In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, and more!
Today, Dheeraj Kumar (he/him) will share several images from his project “Body Vases.” Before we delve into the art, a little more about Dheeraj:
Born in 1991, Dheeraj hails from Muzaffarpur, Bihar; a trained fashion designer turned photographer and artist. Dheeraj is inspired by artists like Frida Kahlo, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Henry Moore. He aspires to define his approach toward life, beauty, and art with his lenses.
Dheeraj draws from his own experiences of the human body to represent it untethered by the burden of rigid gender conventions imposed by society and his own cultural upbringing. Anonymous male bodies are a constant motif in his art. He uses the body as a canvas over which he experiments by superimposing different styles of ornamentations – ranging from botanical floral drawings to masks and markings inspired by the art of Rangoli. Through elaborate staging and meticulous contortions, he exposes the landscapes of the human body and the many hidden nooks and crannies that carry traces of untapped and concealed emotions. The body becomes the subject and the object in his work – rendered into abstraction. Reminiscent of organic rocks and boulders but still retaining its ‘human-ness’ in an unsettlingly intimate way that provokes the viewer’s primal instinct to touch and experience the sensory pleasure of bare skin.
Dheeraj participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on his artistry and the work:
What first drew you to art?
Since childhood, as I remember during summertime, all the ladies in the family used to sit in a circle and work on different frames of bedsheets. I remember my mother buying a plain saree and then making flowers of her own choice in them. Henna (Mehandi) is a wonderful way to show creativity on your hands. So, I grew up seeing these things, and after a certain age, people used to ask me to make flowers for them or mehandi during their weddings.
How would you describe your artistic style?
My work is mostly around male bodies and botanical florals, taking inspiration from nature and describing them in my own way. My style of work is – mixed media. I would call it – PHOTO PAINT. So, as a photographer, I take pictures of the elements which inspire me. By painting subjects around them, I create my own world with it. You can also call it – PHOTO COLLAGE WORK.
What are your favorite materials and mediums to work with?
I work with photo prints of my photos, watercolors, and pencil colors. Recently, I started working with acrylics too. I Love to paint late at night when the whole world is sleeping. Usually, I already have my doodles ready in my diary, which I draw in instantly whenever new ideas or thoughts come to my mind. So, it becomes easy for me to choose my elements. Otherwise, most of the time, while working with collage, you put things in and see how it works. Sometimes, I leave them lying for sometimes a few days. I keep staring at them, and then I glue them unless I am super convinced about the placements and the whole composition.
What inspired your work on Body Vases?
So, flower vases are the most common motif in our society. We call it “GULDASTA.”
I remember loving them since my childhood. When I started working on the Anonymous body series, I wanted to create still life in my own contemporary form with Male nudes as a subject. While working with Male Nude bodies, my body of work went more and more abstract. After a point, they look like pieces of rocks or meat. So, to add value to them, I thought of adding nature elements – flowers, leaves, roots. Most of these have been collected during my photo walks.
Can you tell us more about Body Vases?
To me, the body is my main subject. Most of my artworks are about – gender, body, sexuality. Male bodies are the center of my work. When I started working on the Body vases series, I thought of adding both of my main subjects together as a single element. So that’s where –
BODY VASES HAPPENED.
Male nude bodies/anonymous bodies arranged with flowers on top look like flower vases. Some of these bodies have been painted with turmeric during the shoot to give an idea of painted body vases. Working on anonymous bodies was a self-exploring experience for me. It was an experiment of making STILL LIFE, where I tried to make bodies anonymous without faces. I realized the bodies were transforming and getting into abstract forms. I started playing, and I explored bodies in various forms and shapes. Once I place the dried leaves, flowers, and hand-painted botanical drawings on top of it, I started enjoying the process. Picking your favorite flowers from the garden and streets and arranging them into a flower vase.
When did you create this series?
I have been working on this series for five years now. Lockdown gave me more time to collect, press, and dry flowers. The idea started with still life, adding bodies and flowers on top of them. During this process, I learned you could keep on adding flowers to vases. Sometimes you have to stop and say, this is a complete artwork now. While adding details to leaves and flowers, you keep on adding and adding more. Sometimes, it is not required. I also tried making the artworks more minimal, where just one big leaf gives the idea of a complete flower vase. Keeping body vases monochrome and adding colors to the flowers gives a clear picture of still life, empty vases filled with colorful flowers in them.
The contrast and color inform the pieces. You can check out more of Dheeraj’s work at @silentstoryteller_art on Instagram. He also has some works available in The Layered Onion shop and as part of The Shallot. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, Dheeraj!