“Just The Right Amount of Crazy”: Santanu Hazarika On His Assamese Identity, Music, Design & More

“Just The Right Amount of Crazy”: Santanu Hazarika On His Assamese Identity, Music, Design & More
Santanu Hazarika

Santanu Hazarika is a multidisciplinary visual artist who has blazed an inimitable trail across a diverse landscape of Indian artists and designers. His sublime mastery of visual aesthetics combined with his unparalleled understanding of form, colour, structure and thematic relevance has allowed him to become one of the most prolific artists of his generation.

Indeed, there’s no mistaking his signature style that’s found resounding success across visual mediums from murals to billboards to advertising hoardings to digital creations and NFTs. His collaborations with fellow artists, musicians, designers and clothing companies are emblematic of how seamlessly he’s able to transition and adapt his artistry.

We sat down with Santanu to talk to him about his art, his Assamese heritage, his influences and much more in what turned out to be a wonderfully eye-opening interview.

Turning 30 is often a turning point for artists in the way that their stylistic themes, aesthetics and motifs undergo a metamorphosis. This change often reflects an evolution into a space of artistic maturity where you’re working with experience and not just intuition. How would you say you’ve gone through this process yourself as you’ve grown into your niche? How has the art of experimentation changed for you as you’ve become more and more at ease with the cultural spaces that your art occupies?

Independent of your art, what life lessons have you learned that have helped shape the person you are today?

For me, experience has opened up more avenues for experimentation. Throughout my journey, I have accumulated a bunch of skills and techniques through the process of elimination or trial and error. This is what I have gained from time along with a better sense of discipline. Because of which, I feel like I’m better equipped to experiment with more challenging mediums. Now it doesn’t feel like a struggle but more like a gamble, which is always more exciting. My process has become more abstract and less structured. I’m slowly eliminating one form after the other; making my communication more direct and ethereal. One important life lesson I have learned is to take risks and be very disciplined about it.

Image Courtesy: Santanu Hazarika

You’ve worked with a plethora of clients that span the gamut of diverse industries such as fashion, advertising, music and much more. It’s often a challenge to align an artistic vision with a more calculated ‘goals-oriented’ vision that most organizations put forth in their briefs.

How do you go about reconciling these two disparate worlds to create work that stands out creatively but still fits into the sometimes frustratingly rigid paradigms of the industries that you work in?

Simple, I give them something better than what they have asked for, and I can only do that when I’m speaking my visual language. Sometimes you need to work extra hard and go the extra mile to solve these rigid paradigms of the industries. Research is very necessary to know what your clients want and what are their inspirations. You have to reverse engineer the briefs, keywords, concepts etc. that they give you and come up with elements which further add to their vision, but at the same time align with your visual style and aesthetics. I always think of ways to make the project better and stand out, in doing so you are offering them more than what they asked for while at the same time you get more creative control.

“My culture is vibrant, artistic, logical and has just the right amount of craziness which is exactly how my art is.”

— Santanu Hazarika

You’ve spoken before about how your early upbringing saw you surrounded by people who made music and how this pushed you into creating your own distinct brand of visual art.

Do you see any similarities in the processes that musicians follow while creating a song or an album and your own unique process of creating art? Improvisation and experimentation are also key facets of music. How does your work change from its conception to the final product? What genre of music do you think your art most encapsulates in terms of its spirit?

Yes, I do see a lot of similarities between how musicians make music and I create art. The process involved, I feel, is very much similar, the key difference being the output being in a different sensory format.

In any art form improvisation and experimentation play a pivotal role. For example, every time I see my friends recording, mixing and mastering in the studio I try to learn and correlate the interface of the software and functions used and always find it fascinating how both art forms have so many similarities in terms of process, technique and execution. All that we are doing is capturing an expression, processing it and creating something which is consumable by the audience. If the core remains the same the techniques used have to be the same or similar. Doesn’t matter if it’s a .jpeg or .wav file hahah.

Image Courtesy: Santanu Hazarika

Identity and our cultural roots and upbringing play a pivotal role in shaping us as individuals as well as artists.

How does your culture play into the art that you create? What are some of the cultural lessons and values you’ve learned along the way that have helped forge your own distinct identity as both a human being and a creative?

My culture is vibrant, artistic, logical and has just the right amount of crazy, which is exactly how my art is. The most important cultural lesson that I have learned is the importance of free will and modesty. These two identities have shaped me as both a human and a creative. And yes I would also like to add that coming from a state like Assam which offers all the comfort but at the same time unimaginable hardships, I have seen the best of both worlds, which has made me enjoy my present even more and made my life more humorous and made me more resilient.

Being born in a lush green state, I have always been surrounded by nature, left alone to grow with it, sometimes fight it and endure it too, and I have learned a lot from it and so has my art.

The world of art is in a constant state of motion and is evolving in a myriad of ways with every year that goes by. What’s considered popular or appealing in one decade or even half-decade is rarely the same.

Because of this, do you think that artistic comfort zones are inherently dangerous for artists or do you think that every artist needs to create what feels right to them regardless of what their audience may want? How do you find a balance between creating art that resonates with people but also satisfies your own inherent creative instincts?

The essence of an artist is what should always be constant and how you portray that essence can keep changing with time. That is what I feel keeps an artist relevant while being true to their art. A case study is this metal band that I love called ‘Meshuggah’. They have single-handedly defined an entire genre, inspired countless sub-genres and stayed relevant to date, without compromising their art. Resilience is something that is very important. I believe tools and processes can keep changing and it’s very important for artists to be well equipped with them and incorporate them into their practice. I keep myself amused by experimenting and coming up with something new. That should translate to your art and to your audiences. Everyone likes to have fun even when they are consuming art.

Image Courtesy: Santanu Hazarika

How can artists from the Northeast better make their mark on a somewhat saturated industry and gain more overall exposure as mainstream creators? What do you look for when you think of creativity that inspires you and who can up-and-coming artists look to for inspiration themselves?

We as artists from the Northeast have such a diverse untold and untouched cultural plethora of narratives and expressions, the likes the industry has not seen before. I believe telling our own stories and experiences, sharing their artforms and expressing more freely and openly would definitely help. It has always been a struggle for artists like us who come from the Northeast to make a mark in this industry for various reasons which are quite evident now, but we are in a much better place.

There are so many inspiring stories of individuals breaking out and making a mark while being true to their roots. Originality and uniqueness are what sets us apart and I think building on it further, pushing authenticity and representing our heritage with pride is what will help us get more exposure. Platforms should support more artists from the Northeastern states, highlight their struggles, their victories and create better dialogue with the rest of the country. I have always tried to bridge this gap by bringing forward and recommending more artists from the Northeast wherever I can.

Right now I’m curating a special NFT exhibit, representing artists from the Northeast, on a global platform. I believe we all can do a little to create awareness and promote the diverse beautiful cultures of the Northeast. Hard work – that’s what has always inspired me. I’m inspired by the hard work and struggles that individuals go through to make a mark.

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