On Art: Desmond Lazaro

After the cantilevered fishing nets have been drawn ashore there’s bits of Kochi that stay—much like the waves—rippling with activity. The Kochi Muziris Biennale is that time of year when part of the southwestern coast of India comes alive with art, sculpture, installations, and lively conversation. Dotted across five different locations in Fort Kochi, Ernakulam and Kalvathi Road, the third edition of the biennale houses an installation entitled ‘Imaginary Homelands’ by artist Desmond Lazaro.

You’d normally find Desmond Lazaro in a seaside promenade in colonial Pondicherry, but for this duration, you’ll find him on Kochi’s coast. An artist we’ve trailed one miniature painting at a time across the globe, Lazaro works out of his studio and home in Pondicherry, but found some time to speak with us about his work, his deft brushstrokes on small canvasses, and his thoughts on large-scale installations.
Tell us about what (or who) sparked your interest in Pichhvai painting.
Gulam Mohammad Sheikh, my teacher at MSU Fine Arts Faculty.
I had been working with miniature painting and imagery for some time, and he suggested I look at Pichhvai as they were massive in scale and the idea intrigued me. Later that summer I visited Nathdwara and was hooked. The darshana was a revelation. Robert Skelton’s catalogue ‘Temple Hangings of the Krishna Cult of Nathdwara’ played its fair bit too.

Pichhvai painting is often considered a group activity: is it for you?
Initially it started as a collaboration but later it’s become a much more solitary activity. I do have an assistant whom I’ve trained; he started as a cleaner and he’s been my studio technician for over 13 years and I would be lost without him. He knows more about preparation of materials than most professionals.

What made you set up your studio space in Pondicherry?
There have been several reasons. My wife’s family have had a home here for many years, the kids’ school, being away from the metro-centres, a quiet life to finally lay down some roots. It is really about choice, I simply prefer a quieter life, which is focused on family and work with a few distractions.I do travel a fair bit though, so in that sense I always remain in contact with the ‘other’.Is there a piece of music that informs your work?
Miles Davis’ Nuit Sur Les Champs-Elysées, The Blue Nile (I grew up listening to Paul Buchanan), theme from Blade Runner. Although I listen to podcasts all the time whilst working especially documentaries, mainly political and historical.

If not in Pondicherry, you’d be in…
St Remy, South of France, my wife’s place, perhaps.

In another life, you’d be?
A chef/cook.

A piece of writing you enjoy.
Amitav Ghosh, Ibis series and his recent work ‘The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable’ (that’s what I’m reading now), plus anything by Haruki Murakami.
A thing you’d like to see invented?
I-pill for loneliness.

One piece from Nicobar that you like best?
Aparna Chandra (She heads Nicobar’s womenswear design) – she is a friend of my wife Agathe, and I have known her since the early days – she’s wonderful.

Location courtesy: Gallery Threshold courtesy of Tunty Chauhan.
Find Desmond’s ‘Imaginary Homelands’ here.