“you can’t touch it but you know what it feels like” — rosie vohraBack
Some of the things in Rosie Vohra’s studio are piles of sketchbooks; painted and paint-in-progress gas canisters; folders of vintage prints of Indian miniatures, and paintings by Chagall, bought on Rosie’s birthday from a charity shop in Knaresborough; the Devil of Doubt, he’s here; stacks of drawings; a snake made from an old fur coat, with eyes made of clay and a long red tongue; precarious canvases climbing an iron pillar; and canvases unframed, stitched together and stuffed, like a deflated space hopper of art.
First on the list and centre of the studio are the sketchbooks, but you wouldn’t see them unless Rosie pulled the overflowing paint-splashed stack from her desk to show you. The sketchbooks are the centre but Rosie is the heart, flashing enthusiasm for what she called in another interview the “excitement and fear” of doing drawing.
“I finished at The Royal Drawing School in December,” says Rosie; she spent a year there after graduating from Leeds College of Art. “I moved to Assembly House in March and for three months I didn’t have a studio, so I’ve been working in my sketchbooks as a studio.”
Rosie went into her year of drawing “willing to put my own practice on hold,” and has come out of it with her own practice completely changed, in ways that she is still working out.
“At uni I was doing drawings and collage, but I was putting those with objects; I was really interested in form and colour and taking up whole objects with one colour or form. So I’d grab something and paint it one colour, put it with some planks of wood and try to arrange a three- dimensional collage.
“Now I’m interested in the same thing but relating it back to reality a bit more. After doing observational drawing for so long, my work is more rooted in what I’m looking at and what I’m thinking, whereas before it was mainly just what I was thinking.”
The pattern moves like this — from sculpture from the imagination, to drawing from life, to sculpture from drawing from life, mixed with the imagination.
“Life drawing is an amazing thing to do. I would recommend it to anyone. After a few weeks, you realise how much better you’re getting at capturing something quickly, an essence of something.
“Waiting for my drawing class to meet at the British Film Institute one night, I started drawing people who were waiting to go into the films, the people telling the way. I drew them while not looking at the page, then looking back to see where I was and carrying on. You get overlapping of faces and hands and I like that because it feels true to what you’re seeing — you never focus on one person for ten minutes while you draw them, because they’re not there for that long.”
The process and the drawings that result resemble long-exposure black and white photographs of crowds rushing through train stations or public squares; other drawings feature intricate colour patterns and defined if difficult figures like Devils and snakes and people become pots, drawing on the history of Indian miniatures Rosie went to see at the British Museum — “you always feel like what you’re doing is a current thing when you start doing it, but all this is in miniature paintings from hundreds of years ago” — which are slowly taking three-dimensional forms and beginning to surround Rosie in her studio.
“I use quite a lot of found objects, because I like how they have a history to them already. The way I see it is my imagination is made up of things that are happening now, but also things that have happened in the past; your past and present come together and mix up in your head, and that’s when you come up with weird characters or things.”
Having something once drawn take form in front of you, and be around you, changes the way you feel about it; for one thing, you can feel it, or think about what it must feel like to feel it.
“I’ve been making furry snakes,” says Rosie, tugging one over the top of a leaning canvas. “I draw snakes quite a lot in my work, and I’m interested in fabric and tangible things. When you have a sculpture made out of fabric you can’t touch it but you know what it feels like, so you have this weird sensation that’s like a memory of how something feels.
“I used to be nervous to add anything that was observational or about me directly because I felt like I was trying to say something too specific, making it all about me in this place. But now I think it doesn’t have to be like that. I’m more interested in putting myself in to see how it makes me feel, so I’m in this environment as well, it’s not just in my head.”
What it is now, now that it’s all beginning to exist, is hard to describe: that’s why we started with a list. But Rosie seems clear.
“I could lay out the snake on the floor into a line and say that’s a drawn line. I think all of this is drawing, all of my work. I think drawing can be so many things.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 25