Within her stride
Anpu’s work picturing feet of a walking woman showcases the locals wandering around Malleshwaram as a part of their daily routine. This piece powerfully portrays what women do every day to reclaim spaces – walk.
Geechugalu: Anpu, your interventions as a muralist in the street art world have been widely acclaimed, alongside being a graphic artist producing graphic novels, being a self-published author, co-organising street art festivals and renouncing labels by dabbling into a wide range of artistic media. How has your journey been so far?
Anpu Varkey: Tumultuous. There were opportunities we utilized that helped push the street scene and the self-publishing motive forward. Creating works that exist solely in the public realm, with little or no monetary compensation can also be debilitating. You press on feeling that a newer work will unfold in the future, it always did. I worked with a resolve that the more you work on the streets, the better you understand the inherent need to do such work. It’s not about painting more, or better, but to use restraint.
The self-publishing canon, also happened very inadvertently, after publishing my first book, I remember telling myself that I should get the next one published by a known publishing house. I tried for a year, with little success and then I just did it myself. To continue making new works it’s imperative that the old ones are gutted out.
I live to work uninterrupted.
Geechugalu: What were some of your first encounters with street art in Germany like with stenciling on the streets? How did you feel about a transition from a studio space to working in-situ in India?
Anpu Varkey: It was exhilarating, also illegal mostly, so a bit scary too, my heart raced so much, I thought it would explode.
The first large I mural I painted was in an urban village in Delhi, very narrow lanes, lots of flies, the people who owned the wall were very supportive and friendly. I could leave my ladder and paints with them overnight, you get other people involved with your work, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. You become a performer and people stand and watch you paint, sometimes offer suggestions, give advice, there’s a lot of filtering one needs to do but you have a live audience. I learnt to be more patient and expect nothing but that’s when the streets surprise you, people often come by and give you fruit, take you from tea, offer lunch, there’s so much you can’t predict that happens.
I adapted to working on the streets well and it transformed me.
Geechugalu: Having developed an evolved narrative style from drawing million dots on paper, to making large scale murals on walls that may not warrant a sense of permanence, has impermanence in that regard held a personal connotation for you?
Anpu Varkey: I think about impermanence a lot, it also becomes the basis of how I paint, I scantily use colour, trying to leave the essence of an aging wall as is, and painting minimally around it. I try and deduce how well the mural will age in time but it’s not always possible to make such works. I remember leaving part of a painted wall as it was, since it had a kid’s hand impression from holi on it, which I thought was beautiful, but the owner later came and covered it with a new coat of paint.
People like to preserve things, it’s touching when they ask you about the longevity of the piece. The sheen of a newly painted wall is attractive, which is counter intuitive to how I paint.
Geechugalu: Having been a key artist as part of the projects in Chickpete, and in Malleshwaram, with Geechugalus, were there any worthwhile takeaways in your interactions/connections with those particular sites or stakeholders of the space?
Anpu Varkey: I’ve painted in many places in Bangalore, in Halasuru while painting the harvest moon, a local goon came by and said that he wanted his name etched on the wall right next to the painting. Interactions are very peculiar to the site, I’ve had kids walk by the galaxy mural and gape upwards and say ‘ wow, look look so many stars.’
At Malleshwaram, a few women came by and thanked me for the work, it was really hot and I remember this lady who lived close by said I could come by her home for anything, while she offered us refreshments.
An elderly women came and held my hand, this happens so rarely, she had never seen a women paint on the streets before and she kept smiling.
Another gentleman said that I should put up a sign saying fine of 1 lac rupees, if someone spits or defaces it in any manner. He was also unhappy I chose this spot, since the BBMP work would continue and parts of it will be ruined.
This kid, who lived nearby said that even a man can’t do it better.
He was trying to give me the highest praise. ☺
Geechugalu: Being an artist in the street art movement, are there any precursors to mural making in regards to a cultural zeitgeist that you would like to share with an aspiring artist community?
Anpu Varkey: I was highly inspired by the DIY culture that I witnessed in Bremen, Germany. There was a day once a week, where you could bring your bike to a garage/shop and the people who ran it would teach you how to fix your bike. It was for free, and you learned something in the process. Sharing knowledge was an important aspect to it and becoming self-reliant as well.
I learnt how to paint alongside a lot of graffiti writers, it’s a group activity, something that is super hard when you’re built with strong individualistic ideals. Initially I was feeling ill used, but the nature of the activity was built on each ones strength and what you could contribute and execute. I learnt a lot just watching others paint and plan.
You can make anything on a wall, the mind needs to understand that, there is no right or wrong, your meaningless squiggle probably is better fit than a huge tub of color. Forget what you’ve learnt and learn again.
Geechugalu: What were your inspirations behind your piece in Malleshwaram? With Bengaluru Moving aiming to make Public spaces safer for women, did you witness any changes in the locale with your art intervention in the space?
Anpu Varkey: The inspiration was the site, the location, the surrounding, the roads intersecting with a multitude of people crossing it, the canopy of coconut trees that stretched to the sky.
The proximity of the sky to the wall, was inspirational to make a larger than life piece.
I was there for a very brief period and with COVID spreading rapidly it wasn’t possible to hang out, so I’m not sure what changes the intervention had.
Geechugalu: Have there ever been any vulnerabilities or challenges that have cropped up when you worked in the public eye as opposed to working in a studio?
Anpu Varkey: Not finding a public toilet to use, is the most unpleasant of experiences. Having to work long hours without proper sanitation facilities is unsavory.
Geechugalu: Are there any expectations or visions that you foresee in a worldwide street art intervention?
Anpu Varkey: An overkill of neatly painted facades.
Geechugalu: How was your experience with Bengaluru Moving x Geechugalu at Malleshwaram?
Anpu Varkey: Very brief and invigorating.