Elegant and ethereal but also precise and geometric, Laxmi Hussain’s drawings and paintings exist somewhere between the abstract and the realistic, often presenting what appear to be the free-flowing organic forms of the body through intricately ordered patterns.
Inspired by the irrepressible joy in creativity shown by her children, Laxmi finds artwork to be a valuable means of reclaiming her own identity amid the emotional blurrings of motherhood. Her inspiration comes from the forms encountered in everyday life, from the body, the tenderness of motherhood, the natural shapes of the body as a vessel, and its evolution throughout life.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and your art practice?
I’ve been drawing and exploring art since I was a kid. My work focuses on the body, aspects I wish to honour, and, more recently, my experience as a mother. I spent so much time growing up misunderstanding my body, as many women do; however, over the last two years especially, I started to see my body as a vessel, changing, evolving constantly.
I feel my work shows how we can honour a vessel that allows so many changes to occur over time, that things like age, weight fluctuations and even being unwell are things our bodyies face and in some weird, wonderful, and sometimes sad way, we should be allowed to understand and love all that it does.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist? How did you start out?
Not at all, it was certainly always a dream of mine. With immigrant parents, they wanted me to pursue a professional career in order to become financially stable, something they left home in order to do. After I graduated, I fell into an office job. When my first child was born, I explored drawing again, my son loved drawing, and this fueled my desire to draw more. When I had my second child, nothing hit me quite like the difficulty of parenting two children under three – it was so demanding but I loved it and, I thought, “if I can do this, then I can pursue becoming an artist”. I landed my first real commission when my daughter was six months old designing a logo for a hotel. It’s still their logo today nearly eight years later.
Where is your studio located and how does a typical day in your studio begin?
My studio is in Wembley Park, north London, which is really close to home. I’m usually in the studio four to five days a week and my day usually starts after the school run, arriving there at 8.30am. I usually have my toddler in tow, so I’m lucky to have a good-sized studio where he also has space to play. I can usually steal an hour or two of solid work to start my day whilst he potters around, so I’ll usually get stuck in on a painting. On the days I can be in the studio solo I can take my time a bit more, enjoy making myself a coffee, and will often use my longer days for exploring drawing and other fun projects.
Do you remember the first art material you were given or bought for yourself? What was it and do you still use it today?
Yes! When I was 16 my older brother took me to Barcelona. We visited the Picasso Museum, all the Gaudi buildings, and found this lovely traditional art shop near Las Ramblas where he bought me a set of acrylics. It was in this beautiful wooden box with a large selection of colours, a wooden artist’s palette, and of course a beautiful set of brushes. I used that set for years! Sadly, I no longer have it, but it was very loved.
What do you find exciting about using ink?
Ink has such a lovely quality to it; it flows beautifully across water and creates these nice effects which not many other materials can. Each ink acts differently and so it’s like exploring different tones and materials each time you try something new. I also love that ink is beautifully rich in colour. I often use a nice mop brush to play around with ink – it is honestly one of my favourite things to do.
Can you talk a bit about the role of the figure in your work – what is it about that subject matter that you like, and what role does repetition play in your practice?
What I love about the body is we are never done exploring its forms. Everyone is different, they have different curves and shapes and across a single vessel, there are so many different angles to explore. I’m also fascinated by the transitions a body can go through in its lifetime, how it adapts and evolves and what impact this representation can have on us all.
Repetition often occurs when I’m expressing new forms; I like to repeat drawings in my initial sketches and studies. I will see something slightly different each time, my style and my eye will interject and adapt my forms to represent both what I see and take influence from in the way my work has developed over time.
How do you start a new work? Is it planned and thought out as a body of work, more of an instinctual process, or a bit of both?
A bit of both. I go through phases – sometimes I will draw in sketchbooks endlessly, exploring different shapes and adapting ideas freely. Other times I’ll just want to get my ideas out and just go for it. Usually these are my best pieces; the less planning there is the more naturally they evolve, I think.
You studied architecture. Does that affect/influence your art practice? If so, in what way?
I feel that my love for drawing comes from studying architecture and whilst my work can be quite abstract, I feel the more technical aspects of my work are represented by the fact that I studied architecture. My spatial awareness, for example, is represented in the way I can interpret proportions; I think this is especially visible in my continuous line drawings.
Do you have any go-to tools in your studio that you could not make work without? How do you use them and why?
I’ve spent a long time exploring the perfect brushes for working in my style. I’m very attached to my current set of brushes; each one is unique for what it does in terms of the process of my work. Certain brushes are for the very detailed aspects of my work and others are for filling in larger spaces. I also really enjoy how some of these brushes work and I use them purely for the joy of painting in them.
Do you have any ‘studio hacks’ to share, such as DIY painting tools, storage or repurposing tips?
I often work on cardboard or use card envelopes to develop my ideas. I’m very much a repurpose kind of person, so jam jars and tin cans and any interesting pots for water/solvent pots and for housing my brushes/pens etc. I also have a sharp eye for finding things put outside on the street – my Breuer-style chair was found on the street. I also keep an eye out for champagne crates during Christmas and New Year to reuse as storage.
Do you have a favourite colour or palette? If so, what does your palette include and why are these colours important?
Blue speaks to me in many ways. My late mother wore blue a lot and coincidentally there are many significant moments in my life where blue is connected through clothing. My mum made me a blue dress for my first birthday, I wore a blue sari on my wedding day and my earliest memory of a day with my mum, she wore a full blue outfit. The blue I love is so vibrant, so other aspects of my palette are generally much more muted natural colours. I love the way blue has conversations with these colours and that’s why I am drawn to them.
What contemporary and historical artists are you inspired by?
Contemporary artists who inspire me are Susan Weil, Zandile Tshabalala, Venetia Berry, Eliza Hopewell, and a very good friend of mine, whose works are very special to me, Asha Vaidyanath. Then there’s Matisse, my mum really loved Monet, and I am also a big fan of Gaudi.
What do you think is the biggest challenge artists face today?
I think one of the hardest aspects of being an artist is being paid what you are worth. That, like many things, comes with experience and confidence. However, there isn’t a set of guidelines for what artists should charge for their time and that often leaves them open to being asked to do work for nothing, in return for exposure.
What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?
“What’s the worst that can happen?” I think many things we want to achieve are not necessarily out of reach. At first things can appear overwhelming – that isn’t to say the journey won’t be hard and challenging but being able to do something you truly love is definitely worth it.
Do you have one piece of advice to share with an artist just starting out?
Take your time. If you look up to other artists, remember their success, mostly, didn’t happen overnight. Take time to look backwards and realise all that you have achieved to date.
Are there any current or upcoming projects that you are happy to share with us?
A collection of homeware items I have been working on just launched with Partnership Editions and my last collection of works for the year will be released on November 17th, all via Partnership Editions.
All images courtesy of the artist, click here to see more of Hussain’s work.