via her series "Sister Misfortune". (Follow Smruthi and her work on Or check out her website

I was introduced to Smruthi’s work when I chanced upon one of her graphic art pieces in a very good friend’s home. (Check this link out, I also introduced you guys to it!) I was floored by Smruthi’s bold strokes, use of color, and the visceral story telling embedded deep in the art – the limited edition artwork seemed to captivate, and draw all eyes from its pride of place in the home owner’s abode. I was fortunate enough to get introduced to Smruthi following that intimate experience with her work,  fascinated as I was with her masterful art retelling of modern mythos. And boy was I impressed.

Smruthi's art "APARNA" in Velu Shankar home in Conoor, India

Smruthi’s art adorns home, office spaces, book covers, posters and walls of school buildings! This verdant feature speaks to the versatility and seamless translation that Smruthi infuses into her work.  And it’s not surprising, how organically the art lends itself, as an expression of individuality, as a remarkable statement, in whatever she touches. Smruthi’s design and collaborative space StudioSMU is the wellspring of her ideas and her forever messaging!

Smurthi's studio and creative space

 Smruthi is, I found, down to earth, vivacious and super chill (but with sublime attention to perfection, like all artists!!), even as she is expression shades of fierce feminism. All major pluses for me, an observer of artist personalities and human nature. So I will stop gushing and admiring, and let you meet Smruthi youself! And get inside her gorgeous head.

Here goes!

Shilo Shiv Suleman collaboration Power to Women

Supriya (Su): Smruthi, I personally love mythology. Its visceral, and deep. And you seem to have captured the quintessence of Mythology perfectly in your brand! We want to pick your brain to know more about it! First of all, what got you started?? And why Mythology?

Smruthi (Sm): My interest in Mythology is a rather personal. I feel like the Hindu identity has become a very narrow one. We seem to have forgotten about the diversity even within Hinduism. This series was a way for me to reclaim mythology and study older versions (matriarchal versions) of these stories. Especially in a country where people seem to fall back on what is traditional or cultural to explain their own actions, I think it’s a good idea to understand, that what we think of as timeless stories, are in fact changed versions of earlier tellings. And these earlier tellings, most often than not, stand for very different ideologies. I am interested in these early tellings that tend to be less patriarchal and far more diverse.   

APARNA from the Sister Misfortune Series

Su: Where do you derive your daily inspiration from? What gets you started designing and handcrafting a piece of art?

Sm: It’s hard to put my inspiration to one or two things. It could be sketching a bit, listening to music or reading. Once it comes to my graphic design work at StudioSMU there is more of process. Breaking the brief down, and then letting your mind wander but still very consciously to keep putting these ideas down in visual form. Sketching these ideas and fine tuning them is usually the perfect environment for the better ideas and the final design to surface. 

But with Graphic Art projects I do nothing at all. The idea or the need to discuss something appears quite naturally and the execution as well is more fluid and does not really have process that I apply. But I can see rather clearly the my design practice is a strong influence in how I go about creating my more "artistic" work. 

Wall graphics for a TV Show on NDTV, designed by Smruthi

Su: How do you give a modern slant to traditional representations of Hindu Gods? We see your art adorning classical abodes, and rocking in a modern space as well! So tell us more!

Sm: What interests me is a culture that is living and breathing. A space where we can interact with ideas from the past and be able readdress them from our own points of reference and interest. With Sister Misfortune I am looking at the matriarchal gods from a matriarchal time, in which the woman also known as Prakrithi (nature in Sanskrit) were revered. The adaptation of the Art Nouveau style is a direct outcome of this. 

The focus on natural forms and the placing of nature over all other things. The goddesses themselves seem more like us. I wanted this role reversal as a contrast to the constant obsession for women to be more "goddess like". Woman are layered, complex and flawed. And that is how I see the goddesses too. Also in Indian mythology as with Greek mythology we can see these layers to these gods. All I am doing is letting these complexities surface in  new visual context.

Old city cave graphic series - quirky, eclectic and emphatic

Su: Can you talk to us a little bit about your design work? Do you hold the creative reins of the design, or do you let your customers decide what they would like?

