Ladies of Lune: Richa Kashelkar’s Art Imitates Life Imitates Art

Ladies of Lune: Richa Kashelkar’s Art Imitates Life Imitates Art

Richa Kashelkar’s paintings are filled with a sense of wonder. Her worlds are expansive and tranquil, almost sacred in their serenity. In her landscapes, lush trees and clear water bodies come alive in broad, playful strokes, as do her portraits; paintings of men and women — often in repose, often with books — are also broad-shouldered and long-limbed. Looking at her paintings is like stretching until you hear every joint crack and your whole body relaxes. There is space here, there is peace, and there is so much joy found in simple things. 

Richa is an architecture graduate, a photographer, and a self-taught painter. Through her work she explores the magic that surrounds us, quietly embedded in the ordinary. Her paintings also speak to her beliefs — those of slow living and of embracing passion for passion’s sake.

 I’ve often looked at her paintings for long periods of time, willing them to open up and let me in. I want to sit amid the rush of colours and the sweet creatures that gaze calmly back at me. Through the process of interviewing her, I was struck by how Richa seems to have accomplished exactly that; she has built her life to match the dreamlike quality of her art.

Photography: Anannya Shinde | Interview: Rabia Kapoor Creative Production: Sreesha Shetty & Rameshwari
Pictured above: Richa wears the Kigo Choker with the Tala Cuff, Phases Hand Harness on her wrist paired with the Vesper Dual Ball Ring and Glow Moonstone Signet Ring on her fingers.

1. What kinds of things did you draw when you were a child? Have your interests changed? 

To be honest, exposure to art education in schools — at least back in the ‘90’s — stripped you of any possible creativity you might have. There did not exist the concept of painting your own ideas, only to copy what was provided and become good at the ‘craft’. And so whatever it is that I paint now, I have met it in adulthood only. 

(Now that I think of it, I do remember gravitating towards portraits and architecture, in whatever limited way, when I sketched and painted. I never realised they have been recurring themes.)

Pictured above: Richa wears the Kigo Choker and Big Narrow Chimbai Hoops with the Tala CuffPhases Hand Harness on her wrist paired with the Vesper Dual Ball RingGlow Moonstone Signet RingMei Family Set of 4 and Macro City Ring on her fingers.

 2.Do you find parallels between your photography and your paintings? Are they totally different mediums to you, to capture very different elements of the world as you perceive it? 

Different as chalk and cheese. The parallels exist but only insofar as my own preferences peeping through — like the choice of subject matter, for example. For me, painting is about showing what isn't otherwise visible; it is a conjuring of sorts! Photography is about selecting and presenting in a new light what already exists.

3.Over the years, your paintings have increasingly omitted ‘non-essentials’, as you call them, details of facial features and such. What, to you, are essentials in a painting? 

This is such a fun question, and one I'm always thinking of while painting. 

What happens when you include everything in a painting, is that nothing makes much of an impact. Everything is fighting for attention, and what you truly wanted to show is lost. You are dumping on the viewer all unfiltered data. Then what are you doing as the artist?

An artist's prime job is to distil the essence of the matter. This is very, very important; it is like saying to the viewer ‘LOOK! Look here!’

So, you have to be very concise. The more carefully distilled the elements, the more impact they make on the beholder. Everything that exists on the canvas needs to add value to the whole. If it doesn’t, then it's only detracting from it and must be ruthlessly removed.

Pictured above: Richa wears the Big Hanie Hoops and Lune Letter 'R' in her neck along with the Tornado Chunky Cuff on her wrist paired with the Solstice RingMei Family Set of 4 and Macro City Ring on her fingers.

 4.You studied architecture, and some of your paintings celebrate buildings and their design. I’m particularly fond of the ones that depict Bombay’s Art Deco structures. Do you have an attachment to any particular architectural movement? What about it interests/moves you?

I have a deep love for architecture. My personal attachment has always been to vernacular styles of building: local materials that make sense, old ways of designing that take into consideration your environment, and my favourite: that they look and feel a lot closer to nature ( like wearing cotton instead of polyester. ) My gripe with ultra-modern architecture is that it is so far removed from the 'flavour' of the natural world so as to teeter on the edge of absurdity. All of its ultra-smooth surfaces, strange lighting, odd proportions — meant mostly to awe and intimidate — are way too disparate from the harmony of nature. ( Of course this distance from nature seems like a feature, not a bug of late-stage capitalism. )

It is for all this that I, and so many others, feel so pulled towards vernacular architecture, which often feels like a hug, like a nest. There is warmth and authenticity there. Nothing is for appearances only, and yet it is not sparse and sterile. Beauty emerges as a natural consequence of this ideology.

