One look at Atul Vohora’s work and you can tell why we chose him as our art expert. A man who has dedicated his career to painting, he describes the act of looking as ‘a gateway into a state where the separation between the self and the world is occasionally opened.’ Living and working in London since 2001, Atul has dedicated a lot of his time to teaching and writing about his art. Deeply committed to the idea of drawing as part of his practice, he teaches drawing at the University of Greenwich, the Slade and Heatherley’s school of fine art in London. To find out more, we sat down with Atul and asked him all about his career, his inspirations and his passion for sharing his skills with others.
First things first, I’ve read you focus on drawing a lot in your work, can you explain what this means to you?
Drawing embodies a range of experiences of the world. Drawing elicits cognitive, emotional and motor responses – the movement of the hand and it usually is a hand, making a mark. Thought, memory and reflex define and shape the image. A line unfolds and emerges from within.
You’ve studied the history of art, where does this passion come from?
Looking at cave paintings and drawings, the eye empathises with a hand feeling the surface of the wall in the darkness, a finger running through a fissure in the rock. The shape resonates, its rhythm familiar. From the stone a form begins to emerge. The fissure becomes a bison’s back. The hand that made these marks is separated from us by 20,000 years. We can only speculate on the cultural significance and context for the image, yet our recognition of the bison appears to defy time.
It is a recognition that includes the physical movement of the hand making the mark, a sense of touch on the surface of the wall, a person feeling their way through the image. In this sense drawing is part of what it means to be human, to be alive.
Good answer! So where do you get your inspiration?
All kinds of experiences can feed work in the studio, although mostly indirectly. Often cinema can be visually immersive. Great cinema involves a poetry of images. The relationship between image and text provides a certain kind of tension. Looking actively at paintings continues to be an important aspect of working. Drawing from a painting is a way of entering the image, inhabiting the rectangle and reimagining the painting. Again, it may an indirect experience, the inflection of a line, a particular juxtaposition of colour, something in the composition, a mood or quality of atmosphere, the way the shapes are structured in the rectangle. Nothing is as potent as the experience of living. From this comes restlessness and the need to make marks, images.
What’s the most difficult part when it comes to being a professional artist?
Low income, public indifference, an absence of job security. But then a day is not long enough when immersed in the perfect freedom of painting.
You love sharing your art and have been teaching for many years now. When students first enter your classroom, what is the first thing you teach them?
The only thing that is instant is the coffee. If someone is serious about their intention to draw they are embarking on a long-term project. Learning is experiential and accumulative, and this takes time. Of course there are students who attend who wish to try something different or perhaps to meet people; this would be a different kind of situation.
Finally then, what do your students gain from your lessons?
The course is very structured although each individual has a learning experience that is in many ways self-directed. It depends on the past experience that they bring to the course, how they engage with the ideas and situations that are presented and, very importantly, the dynamics within the group itself. Often significant learning takes place as members of the group interact and observe each other.
I hope to give a sense of the importance of drawing, just how moving the experience of looking can be, and that drawing is deeply connected to being human and alive.
If you want to follow in Atul’s artistic footsteps, why not take a look at some of the courses listed on Hotcourses and get inspired. With plenty of full time, part time and online options, we’re sure you’ll find something to get those creative juices flowing!