Sm: With Graphic Design work there is a lot of interaction with the Client. At this point most of them come to me because they have seen my work and would like to work with me. I get many different types of clients. Some who have a clear idea about what they want, some who might need a little help getting there while some don't want the hassle of it at all and are quite willing that I take it all on. Most clients I have worked with continue to work with me over numerous projects over time and I personally find a lot of happiness in that. 

Sandbox Collective and The Humming Tree poster

Su: What are your general interests and do you mind sharing how you spend your down time?

Sm: The usual - listening to music, dancing (nothing academic), watching films, or obsessing over a series, enjoying food while avoiding cooking (which i mean to change), day dreaming and analyzing the nighttime ones... things like that.  

DioramaDesign Studio project with Thara Thomas and Nidhi Miriam Jacob Cariappa

Su: Talk to us about Sister Misfortune. What do you aspire to achieve with the series? How, in your opinion, does your art contribute to the preserving of culture? 

Sm: Personally, Sister Misfortune created a space in which I can address stuff I want to. I am hoping that it also creates a platform where we can talk about gender, religion, culture and the existence  of multiplicity in all of them. It’s not so much about preserving culture but about interacting with it. The culture by default is preserved, and kept alive through different ways people find to interact with it.  

SITA at Pimento and Studio Five Architects

Su: Has your creative entrepreneurship changed your everyday perspective - at home, at work and at play?

Sm: I don’t see my artistic work or my work as designer as separate from the rest of me. It’s not really like they influence each other because they co-exist. It’s more like they are a single unit that find different ways of expression. Having said that, yes they have influenced how I look at the world and my life. Definitely helps bring a sense of meaning into things and helps avoid an existential crisis :) 

Getting artsy at Vartur

Su: Smruthi. please talk to us about your collaborations. With Designers, Fashion Houses, Schools and other brands.

Sm: As an artist I have had a chance to collaborate with artists from many different specters. Shilo Shiv Suleman the visual artist, Avril Stormy Unger a movement and performance artist, the well known Ritu Kumar Label the fashion house. 

Avril Stormy Unger Fearless - with APARNA in the background

StudioSMU my design space, on the other hand has worked together with Nidhi Mariam Jacob Cariappa (Diorama Design), Oroon Das, Fish Eye (In Delhi) amongst others. 

Amrish Kumar, Smruthi Gargi Eswar and Ritu Kumar (L-R), Label Ritu Kumar 

These collaborations work at different levels. With Ritu Kumar Label -  I was commissioned to create 4 pieces for them, which were then used on their clothing. The miniseries is called Seasoned and is an of shoot of Sister Misfortune. Ritu Kumar Label went on to launching the series in Delhi. 

StudioSMU's collaborations with Diorama Design are more diverse. We came together on a wall painting project that was done for a government school in Vartur Bangalore and now are working together through a new set of products from SmuSHOP. SmuSHOP will shorty be releasing these products online.  

Diorama Design Studio Collaboration - its time to get real!! And make an impact.

Smruthi, that was refreshing. Like drinking a cup of hot filter coffee. And EVERYONE knows how much I love that!

Smruthi Gargi Eswar smiles for the camera as she contemplates what lies ahead in 2015. Picture courtesy Kashyap

Thank you, you have reawakened my mojo for 2015. Keep doing what you are doing - go higher, do bigger, and inspire better!! We loved having you over at Aalayam and hope you enjoyed working with us too!!! 

Aalayam is privileged to have collaborated with you.

Good luck on all your future endeavors. We stay excited to see what you come up with next.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Artist feature and a home tour - "Traditional Indian with a dash of Kitsch"

Welcome to another year of inspiring posts! It is a new year and we are hitting the ground running! That’s right! 
An intricate brass Ganesha lamp  from Arthi's treasured brass collection.
We kick off 2015 with an artist feature and a home tour. Let me introduce you to an artist whose influence has touched the lives of many. She is known for her vivacious smile, her mesmerizing energy and her penchant for story telling!

 Story telling is an art, one that relies on the power of communication to translate words into artistic visual images that can then send the listener on a journey to an imaginary world. And our artist today is an amazing storyteller.  Story telling is only a part of her identity. She is also a mother, a full time corporate employee, a volunteer, an author of two children’s books and a blogger! I have never met her but I am thoroughly inspired by her tenacity! It is an honor and a privilege to host the amazing Arthi Anand Navaneeth on Aalayam today. Her story is beyond impressive and she was gracious enough to invite us into her beautiful home.  
Hints of orange play peekaboo with the warmer earth tones.

