Janine Shroff needs a moment to catch her breath. A local girl, Janine went to a local highschool before heading to the St. Xaviers College for her junior years. At eighteen, she moved to the UK to pursue art school and has since completed her M.A. in Illustration at Central St. Martins, joined the digital agency Katana London, and carved out weekends to work on her painting and illustration projects. Now living a very packed life, Janine’s currently in Mumbai, visiting her folks over Christmas and dashing to set up her holiday surprise for all her fans in the city (and there are many) with her solo showing, Otherlands at the city’s favourite alternate venue, Sitara Studio from 24th to 30th December. We catch up with her at her Juhu home at the end of a long day of delayed print runs and happy printing results for a quick interview about her work and upcoming show!
KS: In a couple of previous interviews, you’ve mentioned this incident from your school days – where a classmate drew a naked couple in art class, which ended in her getting suspended from school. What was your take away from that incident?
JS: I didn’t think about it much then, but I thought it was an insane over-reaction, and also a weird over-reaction? Because there wasn’t a rational reason for him to say you can’t draw this. And why the teacher drawing these big boobed apsaras in their tiny outfits is more morally acceptable to her drawing a naked person? And also in the context of him being an art teacher, there’s so much Indian art that features nudes – male and female. So much classical art that’s nude. It didn’t make any sense, except from the point of view that one, a girl shouldn’t be drawing this, and two, no one should be drawing that. I found that weird, at the time, and I remembered that as being a very strange idea of inflicting a range of acceptable things to draw. But of course this was art class in school, so it was a lot of memory drawing and still life and such. There were tuitions for art where they’d make you practice themes for exams over and over till you’re in a mugging system for creativity!
KS: So did you begin thinking of it differently than how we were taught in school, when you went to the UK to study art when you were eighteen?
JS: No. Originally I just rejected them. I still didn’t like the way they taught. And I liked drawing. I was always drawing anyway. Like in class, I would be drawing in class while they were teaching economic theories… it was just my go to when I was bored. Which was why I went to art school. But the first course I did wasn’t a really considered course – it was just a BA, so they’d set you projects, and yes you had to think about them. It was really basic. They don’t push you to do anything, it’s all self-initiated (which is pretty good in a way). But there was no “this shouldn’t be done”. You could draw as provocative and offensive things as you liked, and then speak about it in class.
KS: What was the M.A. at Central St. Martin’s like?
JS: The course I did at St. Martin’s College was far more serious. Like if you draw something provocative, you needed to know why you draw it, the reactions people would give you – even if they were negative. You needed to be critically aware of what you were doing. And we had a couple of excellent teachers. They were really on it, they really cared about the class, and about your work. They engaged much more than the teachers on the BA. So if you have a Crit (criticism session) you do your work at home, and you present it in class. In the BA, you’d put it up on the wall, and everyone looks at it and says ‘Nice!’, but there’s no discussion on it. No constructive criticism. We’d get critique like ‘maybe you shouldn’t have done that’ or ‘you could’ve done this’ or ‘you should’ve gone big’ – a very general critique.
But the M.A. took it much more seriously. It was much more intense – I mean there were people crying in class going ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’… But I think the whole class did leapfrog from where they were in the beginning to who they were going out. That course really changed how I thought, and how I put that in my work, fundamentally. I did a lot of handdrawn illustrations for instance, which take a really long time. So one of the critiques was why don’t you find ways to work faster? How do you work faster? Why you need to look at different techniques etc. They’re not going to teach you the techniques though, so you needed to figure that out yourself.
KS: Were you taught a particular style of art, like say sculpture, or design or illustration… that you had to major in?
JS: No, it was more open, and self-initiated. And with figuring out the new techniques, you could figure if you, for instance, wanted to work with etchings or silkscreen. So we had a girl in our Illustration class who did video… it was totally open like that. And what was really cool was the course was split in four sections, and you could pick a pathway, but within that pathway you had freedom to explore. One of the pathways was Design, then there was Typography, Media (there was a lot of tech involved in that one) and there was our Illustration group, which did a lot of weird drawings. And of course you could hop across the pathway. It was a really great course but they I think ‘broke’ it. Now it’s only Design, which is basically cost effective.
KS: How’d you end up going from illustration/fine art to design?
Well I needed a job. I really needed a job (laughs). I mean illustration is the worst paid job ever. Also, if you’re going to stay in London, it’s really difficult to be an illustrator unless you have a base. Like in Bombay you know you can stay with your parents and work for very little money, build your way up. That wasn’t an option for me realistically. I wouldn’t have been able to work in a store or something similar unless I had a UK passport… so it was mostly necessity.
