In the contemporary world, art no longer exists in purist forms bounded by rigid parameters. Even a few decades ago, you couldn’t imagine a folk musician putting down their acoustic guitar and experimenting with a digital audio workstation or a traditionally trained painter of realism trying out their hand at pop art on a digital medium. But such unmalleable traditions are now a thing of the past. This is the age of fluidity, where multi-disciplinary approaches are colliding to create something new and unique. An artist’s creative process is no longer adhering to conservative standards of art but is being replaced by experimentation with various mediums.
Speaking of transcending the barriers of the mediums in art, Bombay-based artist, Farha Alam has been creating some incredible work for the last decade. She embodies a unique blend of visual artistry, animation wizardry, and art direction prowess. Armed with an arsenal of cutting-edge digital tools like FCP, Dragonframe, and Adobe Suite, as well as a keen eye for detail, she has masterfully woven together a unique oeuvre over the years.
But Farha's artistic prowess doesn't stop at the digital realm. She seamlessly fuses her digital expertise with good old-fashioned craftsmanship and various custom-made equipment. From stop motion to glass multiplane, from cutting and painting to coloring and arranging, she fearlessly combines the tangible and the intangible, breathing life into her mesmerizing visual creations.
Although deeply rooted in the realms of film and photography, Farha's artistic horizons have expanded to encompass a diverse array of media. Objects, photographs, digital pigment prints, textiles, sketches—she fearlessly embraces them all. With a meticulous touch, she arranges and composes these elements on her analog set-up, a glass multi-plane, leveraging the ancient technique of stop-motion animation to infuse her creations with a captivating sense of movement.
What sets Farha apart is her rejection of conventional narrative structures. Instead, she delves into the realm of intuitive play, allowing her artistic instincts to guide her every brushstroke and camera angle. It is from this wellspring of imagination, harking back to early memories, vivid visions, and mythical folk realms, that her art takes shape. For Farha, the quest for meaning lies in the enigmatic realm of symbols and the abstract, unraveling hidden truths and inviting viewers to embark into a realm of wonder.
Check out one of her works below which takes us behind the scenes of her creative process:
The process involves cutting, arranging, composing, and animating. Over the years, she has conducted many experiments with water. The orange fish you see gliding by fast was fully soaked in a mixture of coconut oil and water; dense and light at the same time to create that swishy watery effect.
In a candid interview with Homegrown, Farha spoke about the art of animation, her inspirations, the pandemic and more:
You mentioned how you taught yourself animation during the lockdown. Is there any particular reason why you decided to learn this medium at that juncture?
The limitations we all faced during Covid were very unique; personally, I was discharged from my job and was alone during the long lockdown. All in all, conditions were ripe to look deep into oneself. I had an intuition- a vision about a stop motion film and I just began reading about animation- I was instantly hooked! How uncanny, I kept telling myself- that I have had no relationship with animation ever but it felt like I met a forgotten friend, you know what I mean? The internet is a powerful tool and I couldn't have trained myself without it. For a year I made it much like a school for myself; at night I would read theory, and texts, watch tutorials, films, and anything online, and would practice with whatever I could find in the day. The whole engagement with objects and artifacts- and moving them one by one to create movement was challenging and I loved that. Life had that humbling, spiritual quality at that time for many of us. Deep creative satisfaction kept me going.
How did the lockdown influence your artistry and how does your creative process differ pre and post-pandemic?
More than influencing on a larger scale, I think that period added a certain spiritual element to my pursuits, in general. It was a tumultuous period for so many of us, and because I learned it the hard way, I became very attached, almost to the point of being obsessed with animation. On days I would continue for hours and hours. Good obsession though, more curiosity is what I mean. If we speak technically, my process now expresses itself through softer, fragile, transparent forms, as opposed to its earlier raw, child-like and experimental quality. And as it is with any practice, you evolve with it. So now, when life is easier and limitations are in control, my process is one where I find calm. What I now do is very much a part of me- the whole process from initial vision till the end, it's like meeting a lost lover- who you are very happy you found at the right time! Another big difference is that we have a cat now, who plonks herself right on top of my compositions- Babooshka is one big hurdle to pass before getting to work every day!
Who are the most significant influences and inspirations behind your artistry?
Many- so many. It evolves with time, right? You grow and your experiences grow. But I am mostly inspired by painters -movements like the Bauhaus art movement, expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. That quality of strokes, blends of hues and an overall deep, thick quality of the air we find in any painting- that's what I want my animations to look like. Currently, I spend nights looking deep into Paul Klee's work. A distinct childhood memory played with me recently- Paul Klee's Senecio hung at my uncle's house; as a child, this painting unknowingly evoked something inside, something so deep that now, decades later when I stumbled at that painting, years of experiences flashed before me and it all made sense. Strong childhood curiosities erupt in magical ways in adulthood.
Soviet artists Yuri Norshteyn and his wife Franchesca Yarbusova are another inspiration, their animations lie between fine art and traditional frames.
Oskar Fischinger was a German abstract experimental animator and we haven't had anyone like him in the field. He was a pioneer and created mystical visual music pieces. He invented a Lumigraph- an analog device that manipulates the screen to create imagery - back then when we had no software for stop motion- so inspiring. You have to understand stop motion is done by moving artifacts one by one and taking photographs, and Fischinger created something that lay on the fringes of technology and analogs back then. I clearly see his influence in my own design of a multi-plane setup - a device that re-creates perspective by shooting with a camera on top. Currently, I am working on two more multi-planing design setups which will give me more freedom to manipulate perspective.
What advice would you give to someone seeking to learn the art of animation?
Read and practice basics first and take it slow in the beginning.
Experiment on a weekly basis; in thought and in practice.
Achievements and recognition are valued highly these days; try not to be so bothered about these.
Then when you have a technical grasp of the form, forget everything and just play with the style you love and are inspired by.
Try to have fun whenever you are at it and it'll all be fine.
Find out more about Farha Alam here.
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