ARTIST IN RESIDENCE: SHAKIL SOLANKI

ARTIST IN RESIDENCE: 

SHAKIL SOLANKI

“The whole concept of the secret garden is that of a person's most private innermost place where all of your dreams and desires and truths converge,” painter, printmaker Shakil Solanki. 

There’s always something quite magical about a monotype. 

Shakil Solanki (6. 1997) was born in Cape Town, South Africa. He completed his undergraduate degree at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2019, and is currently based in Cape Town, practising as an artist, working primarily within the mediums of paintings and printmaking. On completion of his degree, he was awarded the Simon Gerson Award, as well as the Katrine Harries Print Cabinet Award, for excellent achievement in the printmaking medium. Since 2018, he has taken part in several group shows, along with many silkscreen-printing jobs, and a short residency at the South Atlantic Press. He held his first solo presentation at WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery in Cape Town, at the end of 2020. Recent collaborations include the set design of Cape Town Opera's production of Georges Bizet's 'The Pearl Fishers', where he produced a series of paintings, which served as large-scale backdrops to the performance. – Bio from WHATIFTHEWORLD

How would you describe your work to someone who's never seen it before?

Aesthetically, I'd say intricate. The more you look the more details you see. Conceptually, I’m looking at queer dynamics of intimacy and the many, many dualities within that. I use the trope of a secret garden as its platform.

What has been your journey so far as an artist?

It's been interesting! I graduated from Michaelis at the end of 2019; basically straight into the pandemic and lockdown. Also, going from the kind of wealth of printmaking facilities of Michaelis, to the complete absence of that. On a technical level that has informed the work I'm currently making. Now there's a more balanced playing field of printmaking and painting. I'm still figuring out so many new things. 

Intimacy and identity within natural spaces are recurring themes in your work. Can you tell us more about the significance of these tender yet risky moments?

The whole concept of the secret garden is that of a person's most private innermost place where all of your dreams and desires and truths converge. When I started looking at the garden it was looking through the lens of intimate experiences. The garden is a lush, quite sensual environment, which is filled with life and beauty but also dualities. Like flowers that are fully in bloom will wilt soon, I think that goes hand-in-hand with the fleeting moments of intimacy between two people. Growing up in Cape Town, we have this wealth of natural environments around us to draw from. And also looking at Eastern mythologies, Hindu mythologies, where gardens are so prominent, it seemed the most fitting sort of environment to situate my work in. It's where I've always felt the most comfortable and at ease. 

Can we expand on the visual aesthetics and look at how classical use is put into practice? 

I've always been completely fascinated and captivated by Eastern traditional manuscripts and miniatures. The extraordinary details and those very vivid jewel-like colours have always inspired me. There's this inherent richness and grandeur, which feels quite fitting, especially when it comes to tying in queer dynamics and finding a kind of meeting place for those two factors. On a technical level it's what I enjoy most obviously finding an oscillation between the more painterly flowing marks and pieces, but at the same time, there's also more intricate, detailed work. 

The colour blue is dominant in a lot of your work, does that come from Eastern painting? 

The use of blue is more pooling of lots of different references. One of the starting points was definitely in Hindu mythology; a lot of the gods are depicted as having blue skin. And I think there's something so inherently camp about the depictions of the Hindu gods, which I've always been quite excited by. And pulling that little reference into most of the bodies, which I depict are blue. Then it's also comes around to referencing queer artists such as David Hockney, and his swimming pools, and how the blue becomes this motif of lust in these very languid, summery afternoons in the sun. And then also Derek Jarman, who released the film Blue, and it's the single pain of this Ultramarine and these incredibly melancholic voiceovers. I read Maggie Nelson's Bluet recently, which was quite incredible. It kind of gave me a bit of relief, because I mean, the permanent question is always ‘why do you use blue?’ and in this book it’s prose, poetry. She speaks about these blue objects that she comes across, and where she sees it and in other people's work and writing. But at the same time, this whole book is a love letter to a lost partner. And I suppose that's also what I really enjoy about the colour blue, is that it's this incredibly melancholic colour, but at the same time, it's so seductive, and harmonious and again, plays into that duality, which I really enjoy. 