My love for the Art Deco buildings of Bombay is purely nostalgic. While I never got to live in an Art Deco building, I always used to sigh like a forlorn lover at all the wonderful specimens scattered around me growing up. That style, with its instantly recognisable patterns, invokes a lot of feelings and memories for most people who grew up in Indian cities; these buildings are seemingly everywhere in the country, and so striking in all their whimsy and grace.

Pictured above: Richa wears the Kigo Choker layered with Lune Letter "R" and Big Narrow Chimbai Hoops with the Tala CuffPhases Hand Harness on her wrist paired with the Vesper Dual Ball RingGlow Moonstone Signet RingMei Family Set of 4 and Macro City Ring on her fingers.

5.You also built your own house, seemingly from scratch! Was your approach strictly based on your education, or was there some spontaneity and improvisation? 

Ah, as you might see I don't have a very bright view of our educational system. Out of the five years of architecture, there were only a couple of teachings that were really, truly valuable, and we learnt them all in the first year. How do large spaces make you feel vs cosy spaces; why does it feel icky to be in a room which is more tall than it is wide; how easy-flowing the circulation pathway should be. These are fundamentals and they formed the backbone of how I think of architecture. 

The rest was all spontaneous! I designed the house based on years of accumulated preferences. The level of spontaneity was such that we even punctured extra windows in walls after they were built. Lots of on-site improvisation, no technical drawings; a far cry from the systematic way in which it is supposed to happen, I guess.

Pictured above: A still from Richa's house.

6. Tell us about the mango tree you decidedly didn’t cut down. 

You know how we're all nature lovers and tree huggers here but, when push comes to shove, how much are we really willing to give up for a tree? 

This mango tree was in the centre of our plot and it was very difficult to design anything around it. When we first saw it, the tree was taken over by a parasite and seemed weak. Some people said it will fall in a few years and damage the house. It was just what I wanted to hear. I felt relieved and went on to design my structure with plans of chopping the ( what it seemed at the time — dying  tree. 

Then one day, just a month or so before construction, this topic came up with friends and they all scolded me for wanting to remove the tree. They thought there was a high chance of it surviving. Truth be told, I was afraid of hearing this, but now that I had, it became a moral dilemma that I couldn't run from. Is my design more important to me than a tree? That is not a comfortable question for the designer.

And so I changed my 'ideal' plan. We moved the kitchen around till it accommodated the tree in front of it. ( I still think about the original plan sometimes; less now, as I get used to this house. ) 

But the tree is here. We got the parasite removed, cut off the dead branches, and the damn thing started sprouting new leaves. Now that the tree is an integral part of our space, I feel immensely thankful that we managed to keep it. I apologised to it when we moved here, and hope that it has forgiven me. I tell you this as I sit under its shade on my balcony. 

Pictured above: Richa wears the Big Hanie Hoops and Lune Letter 'R' in her neck along with the Tornado Chunky Cuff and Lune Rings.

7.You’ve said you have no ambitions of ‘making it in the big city’, and prefer the quiet, scenic life. What are some of your big life goals? 

My biggest, most outrageous and audacious ( according to me ) life goal has always been ‘to live in a pretty house amidst trees and do solitary, creative work all day’. I still can't believe it has materialised. Now whatever happens ahead is a bonus; I have no expectations.

8. What are some of the mysteries of life that intrigue you the most? 

Life itself is the biggest mystery. I am hesitant to speak much on this topic, but waking up from the illusion of a false separate identity is, without a doubt, the most important thing one can do in this life. There is essentially only one mystery and that is uncovering the true nature of reality.

Pictured above: Richa wears the Kigo Choker layered with Lune Letter "R" and Big Narrow Chimbai Hoops with the Tala CuffPhases Hand Harness on her wrist paired with the Vesper Dual Ball RingGlow Moonstone Signet RingMei Family Set of 4 and Macro City Ring on her fingers.