We love telling the story of people who make a difference and inspire us with their commitment to a cause as much as we love showcasing beautiful homes. So, to be able to do both in one post is always a bonus! Arthi is an eloquent conversationalist and I was blown away by her answers to my questions. The clarity and simplicity with which she spoke evoked an unmoored joy in me. I hope you too find our exchange engaging.

The striking architectural details, warm wood tones and an open floor plan accented by ambient lighting

We have showcased several homes on Aalayam already and you know that we love telling the story of passionate homeowners who decorate with confidence.  The homes featured on Aalayam define  the home owners' personality and what they treasure. Arthi’s home is another classic example of that philosophy. Pay attention dear readers, every corner of this home has been lovinlgy nurtured and filled with things that Arthi and her family treasure. The end result- an innately nourishing space with remarkable visual appeal!

Arthi’s Chennai home was featured in detail in Times Of India Property Times. Deccan Chronicle Bangalore focused on Arthi and Navaneeth’s mask and kettle collection and other bloggers have featured Arthi’s beautiful home in the past.

I am proud to tell Arthi and Navaneeth’s home story - the Aalayam way! 

Below is our conversation on home and décor and her story-telling platform (Art’s Tales) with Arthi’s insights on soulful decorating and pursuing one's dreams. It is a new year and we are all full of aspirations for personal and professional development. I hope that Arthi’s work will inspire you to reinvent yourself and follow your heart's desires!

 Who is Arthi Anand?
A typical working woman of today- a daughter and mother of two, wife to one, friend to some, foe to none (hopefully), Interested in music, dance, food, travel, craft and home décor.
During the week, I am a marketing professional with a fragrance MNC and on weekends I turn into a storyteller for kids.
Art’s Tales with Arthi Anand was born out of my interest in picture books and organizing get-togethers for my own kids.
The artist at work..
I am known as Art among closer friends (especially the blog ones) and hence the name Art’s Tales.
When my first picture book (Tulika’s “Have you seen this?”) was launched, the promotional events acted as a catalyst to my growing desire to narrate stories to a larger audience.
I had attended a workshop by Jeeva in my Chennai days, I drew on that learning. The wonderful Saffron Tree where I review books along with a lot of other contributors is a ready resource for multi cultural stories.

Not sure when but what began as volunteer work with slum kids, turned into an avocation. I still ensure I do at least a couple of volunteer sessions (largely with cancer patients at Kidwai Hospital and the slum children in Ejjipura)

So many stories waiting to be told....

To have people value what you do and pay for attending your session is gratifying. I have been a part of Bookalore, Bangalore Lit Fest, Conservation Express, Neralu, Soul Santhe, Kitsch Mandi, Hamleys and Krispy Kreme. This is apart from the sessions that happen in schools, libraries and across activity centers – all usually on Saturdays.

Family and a couple of friends were very encouraging and after two years, I also launched Art’s Tales on Facebook. The page is a year old now! I try and share interesting book links and crafts when I can.
Arts Tales sessions are interactive and informative without being moralistic. They are a mix of song, dance and story peppered with trivia and questions ideal for the 4- 10 yr. old group. Though parents are known to have been as engaged as kids, I close most sessions with a theme related craft ranging from up cycling to origami to even food art.
Art's Tales FB page is where you can keep yourself updated on the upcoming events and also book information
There is no dearth of stories or storytellers. I am thankful for where I am today. But when I ready to give up corporate life, I hope Art’s Tales can travel places literally- so that I can share and listen to stories there!
Merry little teapots- another of Arthi's favorite collections!
 What makes your home "your home"?  Does the decor in your home fit the bill for any one particular style - if so, what drove you to that style? Who calls the design shots in your home?   
Just yesterday I asked a visitor whether our house was traditional or modern. He felt it was a traditional look provided by a modern mind. I am still interpreting it!
Our family and their warmth, our memories and our hopes for the future translate in to our home.  It reflects our love for handicrafts and handloom, our travels including where we stayed.  We are fairly organized, fairly neat, fairly arty and fairly well travelled. Our home has always represented us and we believe no decorators or professionals can capture that.
More hints of rust and orange

So yes, it may seem a bit too lived in and look like a mish mash of styles but it tries to be “Indian with a dash of kitschy drama" and stories from our (and our friends’) travels.

