What is reality? Some might say that it is anything that has a tangible form in this world. But the answer if there will ever be one, has not been discovered. Philosophers and artists, across the ages, have pondered over their role in the world, and many see their works as an attempt to grapple with an elusive and ever-changing understanding, of reality.
That is one of the things that Tanmoy Kayesen, tries to do through his drawings. “For me reality is an unknown language and drawing is a way to translate that language. Each drawing is a subconscious representation of my current phase in life” Tanmoy works as an architect for a firm in Hyderabad, and he tells me that he chose architecture because it had a bit of art in it, “I felt like it was something I could use to survive in the world” As a child he had a very romanticized version of the world in his head, but as he grew older he acquired the wisdom that comes with age, and started seeing things how they actually were.
He constantly tries to explore his relationship with reality and his consciousness through art. “Everyone perceives reality in a different way. There are people who believe there is only a single reality, there are people who deny reality and then there are people who try to understand reality by probing it” Each time he arrives at what seems like an understanding, he delves into it further and gains new insight.
Understanding something as dynamic as reality isn’t a simple endeavor and Tanmoy’s art testifies to that fact. They have an air of intricate chaos, with a staggering level of detail poured into them. The surreality in his art instantly reminds one of a scene from a Lovecraft tale or an album cover for Rings of Saturn or Mastodon. Dismembered people looking into an abyss, humanoids with eight eyes, crawling on all fours, eyeballs hanging from their sockets, animals with bionic limbs, and other images of an eldritch nature; they might seem unsettling, but not without reason. “Dissecting people, down to flesh and bone is a way of understanding them without any prejudices, because in that moment, they are completely honest and vulnerable” The same goes for the presence of wood and steel in his art, which represent productivity and restrictions.
Looking at his art, it is hard to believe that he started off by drawing portraits of the Hindu God Ganesh. As a child Tanmoy was captivated by the sight of a seventy foot tall idol being immersed in the water during the annual Ganesh Chathurthi festivities. Inspired by such a majestic sight, he drew it. As a young boy he was constantly signed up for drawing competitions (sometimes without his knowledge) by teachers at school, almost every month. This went on until seventh grade when he changed schools, it changed his perspectives and set him off on his new artistic path. He started drawing how he was feeling, and they contained a fair amount of gore and dismemberment. Once he exhibited a notebook full of his drawings at school, which raised the eyebrows and concern of many parents who were alarmed by the amount of gore in it, they bought it to the attention of the management, who needless to say, did not take it well. He was reprimanded by the parents and the school’s VP, “After that I stopped drawing. Sometimes I would draw something but then I would tear it up almost immediately.” This went on until 2014 when he was exposed to artists on Instagram, like James Dean and Ian Bertram.He saw them being appreciated worldwide; making him realize that his art will be accepted and appreciated.
He tells me that it took a while for him to develop his own style, ‘When I look at my art from before, it looked like a mashup of the aesthetics of my favorite artists. There were elements that had no meaning for me, I used them just because my favorite artists were using them. ” Slowly, he started to figure out his own aesthetic, throwing out things that didn’t resonate with him and replacing them with things that did. By 2016, he had arrived at a style that resonated with him.
Apart from drawing mind bending images, Tanmoy’s captions are quite thought provoking and a total delight to read. “At first I found it easier to write than draw, I would think up poetry when I was doing something mundane, and then I would come home and write it down.” Then he started matching the poems he had written with the drawings he had done, and posted them online. Apart from these he also experiments with other mediums, recently he had made series of works using human nails and metal nails; arranging them into clouds, stars and suns.
Another set of his works that catch my eye are a series of paintings called ‘Viscal Vibrations’. One fine day when everyone was dozing off post lunch at work, he heard the voice of a woman rise above the silence, her voice produced a series of colors in his head. “That was the moment I realized that I was synesthetic.” Spurned by this he asked his colleagues to speak to him, while keeping his eyes closed; then he recorded his observations and translated them into paintings. The word ‘Viscal’, he tells me, is a combination of the words visual and vocal. I ask him if he’s ever painted a song before, and he says “Not yet, but I definitely have plans for it in the future. For me, music produces an intense amount of visual data, it’s very chaotic, like being in the middle of a mela. It puts me in a world of my own.”
Tanmoy is a completely self-taught artist, “At school I would look out the window and trace the trees with one eye closed, I learnt anatomy by drawing my classmates in front of me, they would sit quite still and so they made excellent subjects” He always carries a sketchbook and draws whenever he is free. At home he stays up drawing, till three or four in the morning. “At first I used to spend only an hour each day drawing, so it would take me almost 30 days to complete a piece. Now it’s gotten much quicker”
He tells me that most people look at his art as a mere expression of his skill. Visitors to exhibitions usually ask him about the kind of pens he uses, or how much time it took to finish it. “Some people after seeing what I make come to me genuine worry and ask me if I’m okay” he recalls laughing “but even they appreciate and resonate with my work” What about his parents? “My mother occasionally appraises my work, I think it’s because of her background as a commercial artist, but my father is scared stiff of what I draw; he’s asked me many a time to paint something pretty.”
Has he ever thought of teaching this craft to others? “I usually stay away from teaching, as I feel it will just be me trying to impose my style on someone else.” The fact that his art is rather experimental and avant-garde doesn’t make it any easier to teach. But he does drop a few pearls of wisdom, “Be conscious of who you are and accept it, then you can portray things in their truest form. Accepting yourself isn’t easy, but it will help you to create a unique language for yourself and in turn you can create a safe space for others to relate with.”