Blue isn’t a colour you normally find in natural environments, but it's also infinite, it's all around us.

You work simultaneously with cultural heritage as well as with contemporary notions of queer identity, in what ways does looking at traditional heritage allow you to formulate new and future orientation?

The grasp I have of my Indian culture is fragmented, because I'm third generation. So I have a limited perspective, and being queer, there's an alienation, which you do feel from the culture, which isn't always accepting of queer individuals. My work has been very much about finding a place of convergence for those two things. Recently I've been trying to harbour the sense of celebration. Celebrating the camp and the bright colours, and the ornate details. Because again, it's also inherent in the culture, and it’s such a beautiful culture.


In terms of going forward it's important to celebrate these things. When you're a teenager, you shun your culture a little bit because you're just wanting to blend in with the rest of the crowd and it's been quite liberating coming out of that. Making work which can speak to other queer South Asian individuals' experiences and hoping that they can resonate with it; that they can see pieces of themselves in it. 

As a printmaker, do you feel like you have a strong sense of control, or does risk play a significant role in your work? How important is the element of chance?

When it comes to producing my own editions, it's always puts me on edge, the idea of producing perfectly uniform editions of a single print. That's why I enjoy monotyping so much because you're not quite sure what's going to happen; what conversation is going to happen between the plate and the paper while it's being put through the press. There’s always something quite magical about a monotype. There are so many variables, which you have to control, but there are a few modicums, which you need to relinquish and just leave to chance. Even when printing I find joy in the small glitches and ephemera, which I know you're not supposed to indulge any of those things, but I still find quite a bit of charm in them.

With nature and organic spaces being a common feature in your work, how important is submersion into nature, for you, in your artistic practice?

Just being that much closer to bodies of nature always leaves me feeling replenished and rejuvenated. When it comes to the work itself, to monotype making, it's always wonderful, because then I can work from actual references. When it comes to more illustrative work it's less important because majority of that I either reference from sari fabrics or tapestries, and it is more stylised.

Your time at Twee Jonge Gezellen: have you immersed yourself in the nature surrounding here? How has moving from the city to the farm influenced your work? 

It’s just been incredible to wake up and have these verdant gardens spread out in front of me. There's nothing quite like being able to actually sit and make a drawing from what you are seeing in front of you. I think I've neglected that over the past year or so. And being able to actually draw and paint from the environment around me is really very special.

The artist-in-residence experience, tell us more. 

It has been a complete dream. What was interesting was planning works I was going to make before I came and to see how that evolved as I actually started building a studio routine. It's been a treat being able to push myself back into a printmaking environment, which I could call my own for a short period of time.

How did you plot your time during your stay at Twee Jonge Gezellen?

The one staple that I've tried to maintain every day has been sitting and making a drawing. I feel like that's a general studio ritual I've neglected. Drawing is an artist's bread and butter. So it's important to kind keep that thriving and growing. On the farm I go and sit in the garden and then draw what I see around me.

Do you believe creativity can crystallise a moment in time?

Yes, definitely. It will always be subjective, depending on who's looking at it, but as an artist looking at your own work, I think it's probably one of the most wonderful ways of reflecting back to certain moments. Looking at a piece and being able to pinpoint where exactly the inspiration came from, or whatever emotion it was that drove you to use a certain colour or a specific reference. 


I read Roland Barthes's A Lover's Discourse and he describes night as being the quintessential hours for the lover where you're either alone and you're pining for your significant other or it's those vivid erotic hours with your partner. In my head night is blue. 

What’s next for you?

I will hopefully be having a solo show with Nuweland in 2022. 

What does creative freedom mean to you?

That's such a tricky question, as a full-time artist it's being able to make what whatever you'd like and still be commercially viable. But I suppose as an artist, it really hinges on just finding fluidity in the mediums that I work with and the subject matter, which I draw upon. This oscillation between looking at queer dynamics of intimacy, and queer dynamics in general intimacy, and also looking at cultural experiences. The umbrella is my experience as a South Asian queer man.

Photography and Videography: 

Jonathan Kope


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