Interview with Shaivyya Gupta: Block Printing the Bazaar in Jaipur, India
Shaivyya Gupta brings the eye of a fine artist and the soul of everyday Jaipur to her work as a textile designer, consultant and educator. She runs her small studio on the outskirts of Jaipur, where she also does bespoke block printing for select clientele. We caught up with her recently to take a deeper dive into her process and inspirations. Read on for a look inside her studio and to learn more about hand block printing and what drives Shaivyya's jubilant approach to the craft.
All photos courtesy of Shaivyya Gupta
What is your artistic background and when did you become dedicated to textile design, specifically block printing?
I have trained as a fashion designer but it was my shift to Jaipur that brought me in such close proximity with Indian craft traditions- especially the craft of block printing. And then, I was extremely fortunate to have landed a brief apprenticeship with Brigitte Singh, the ‘printress extraordinaire’. The love that she has for this craft is awe-inspiring, the care that she puts into her creations, the extra mile that she goes in her pursuit of beauty are the tenets I aspire to inculcate in my practice.
What women have influenced and/or helped you on your creative journey?
Definitely my mom- she is soooo good with her hands- I have grown up watching her sew, crochet, knit, cut patterns and embroider all day long and I guess somewhere that trickled into me. I owe my creative bent to her completely.
My mother-in-law has been another beacon of inspiration simply for the fearless way she lives her life. She is rock solid with a very lighthearted approach to even the toughest moments and I admire that.
Brigitte is someone I turn to for mentorship and stories- like I said, she is remarkable and inspires me to create everyday.
Apart from them, there’s Nur Kaoukji (designer and partner at Ecru), who is warmth personified. She has been so supportive of my practice and always has great level-headed advice.
Can you tell us more about your visual language? Where do your inspirations come from and how do these influence your point of view.
Colours signify a utopia, ‘greener pastures’ so to speak, that is missing from the sepia-tinted landscape of the desert state of Rajasthan. Colours are considered auspicious. The common folk of these parts embrace colour in their everyday costumes as a celebration of Life, itself- from the men’s turbans, to the women’s skirts and shawls, they are a riot of prints and bright happy colours.
The idea of my own line of textiles was conceived to celebrate this regional reverence of colours and revive the local ‘Bazaar’ aesthetics. My designs exist at the intersection of tradition and modernity, where the past becomes the propeller for the present. Inspirations range from Indian kitsch, local architecture and Op art- all fused together to create a distinctive language.
Traditional Indian design values are given a facelift by intersecting them with glitches and tenets of Op Art. My textiles aspire to become the embodiment of ‘The New Kitsch’, one that is mutable and traversing simultaneously between the past and the present.
What techniques do you use to produce your designs? What is the history behind those techniques, and does that inform how you implement them?
I work predominantly with hand block printing, a three-century-old craft that has flourished in and around Jaipur, Rajasthan, along with parts of Gujarat.
The small town of Sanganer, which is on the outskirts of Jaipur, was and is still a major commercial centre for hand block printing. ‘Sanganeri’ prints, as they are so called, have a colourful design tradition. The motifs are highly stylized and usually inspired by flora and are rendered in lurid shades.
The technique of hand block printing that I’ve developed is unique to my practice. I use a limited set of colours and up-cycle old wooden blocks to create my designs.
I am fascinated by the execution more than the final outcome- I can spend hours watching the artisans print rhythmically- there seems to be a instinct driven mind- body connect and I try to tap into that to create the ‘whacky’ layouts that I do. To the uninitiated, my prints can appear random- but the layouts are created based entirely on how the hand moves.
From the force with which the block is stamped to experimenting with the consistency of the dyes, resisting the fabric, mixing traditional designs with contemporary geometric patterns and the overlap of a restricted palette of colours to create a myriad of hues- I take my time at each step of the process. I also sample a lot- I need to be able to see the effect rather than imagine it in my head- its almost experimental, the nature of my process- I keep trying different permutations and combinations till something exciting reveals itself.
In what ways do feel your work departs from the tradition of block printing that is distinctive to India [Jaipur], and in what ways are you honoring those traditions?
The traditional process of hand block printing is rooted in achieving the elusive idea of ‘perfection’ effectively rendering the hands that print it, mechanical. For me, it is imperative that hand block printing as an art form is liberated from these conventional constraints of ‘productivity and perfection’.
At the same time, I rely heavily on the traditional know how of the artisans- it is my observation of these that inform my designs. The artisans’ skillset and dexterity drive my creative vision.
I really enjoy the Jaipur street photography you share on your Instagram @shaivyya. Can you describe the perfect day spent out and about in your city?
When the weather is nice, I make it a point to head out really early on a Sunday morning to walk the lanes of the Walled City, which is a treasure trove of visual inspiration. In fact, I have to visit the Walled City at least once a week to revel in its colors and vitality so that my creative batteries are charged up. I get cranky if the humdrum of life keeps me away from the bustling bazaar for too long.
If there’s a bangle seller with his cart of shimmery glass bangles around, I do get myself a bunch of assorted ones- I cannot resist their candy colors!!
In the city, I will make it a point to stop for a lassi (sweet yogurt smoothie) at Lassiwala’s on MI Road- they’re iconic.
I know you work closely with master block printers throughout the process, from sampling to final fabrics. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with these craftsmen? How does this dynamic play out when you're developing a new design?
I have been creating my textiles in conjunction with Mahavir Chhipa (my master printer) since 2015.
We work together to mix the colours, and sample my designs. It is a collaboration through and through and I completely rely on his inherited knowledge of the craft to bring my designs to life. We have worked closely together through the years of trials and errors to formulate the process I use to print my textiles- it is a symbiotic relationship.
He is the hand and I am the eye, without his expert skills and unending patience my ideas would never see light of the day. Together we work harmoniously to create something of beauty that I hope reflects both of our extremely unique experiences with the craft.
When did you begin to work with Last Chance Textiles?
I met Lindsey in 2019 through the very lovely Fiona Caulfield of Love Travel Guides. She visited my little studio, we chatted some and bought some pieces. Out of curiosity, I looked LCT up on Instagram and was blown away by the gorgeous bandannas!!!
I knew I had to work with her… But then the pandemic struck and things came to a grinding halt.
One fine day, I don’t know what came over me, but I wrote Lindsey a message on Instagram expressing my desire to collaborate- I didn’t have my hopes up given the state of the world. But what do you know? She wrote back saying that she was thinking the same thing!! Serendipity? Telepathy? I don’t know- but I almost jumped with joy at her response.
I hope I can visit you in your studio again someday, but over the last two years, we've had to work together, remotely. Can you describe the collaborative process? What were the crucial steps in development for you?
I think you have been one of the easiest people to work with- you know exactly what you want AND you’ve trusted my eye right from the beginning. I always look forward to creating samples for our collaborations- the process is a mix of my whims with the LCT aesthetic- its exciting to see how they meld together.
How do you think our respective brands complement each other, and in what ways do we push each other in new directions?
You constantly refer to history in LCT textiles- they are so rooted and authentic! I love that! You celebrate Americana in each of your creations while I try to infuse the complex vibrancy of India in my textiles- so that way I think we are very similar. Also, I feel we have a shared academic love of textiles and textile history. Our collaborations have been enlightening to say the least- they’re a challenge and like I said, I look forward to sampling every time- its an opportunity for me to set aside my parameters and play by another set of rules (defined by the LCT aesthetic)- it opens my mind up to new possibilities and newer ways of approaching my practice.