Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. — John Lennon
This famous John Lennon quote accurately expresses the twist of fate that led Tejinder Ladi Singh to his true calling and his career as an artist. A man who believes in marching to the tune of his own drum regardless of the expectations of others, Tejinder radiates artistic integrity that is not very common in this day and age. Passionate about his art and the social responsibility that comes with being a human living on this planet, he thrives on using his artistic talent to voice social concerns that are close to his heart in his inimitable style.
1) How have the experiences you’ve had shaped the art that you make?
Despite enjoying making art for years together, once I became a working professional, movement on the art front stopped completely. I had been working as an interior designer when around the year 2004-2005, I had the thought of holding a solo exhibition and making art for it. Despite this inspired thought, I did nothing towards that goal. This non-action continued for 4-5 years with just the idea coming back to me again and again. It’s hard to carve out space to create art in your life when you are working constantly and focussed on earning money. Art needs good quality time and a very relaxed state of mind and that wasn’t possible with my lifestyle.
That is when destiny played its hand and by 2009, I had 40-45 artworks ready and my professional journey as an artist began. My experiences are what determine the art that I make. I never create an artwork solely from an aesthetic sense. Art should have a purpose, it should mean something to the viewer. I was also deeply affected by the famous letter to artists by Pope John Paul II. It’s a message that is very close to my heart. I am always brainstorming for ways to make my art more meaningful.
2) Do you have any studio rituals?
No rituals at all! I don’t believe that artistic inspiration can be created by routine. I have had times when 8-9 months have passed and I haven’t even touched the brush. I want to paint and have ideas but I am just not able to do it. Art cannot be forced. Inspiration ignites the spirit in you and work happens automatically. There has been an instance when I have even tried to make art based on the advice of others and logically gone through the motions. I wasted around 4-5 paintings and just ended up tearing them up. When inspiration comes from within, and I feel strongly about it, I create.
3) What is your attitude towards risk and sacrifice- two themes that recur a lot when it comes to artists? What risks would you say you have taken in your career?
When I started professionally as an artist, I was bedridden. I had broken my femur and was in bed for a year. That was when I began painting. I realized that it was God’s way of putting me on the right path. I had been thinking of holding a solo exhibition for many years and wasn’t able to carve out time for that. Destiny ensured that I did. The reviews that I got for those paintings, from people in the art fraternity and especially from my parents, confirmed that I was on the right path. This is the passion I have been born for and the journey began by circumstances I couldn’t control.
However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. When I came back to professional life after recovering from the injury, I did not get any interior design projects since I had been out of the market for a year. I would have had to start all over again. I then decided to quit interior design despite it being a struggle for me because I wanted to be an artist and pursue art full time. The next four years were some of the hardest but I am at a good place now.
Another important decision came about once I began painting. I used to get a lot of commissions for portraits. I made about 3 or 4 and then decided to call it quits. I did not want to go down that path because I knew that the lure of easy and steady money is what kills creativity. My wife and friends tried to talk me out of it and said I shouldn’t refuse work that is coming, but I followed through on my decision. No matter which profession, one cannot chase security all the time.
4) Looking back at your trajectory as an artist, how would you say your work has developed?
My older series had numerous subjects and a lot of variety. I had 40 works, both figurative and abstract, covering about 30 subjects. Now my work is more focussed. But it has not been a conscious effort. It emerged spontaneously. My work is more meaningful and has more depth in terms of subject and theme.
5) What inspires you? Where do you find ideas for your work?
The ideas are simple— themes that are interwoven into the fabric of our daily lives is what interests me. For instance, the growth of haphazard urbanization, the destruction of natural resources, and the natural jungle being replaced by a concrete jungle disturbs me a lot. I also see the cities of today as being a metaphorical jungle of sorts where women have to fend for themselves. Not just that, whether it is food, health, energy production, and even economic growth, water plays a role in it. I am interested in exploring the importance of water as a resource.
6) What has been the most memorable compliment you’ve received for your work?
After my first exhibition, members of the art fraternity came up to compliment me about how my work was not evocative of any other artist. It convinced me that I was moving in the right direction.
7) What is the most challenging aspect of being an artist?
First and foremost, the artwork has to captivate the viewer in terms of aesthetics. But then the challenging part for me is, can I use my art for a greater purpose? Just as writers get us to think about issues by writing a great novel or penning a soulful song. The Pope’s letter speaks of leaving a legacy for the coming generations. I feel that the contemporary artists of today share this responsibility too.
8) What can we look forward to from you next?
Water is a theme that runs through my next series. I strongly feel that the best way for me to raise my voice about issues that matter to me is to translate it on canvas.