Vintage collectibles showcased lovingly

I am the collector and the curator (a skill that needs further honing!) while the rest of the family does their bit to keep things in order. My father is extremely handy around the house and helps execute ideas on lighting and placement and more. My hubby and mom are the cleanliness buffs. I inherit my love for Indian crafts and fabric from my mother.  My girls, though young, help clean up their room once playtime is done. They contribute a lot to the festive décor with art and craft!

What are your favorite places to shop for your home? Are you budget savvy or would you rather own pieces that truly strike a chord with you even if they are expensive?  
Arthi fondly included a picture of these rattan stools (20 yrs old and from Bangladesh! she said)

I like going to the local markets and santhes when we travel. The closer one gets to the artist the more authentic it is.
Art/ craft is difficult to put a price to. Sometimes if you value it enough, you pay up. And sometimes low priced items fit in beautifully.
If I had to name shopping haunts, Dastkar, Santhes, 100 hands, Ambara, Asmara and Tribes in Bangalore, Khadi in Chennai, are good bets for curios. Of course there are online options too now- Jaypore, itokri and so on.
Blind Love worked well for blinds and Dakshini, Zen and Be Vintage are good for furniture.

It is good to always be on the lookout and pick up whenever something catches your fancy, your budget and a corner at home.

Where do you draw your inspirations from - stores, blogs, magazines?
If the curio fits one of the various collections at home or is quirky in some way and affordable, I get it.
I do recall browsing for a unique book shelf though when we moved to this home and that is how the Yin Yan shelf came about. We were fortunate to find a good carpenter to do it for us.
More treasures from their collection displayed with panache
Home decorating is an arduous process – one that takes patience and a keen eye. What advice would you like to impart to our readers that want to create a cohesive, magazine like look without professional help? 
Don’t go for a magazine look or any other person’s home.  
Home has to reflect you and your family. Let your home be a mix of aesthetic and comfort. 
Keep it clean and put things back in place.
Keep wardrobes closed and odd and ends inside.
Keep one wardrobe rack/ draw free in every room for super duper spring clean to use when you have unexpected visitors and then do remember to clean it out once they are gone!!
Bathrooms need to be dry, real flowers are always welcome
Decide and stick to your color scheme within a room, experiment with accents, be bold and change placement for a change………..
De-clutter is something I could advice if I learned it myself!

What’s next for your beautiful home? 
Some seating in wood embellished with old ceramic tiles, but first I need space!!
How does your home decor style incorporate the needs of your two beautiful girls? 
Every room has some floor space, where they are encouraged to work / play. The hall is large and obstruction free. They have a small study area in the balcony, which is enclosed and their room has lots of storage for their ever growing collection of books and toys. The girls donate and clean out toys and clothes every now and then. This really helps. Art work is displayed on the fridge or on their room doors and changed as needed. The girls are involved in décor and crafts during all festivals so that they feel ownership towards the same.

You are big on collecting items - what kind of things do you collect? And what drives you to them? When do you say enough? How do you manage to keep your house so impeccably clutter free despite owning a cornucopia of beautiful objects- any tips on storage and display?
Ganeshas, masks, kettles, quirky small brass/ metal antiques, Indian folk art, bedspreads… oh too many for the limited space we have. If you think our home is clutter free, then open the wardrobes and lofts and you will know!!

And there you have it, my rendezvous with the bubbly Arthi Anand.  She calls it “Traditional Indian with a dash of kitsch” and I say, “Punctuated with personality”. It is a labor of love and the home is as exuberant as the home owner! Thank you Arthi and Navaneeth for sharing your beautiful home with all of us. Thank you for joining us on this home tour. Please leave your comments and questions for Arthi. Tell us if you are inspired by this space. Our home owners, who graciously share their homes with all of us, would love to hear from you.

To find out more about Art's Tales - stop by her Facebook page


P.S: All photos belong to the homeowner and Art's Tales. Please do not use without permission.