The Emerging Studio Culture in India | Shilpy Gupta | Episode 395

Shilpy Gupta | Episode 395

Shilpy Gupta  was born with an artistic bend of mind. Early childhood saw her putting her thoughts on canvas. During her stay in the U.S, she came across a Pottery exhibition and enrolled herself for a class. From then on, she has never looked back. Shilpy has developed a fully equipped Pottery Studio in her house, and has been creating beautiful art pieces for the last 15 years.



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Community seems really important to you. How do you build a strong community around your work?

I guess it is to share a lot. If I withhold whatever skill, whatever knowledge I have I will never develop a community. So the more I give the more I get. I think that is the best way to build any community.

What was it like for you when there was nobody around?

I used to feel very isolated and lost. I would still do my work, that didn’t change but the joy of sharing your work with people who know what has actually gone into that work is so much more. It is so much better to be able to instantly share my excitement when I open my kiln. Every time I open my kiln I still get butterflies in my stomach. Being alone with something like this reduces the joy of doing this.

How are the Indian ceramic culture and the North American ceramic culture the same and how are they different?

I think in both the places people wanting to experiment with new things is really there. In the United States you have potters who are trying so many different things and in India I know people who only work with sodium silicate or people who just do sgraffito. Now you don’t see that. I think in both the places people want to experiment. But the one thing that was very different was the connectedness of the people in the U.S. and you know the isolation of the potters here, but that is now beginning to change. Also I think the kind of raw materials that we work with in both the places are quite different. So it takes some time for somebody to move from one place to the other and get the hang of the raw materials and start working with them.

How are you seeing your collectors that support you, how do you see that growing?

That group is gradually growing with education. It is something that some people don’t really know about in India, like the amount of work that goes into it or just the fact of what goes into making a ceramic piece. I think it is up to the potters to educate the people around them. The people that know me and my work now appreciate it because they understand what goes into it.

What has social media meant for you?

Let me answer that question a little differently. All of us need to evaluate ourselves and know what we are good at and what we are bad at. So I realized quite early on if I work hard I will be good at making stuff but I cannot sell for the life of me. I just cannot sell anything. I tried to go to markets and this and that and I would just stand there and be really quiet because I cannot go and talk to people so much. With a lot of trepidation the first thing I did for myself was I started a Facebook page four years back. I had a close friend help me put up the page and I realized that people do appreciate these sites and follow you if your work is good. So that kind of gave me a boost, but still I was not so confident. I realized it was best for me if somebody else is doing that for me. So I hired a friend who is in marketing and she handles the marketing for me and I just concentrate on my work.

Tell me about your creative process.

You have seen my work, I don’t like repetition. I have a very short attention span as far as repetition is concerned. So I like to make something and get it out there and then I am done with it. And then I want to move on and make other things. When I started ceramics I used to love the process and I still do but I would lose patience or have very short attention and I had to make sets of things. Even for a set of six months I would get to two or three and ask myself, Why am I making it, what is the point of just making the same thing? I have a lot of respect for someone who can make ten of something all the same.. I think it is a great thing to be able to do, but I do not enjoy that. So I kept doing this and I struggled with it for 8 or 9 years of just making stuff but I would lose interest. And then, I read quite a bit of poetry and on day I read something and I was working on a platter and I thought, I will just doodle on it. And the amount of joy that thing gave me and the satisfaction! This is what I thought of and this is what I have and since that day I just do this. I read something. I put it on a piece and I move on. Usually I don’t repeat.

What makes you really proud about being Indian?

So many things. Since you asked for one thing, I think the one thing that I am really proud of is knowing where I come from, you know, the deep roots that I have as an Indian. When I look at my family I can go generations back and know it is a really, really old culture. I think that is one thing that gives me great joy, to be part of something that has been there for I don’t know how many years. I am living proof, there is a cosmic sense about that whole thing. Knowing where my roots are gives me a sense of belonging.



The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell


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  • agru

    What a timely podcast for me! My husband and I have just returned from a trip to southern India (Tamil Nadu and Kerala). While he lectured at the University of Madras, I visited an arts studio in Chennai called Life & Art Academy run by Diwakar Chandran (Skutt kiln and all).

    To be honest, I was shocked by the paucity of a pottery tradition in, at least, the places we visited. Most of the utilitarian vessels were either metal or plastic. Kudos to Shlipy Gupta and all the other potters in India trying to bring studio ceramics to (or back to) India!

    • Paul Blais

      Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this story. I’ve wanted to visit India for years.