Harleen Kaur’s Art of History
Harleen Kaur’s practice is characterised primarily by the memories of her childhood and the waves of nostalgia that they bring forward. Her love for the past, both personal and general, is woven intrinsically into her largely abstract works. Below is my interview that explores the diverse influences that have shaped her as an artist today.
1. What was your route to being a professional artist?
My mother’s sister was an artist, she was also an art teacher. She was my first inspiration. I loved how she taught; her style was also quite abstract like mine. After school I feared that maybe artists don’t have much of a career life, so in the beginning I decided not to pursue it after school. I decided to practice art on the side, and worked with Vijaya Baggai and took classes at Triveni Kala under Satish Sharma. After these classes I realised I do want to get into the art world. After doing courses at Sotheby’s and working (as a gallery consultant) in small galleries, I decided to make my practice professional, instead of dabbling informally. It’s now been four years.
2. What did your time as a gallery consultant entail?
I am good at organising and managing and just generally ‘getting stuff done’. When I realised I would eventually make my art practice professional I decided to get into art consulting. I thought it would help understand how the art market functions, it would allow me to market myself better (as an artist). I would do marketing, PR and backend stuff for exhibitions, connecting with artists and patrons, and all the management that went into the running of a gallery.
3. What is your favourite gallery/museum?
I have a few favourite museums, including Pinakothek and Lenbachhaus in Munich. I also like walking around New York and exploring new galleries. Every gallery has something new to offer.
4. Your works span various mediums, which medium do you most identity your practice with?
I learnt my art with oil(paint), but I am a very impatient person and oil requires a lot of time to dry. Often when working with oil I lost my train of thought. So I switched to acrylic because it provided a pace that keeps up with my mind and thoughts. For the past three years I have been doing mixed media work and have been repurposing everyday household objects like bottles, bottle caps, beer cans, anything that I would have typically thrown away. I love texture so I like the fact that I can see texture variations by incorporating these objects.
5. Do you feel that repurposing and up-cycling has a place in your practice?
Yes it does, but it's not the first thought in mind. The first thought in my mind is that this will create texture or how can I make my work different with this. The thought of up-cycling is more secondary. I start thinking from a creative perspective, which ends up repurposing household objects and creating less waste.
6. Which is your favourite work (made by you)?
In recent times, the piece I made on the undivided map of Punjab has been my favourite. That is my most special and favourite piece; it was inspired by my trip to Punjab. I had gone after a long gap. I visited the Golden Temple and my ancestral home, which is right outside Amritsar. When you are younger you don’t appreciate the history and importance of places. This was the first time I was seeing and visiting Amritsar and Punjab through this new perspective. I went to the partition museum and understood the history and the changes of Punjab in terms of its people and size(since the partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947).
This trip inspired me to create something about unified Punjab. So I created many other works that were inspired from this trip as well. The fact that I went with my father made it even more special, because he is so knowledgeable about the history of Punjab. The map was my favourite work from that series. When it sold I was conflicted and contemplated telling the buyer that it was not for sale, but I realised I had to slightly detach myself.
7. Speaking of being detached from art, do you feel that one can truly separate the art from the artist?
In the first instance I would say the art and the artist are separate. You should judge the work on its own and how it makes you feel. But now I feel like it’s not possible to keep them apart anymore. Especially in today’s day and age. For instance with Picasso at that time things were different, there were different social standards and mannerisms. He was a horrible human being but was a product of the times. What he did was not considered wrong or taboo because it was happening all the time. In today’s society there is a change in that we are realising changing standards about what should and should not be. However, if I really liked a work, I would focus on the art over the artist. I have bought works of art from even street artists and I know nothing about his life. So with local artists you don’t know, its often more famous artists who get called out. For me when I look at art, it has to speak to me and then the personality of the artist becomes secondary.
8. An artist whose practice has inspired yours.
My maasi (mother’s sister): Amrita Love. She does her art on the side; due to other commitments like teaching she has not shown her art publicly much. She hasn’t had the time or lifestyle to show her art professionally. She does a lot more of repurposing of objects in art. Every year their Christmas tree is made out of something else, not a real tree. She really motivated me to bring repurposed objects into my project.
Otherwise, I am completely in awe of Zarina Hashmi. She is a huge influence. In school, unintentionally, a lot of my works were influenced by (S.H) Raza. At the time I didn’t know who he was, but when I did learn more about him, I definitely noted the similarities. I am more drawn to abstract work over figurative even though I respect figurative art as a style. I have loved (F.N) Souza’s works all through my young adult life.
The first time I cried looking at artworkwas when I was in the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art in New York City). I was standing in front of Rothko’s work, behind which was a canvas by Pollock. I was literally bawling between the two works. I couldn’t believe I was seeing these works in person. At that point I had been reading and learning so much about these works. I didn’t think I had these emotions, but to be there was a barrage of emotions. So they are some of my favourite artists.