How do you become an artist?
A question that came from Viraj Mithani’s family in varying textures. His father was concerned and angry when he asked this. A businessman by profession, he had assumed his son was going to follow in his footsteps and carry forward his legacy. His mother and aunts were curious, being the children of artists themselves.
But for Viraj himself, this question is a definitive part of his identity, that continues to inform his work every day.
Having gone against his father’s wishes, Viraj initially did a diploma in the University of the Arts, London. He later graduated from the School of Arts Institute of Chicago (SAIC). He also briefly served as a teacher in the SAIC, and the Chicago Public Library.
Currently he is pursuing his master’s course at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).
At first glance, his pictures are vivid, colourful, and messy. There are a variant of textures in them that jostle for ocular attention. And if he is to be believed, that is on purpose.
With the experience of his cosmopolitan upbringing, ranging from Mumbai to London to Chicago, the speed of the globalised world is reflected in his work. There are overlapping styles borrowed from traditional and pop art. There is an attempt to create silhouettes within distinct layers of paint, with symbols borrowed from religion, chess, love, animism, and everyday existence.
Looking at his art for long may bring more and more elements into focus, but they are usually set against each other, fighting to avoid cohesion.
His training had initially been with the medium of paint, but through his academic training he has found an affinity for print. He keeps returning to giclee, vinyl and monoprints, and juxtaposes them over painted set pieces, creating an eerie assemblage. The solidity of monoprints offset the pastel of vinyl, and the reproduction of sketches through giclee prints.
Most of his work reports a strange restlessness, with heady brushstrokes. He reads it as a reflection of his confrontation with the plastic world he lives in. But there is also a defiance in his work, as he pushes disappearing Indian art schools to the foreground in an aesthetic rebellion against the colonial gaze.
He has also begun dabbling in sculpture, where he continues to hone his fusion approach to creativity, mixing fibre glass and wood sculpting with 3D printing to maintain the characteristic layering of his prints and paintings.
He has exhibited his work all over the world. Organizations as varied as the Clark House Initiative, Mumbai and the Gene Siskel Film Centre, Chicago have presented his work, as have galleries like Prak-Sis and Sullivan in Chicago. Hammond Museum in North Salem and Williamsburg Art and Historical Centre in Brooklyn have hosted his travelling exhibitions. And his work has been unanimously appreciated and admired across the board.
The latest feather in his cap, of course, is being featured in Forbes India’s 30 under 30 list, which has presumably put his father’s doubts at rest, if only for a while.
And Viraj has no plans to slow down. After all the question of becoming an artist can never truly be answered.