Thursday, June 20, 2024

The big picture: a painting in puzzles

They say puzzles are for the mind but maximalist illustrator Surabhi Banerjee’s jigsaw puzzles not only test your wits but also mesmerise you with intricately detailed artwork featuring the richness of everyday life.

The 1000-piece puzzle depicts diverse cultures and emotions against the backdrop of bustling Indian cities. The collection includes a set of four jigsaw puzzles featuring scenes of ‘Bombay local’, Kolkata’s ‘Bajaar’, ‘Craftswomen’ and men working on idols of goddesses and Kathakali dancers swaying to the beat of ‘Attakatha’. 

The jigsaws are perfect for puzzlers looking to reconstruct pieces of nostalgia, the artist comments.

Bengaluru-based illustrator Surabhi Banerjee.

Bengaluru-based illustrator Surabhi Banerjee.
| Photo Credit:
Surabhi Banerjee

“Poring over each piece for hours and days gives people the sense that they are the creators of the artwork.” Speaking over the phone from her studio in Cooke Town in Bengaluru, Surabhi says, “This way, there is a forced sense of attention and discovery which brings all the details to the surface, often lost the first few times you look at the work.” This is also the way to ‘view’ Surabhi’s maximalist style of art where every inch of the canvas is filled with a riot of expressions and colours.

Maximalism, as the name suggests, is an expression of excess based on the philosophy ‘more is more’. The aesthetic is a reaction to its opposing philosophy, minimalism, where everything is stripped down.  

‘Craftswomen’ by Surabhi Banerjee

‘Craftswomen’ by Surabhi Banerjee
| Photo Credit:
Surabhi Banerjee

New maximalism is a revival of the same where its practitioner uses the aesthetic sense that defines them to fill up spaces.

“I find so much comfort in the idea of muchness and that probably emerged out of a childhood spent with my maternal grandparents who were hoarders in the best sense of the word. I took fondly to the idea of filling up one’s space with beautiful objects. Whether they would be broken or looked ugly to someone else mattered very little.”

Recalling her childhood which fuelled her interest in the artform, Surabhi says, “It began with private retreats that my brother and I fashioned within the window sills of our house or using a  couple of umbrellas to form a cave. I would adorn these spaces, as if they were my whole world, with buttons, rocks, broken watches and other scraps I would collect from my grandparents’ house.”

‘Bombay Local’ by Surabhi Banerjee

‘Bombay Local’ by Surabhi Banerjee
| Photo Credit:
Surabhi Banerjee

For Surabhi, taking the less-trodden path was not always the plan. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was working as an architect for three years. However, she was lost and felt like an imposter. Compounded by her failing health, she decided to strike out on her own as an illustrator. 

“Returning to drawing was almost like an act of self-affirmation, and a pivotal lesson in the importance of being sincere with oneself in one’s art. During the lockdowns, not being able to step out had affected my work as I constantly looked inward for all my material.” Surabhi says she now relies on what she feels and resonates to when she is outside.”  

Since then, Surabhi has worked with corporations like Hershey’s, Facebook, KFC, Coca Cola and YRF, apart from commissioned pieces. 

‘Attakatha’ by Surabhi Banerjee.

‘Attakatha’ by Surabhi Banerjee.
| Photo Credit:
Surabhi Banerjee

Using her art to create limited edition jigsaw puzzles was an idea that came to Surabhi in 2022. 

After a lot of difficulty she found a manufacturer who undertook the process of dyeing, printing, laminating and cutting the pieces to make the jigsaw puzzle. 

For her puzzles, Surabhi wanted to pick something that people could relate to.

Commissioned art piece by Surabhi Banerjee.

Commissioned art piece by Surabhi Banerjee.
| Photo Credit:
Surabhi Banerjee

“For instance, Bajaar builds around the periphery of municipal markets in Kolkata, where street vendors, food stalls, flower baskets et al jostle for space with customers and, yes, stray animals. ‘Attakatha’ came alive while I was colouring. It had an atmosphere of sacredness, almost like a holy space, even with no gods around. The need to tie it back to something ancient felt almost requisite.”

It is not just a riot of colours, Surabhi says. The puzzles are a wholesome treat for our senses, with a tinge of nostalgia.

To find out more about Surabhi Banerjee and her works, visit her shop and Instagram profile.


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