And I love design. I really enjoy the various kinds of outputs that come out of it. I really love good, clean and engaging design. I love beautiful typography. I think Sagmeister and Walsh do some really interesting things. I really love the 40 Days of Dating Project by Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman. Personally I think they’re both batshit crazy. On a human level I found it odd that the only time they can schedule to date someone is when they make a project out of it, but as a voyeur looking at a project, it’s really interesting!
Of course I haven’t been doing design as long as I have illustration, so I learned it as soon as I left my course. Slowly, the hard way, on the job. I didn’t even know Photoshop. I mean there’s classes but you don’t learn anything until you learn to apply it to something you’re making on your own, as opposed to recreating something that already exists. I was so surprised I got hired, but it was a new company, so they knew they had to train someone up. But I love my job, and it funds my illustration practice so I don’t have to be a slave to the gallery system.
KS: Speaking of galleries, you’re surprising Mumbai with Otherlands, which opens at Sitara Studio today (24th December) and runs over Christmas till the 30th December. Tell me how this came about and what you’re showing?
In Otherlands I will be showing some of my larger painting/illustration pieces. Nothing graphic design or influenced by pop culture like I’ve done for Kulture Shop, but some of the bigger pieces, and some of the NSFW pieces really. They’re based on two concurrent themes I’ve been working on for a while, in breaks. One is looking at pregnancy, and the birth cycle, and that aspect of female life and society, and the other is more a fantasy, dreamlike stuff that is somewhat connected to the first theme, but also speaks of voyeurism, and interpersonal relationships. Those are the two themes it generally covers. I’ve never really showed them before – I was working, and I’m not keen on galleries per se. In the sense I don’t see any reason to work with a gallery because my work at the agency supports my painting/illustration practice. And there’s been no space to set up a gallery show.
KS: D’you know, your Tea Party reminds me a bit of Garden of Earthly Delight by Hieronymus Bosch (1450 – 1560), in some ways… Have there been any influences like that?
JS: (Laughs) A lot of people have mentioned that, perhaps because of the content and figures I’ve used, but I didn’t actually know of him or the painting at the time that I did this. I do like a lot of that kind of work though. For instance I do love all the Odalisque pieces of baths and there’s references to them in one of the pieces and stuff like that…
KS: Going back to the school incident, do you think that the incident somehow influenced how you look at art to communicate ideas?
JS: I don’t think it’s consciously done. It’s too specific to say I’m going to deliver this message. It’s just ideas that I have… and sometimes it’s not really a message, but a feeling. Like Rape Rick for instance. It wasn’t that I’d specifically planned a message – but it is something that has been bugging me for a long time. And that just happened to be what came to my mind. Also, my mother and I keep arguing about rape – about there being set ideas of where it occurs: it’s either in a rick or not at all; besides the anxiety of rape, and what will happen. The idea of you must control yourself, this is the status quo – this will happen, it will never change, so you as a woman need to live within your limits. Take for instance the Tejpal case. Reactions such as ‘women do such things to climb the corporate ladder’ are just baffling to me because what must we do to prove that it happened? Is it legitimate only if it happens in the back of an Uber cab, or in a bus?
But despite that it’s not necessarily conscious, it’s just my way to deal with things that bug me.
KS: But a lot of things do bug you, and you’re really vocal about it on social media…
JS: Well I don’t wanna keep ranting on Facebook all the time. I used to use Facebook and my blog as a ranting mechanism… I still do! Just get it out of my system, so I’m not like pestering friends and family about those things, because it’s also very tiring. But it’s great as a venting mechanism.
KS: What do you think of graphic art in India?
JS: I like looking at a lot of graphic design work, I do spend a lot of time looking at Behance for example… but I don’t think anything specific about it. Some of it’s very cliché, but sometimes it’s very interesting. I really love pop culture, so stuff along those lines really excites me. If I don’t like something it’s mostly because it’s technically inept or has a really uninteresting idea. But I’m not a snob. I look at so much stuff. The only things I dislike right now is the conversion of Disney Princesses as anything else, including goths and hipsters – translating it slightly with a pop culture twist. But I really love that the scene has places like Kulture Shop, and I’ve heard of a few other places that’ve come up that function as an online platform where artists can show and sell their work… So yeah, I think we’ve a lot to look forward to!
Janine’s Gola for Kulture Shop’s Theme Living in Colour