My artistic idiom spans across site-specific installations, performance, paintings, and mixed media works. The human figure is at the center of my practice, perhaps to compensate for my lonely childhood. But it is this motif that unifies my practice as I articulate my abiding engagement with people and their complex emotions.
Gunjan is a New York and Delhi based international artist whose work explores themes of identity, roots, the relationship between human, natural, and social environment through mixed-media sculptures, nature art, site-specific installation, video, photographs, paintings, and collaboration. Having trained in various sculpture and paintings based disciplines, her works range from large site-specific installations to small interdisciplinary sculptures, paintings.
Early Life & Education
Growing up at my grandparents’ house in Uttar Pradesh, I longed to be with my parents, who lived in the neighboring state of Haryana. However, finances were limited, and I could only visit them in summer when I had two months off from primary school. At that time, little did I know that my sad and lonely childhood would have a lasting impression. Yet, amidst the gloom, I distinctly remember doodling and drawing in my school books while pretending to study. That was my instinctive medium of expression and joy, even as a child.
After the twelve years apart from my family, I did return home when I was fourteen years old but left again to attend art college. However, unlike my school struggles, I was gifted at art — I was topping exams, representing my college at various competitions, and winning numerous awards. I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Painting from the Department of Fine Arts, Kurukshetra University, and went on to do my Master’s at Sir JJ School of Art, one of the most renowned art institutions in India.
Attaining a specialization in painting, I began my formal career exploring the mediums of oils, watercolors, and mixed media. One of my earliest works, ‘Just a few square feet from my yard,’ had Hanuman traversing the skies carrying the Dronagiri mountain while a child is seen waving out to him against a backdrop of empty houses. For me, the work spoke of dislocation and loneliness even as it alluded to endurance and goals so lofty that they seemed almost mythical. Another work ‘Cleaning the crow story’ has crows and a young woman putting pebbles into a bathtub hoping to empty the tub of all water. While this work also drew on my own experiences, it articulated universal themes of letting go, restarting, and renewal.
My works do reflect my deep interest and admiration for Indian and Persian miniatures. I find myself revisiting their subtle use of color and form and incorporating those tangential references within my own practice, especially in nuanced watercolors.
The turning point in my artistic journey came in 2014 when I was invited to participate in a residency in South Korea. Over there, we were required to use natural materials to make installation art in an all-natural setting. As a figurative painter, this opportunity allowed me to look beyond my traditional, 2-dimensional surfaces and express my concerns using symbols, metaphors, and found objects. Not only did this introduce me to the lyricism in site-specific work but, more importantly, forever broadened my artistic vision.
Returning to India, I continued to work on site-specific projects alongside my painterly practice. In 2015, I traveled across the landscape of Gujarat as part of the Global Nomadic Art Project’s first India initiative. The idea was to employ natural materials to create installations in isolated natural environs where explorers would unexpectedly encounter them. For me, the act of creating works in a natural setting has been both challenging and enriching.
The seemingly simple gestures of putting a stone on another, touching and feeling the leaves of a plant, joining dry wood branches are opportunities to unearth meaning, weave new narratives and offer novel ways of seeing. I find that now my artistic practice is rooted in nature, and I turn to nature for material as well as ideological input.
Gunjan Tyagi, Interlocked detail 2Another memorable work is ‘Castle in the winds’ done as part of the Fresh winds Biennale, Iceland, which had the curatorial theme of dreams. This made me reflect on what my dream was. For the most part, I’d lived a nomadic life away from home, first for the school, then college, and finally to pursue my artistic career. So, my dream was my beloved home, and to embody it, I created a wooden structure onto which I attached sheets of plastic. The strong winds in Iceland, where this installation was made, allowed the plastic to fly and soar, creating a dreamy vision of my enduring dream.
After traveling extensively around the world over the last few years, I have now made New York my home. The energy and vibrance of the city are truly stimulating. Yet, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I find myself confined to my studio. I am back to focusing my energies on painting and my latest work is a spin on Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. But, true to contemporary anxieties, we see that both god and humans are wearing hand gloves!
Gunjan Tyagi, Hot Iron
Gunjan Tyagi Short CV
Gunjan Tyagi, born in 1986, did her Masters in Painting from the renowned Sir J.J. School of Arts, Mumbai. She is a visual artist and experienced in organizing workshops and residency programs. Gunjan Tyagi practices public & natural art as an invited artist representing India in several international art programs. She is Treasurer of TREES, a NGO for global Art promotions based in New Delhi.
She was invited as one of the youngest juries in Seychelles Biennale in November 2017; there were 3 international Jury, one from Mauritius, from Germany and two Seychelles reputed art advisors. She was also invited to Fresh winds Art Biennale in Iceland in December 2017 and iBiennale, Honolulu, Hawaii 2019. She has been showcasing her works in the USA, Europe, and Asia.