As I wander through the streets of Kathmandu on a crisp morning, I take in ‘80s neon pink, stark black-and-white stripes, an emerald green satin sash . . . These are the immediate colors and textures that glide through my mind as I download this moment’s inspiration. The moment is kinetic and fleeting, but I know the images are logged in an image bank deep inside and may surface at a later point in time. Kathmandu, a thriving city with a unique pulse, is the capital of Nepal and located at the foothills of the Himalayas. The walk fuels me for the day ahead that I’m about to spend in my studio, located behind the historic Patan Durbar Square.
I’m a painter. I’ve been painting for four years and in the last year my practice has expanded to include other disciplines. In any given week I may switch between work on a painting, a print for a scarf, or a sketch of jewelry prototypes. Alongside my traditional paintings, I’ve started experimenting with fashion. The combination of the inspiring mountains, the access to skilled craftspeople, and a thriving textile industry make Kathmandu the perfect place for this new direction to take off. My earlier paintings are clearly inspiration for the fashion pieces I’m making now. I see how elements of paintings like Hayfever In An Expanded Universe and VegasBaby relate to my scarves and jewelry.
Now in the studio, I stick a small, grass-green rectangle under a jagged, lemon-yellow shape tied in a ribbon of black paper. I look at it for a long time and wonder what else it needs. I start with the yellow shape, give it dots, then the ribbon, now the green. Ten, fifteen, twenty times as many options were held up and refused. I know I may not figure it out today, or even tomorrow—it may be a month later when I finally find what it needs.
At a natural stopping point, I pivot and return to the large drawing I will give to the screen-printers later today. They will create a screen that will be used for printing on scarves. Nepal has a rich history of weaving cashmere, so creating a print for a scarf was a natural place for me to start exploring textiles.
Later on in the week, I’m cutting pieces of paper and putting them on my wrist, holding them out and reviewing the shapes. A friend who lives in my building recently introduced me to craftsmen who work in brass and silver. After visiting their workshop and learning about their capabilities, I was so ecstatic with the idea of making jewelry that I dove right into sketching and making paper prototypes that they could use to make a first sample.
The balance between being alone in the studio and working collaboratively with the craftspeople has brought me so much joy. Before I left Nepal, we were able to finish a few samples of scarves and jewelry pieces that will be the starting point for a larger collection. I plan to return to Nepal at the end of the summer to do a small production run.
On a long bus ride up to the mountains, I remember an older woman with her hair in a long braid, wearing a thick strand of green beads, a hot pink t-shirt with black swirls and rhinestones, and a bright blue floral skirt. Like the ‘80s neon pink before, the color combinations and her spirit are logged somewhere in my memory, inspiration to be accessed later.
Michelle Cherian is a multidisciplinary artist working in painting, installation, and now fashion. She recently moved back to the United States after living in India for five years. While in India, she taught at Srishti School of Art Design and Technology and exhibited at 1 Shanti Road Gallery, Jaaga, and Samuha. Michelle is currently working on a collection of jewelry and scarves that will debut in the fall of 2014. www.michellecherian.com
All images: © 2014 Michelle Cherian