In Celebration of Unity

Artist couple Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck and Jatinder Singh Durhailay on working with natural dyes, making paper from waste, and presenting their work at London’s HOME gallery. They also curate a Spotify playlist inspired by the lifecycle of a seed exclusively for Atmos.

Pastels are one of the defining characteristics of artist couple Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck and Jatinder Singh Durhailay’s work. For just under a decade, Hoffbeck and Durhailay have shared creative spaces—and also paints, papers and other materials—in an act of symbiosis that has informed the figurative works they have both become known for.

 

Hoffbeck, who grew up in Alsace, France, has dedicated much of her practice to recreating a bountiful garden, one filled with an endless range of natural colors and organic shapes. The people she paints are usually depicted working the land, nurturing their plant neighbors and drinking fresh tea from the allotment. Durhailay, by contrast, draws stylistic inspiration from Indian Mughal miniature painting, and marries contemporary pop culture with ancient mythologies in paintings that portray celebrity subjects like Bruce Lee with as much intimacy and care as ones celebrating the U.K.’s Sikh communities.

 

Now, Hoffbeck and Durhailay’s works are open to the public as part of By Your Side, their duo show at London gallery HOME by Ronan Mckenzie. It’s an exhibition that celebrates compassion and cultural exchange in honor of the duo’s ongoing personal and collaborative practice.

 

Below, Hoffbeck and Durhailay speak with Atmos about the evolution of their art and fostering community through creative projects and gardening. They have also curated a playlist filled with nurturing soundscapes as well as tracks written and performed by Durhailay on the dilruba.

Daphne

First off, I want to hear a bit more about the playlist. ​​What informed the curation of the songs?

Johanna

They are the songs we listen to when we are working in our studio or in the car; when we’re at home eating, cooking, chilling. When we’re traveling.

Jatinder

Some of these songs are also associated with a memorable place or time. We’ve put people on the playlist we have seen live, for example, in England, India or Japan.

Johanna

In terms of the tone and how we arranged it: we imagined the playlist to, at first, be like a seed. Then, it grows and it becomes more vibrant, perhaps it starts moving. That’s why the middle of the playlist has more rhythm. At the end, it slows and becomes more soft, similar to how it was at the beginning but still with more energy. It’s as if it produces new seeds.

Jatinder

Like the cycle of life.

Daphne

I’d love to hear more about some of the artists that you featured in the playlist. I know some of the songs included are composed and performed by you, Jatinder.

Jatinder

The first track, by Masakatsu Takagi, is important to us because—when Johanna and I first met in Berlin in 2013—it was the song she used to always have playing on her laptop. We really loved it; it’s a piece of music that became a type of theme for this moment of when we first met. We’ve also included music from films we’ve seen that have inspired us, like there are two tracks from an Egyptian movie called Yomeddine.

Johanna

And then we’ve chosen songs by Shuta Hasunuma and Yoko Komatsu who are our friends and collaborators in Japan. They knew Jatinder already from his music and me from my work, so it was very special to meet and then become friends. Jatinder has worked with them since.

Jatinder

And my story with the dilruba started when I was much younger and I first heard the instrument being played. I just fell in love with raga music, Indian classical music, and decided to find a teacher and learn how to play it myself—that must have been in 2002. And after that, I listened to a lot of Tan Dun’s music, which I’ve included in this playlist. I love the way he uses old instruments from China and how he mixes these traditional sounds with a Western approach. It was then that I decided to create music with the feeling of ragas and Indian classical music, but also with an international audience in mind. It’s been possible with the help of amazing collaborators such as Suren Seneviratne, who plays an electrical unit in Petit Oiseau. And also David Edren who plays on a synthesizer.

Johanna

We have a small label called Poetic Pastel Press, and Poetic Oiseau was released through that label. So were Jatinder’s albums, Yātrā and The Last Ballad of Mardana.

Daphne

Amazing. This brings me on to the exhibition, By Your Side, which is currently showing at HOME by Ronan Mckenzie. When we were there last week, it did feel like an ode to love and collaboration and the value of drawing inspiration from one another and building each other up. But, in your own words, I’d love to hear more about what you feel the show is about and what themes it explores?

Johanna

It traces our artistic journeys over the past eight years. For example: when we first met, I had recently finished fine arts school and my work was primarily abstract. But then, within a year of seeing Jatinder and after a lot of encouragement from him, I started drawing people again. I’ve been a lot more present in my work physically too.

Jatinder

And when I met Johanna, I was painting monochromatic paintings as well as massive, figurative works. You could say she brought color to my life, actually.

 

A lot of the time we also share materials. That’s something you can see in the show, too. It’s not intentional, but it happens when you work alongside one another. Johanna’s very ecologically aware in her decision-making and in regards to what she buys. I hadn’t thought much about it, until she was like, “Wow, you’re using only stone pigments.”

Johanna

Yes, I’ve always tried to source either handmade paper or to make it myself. Some of my materials are also made from vegetable waste, nuts or stone pigments. Sometimes it’s a headache because you just want to create and not spend months seeking the ideal material. But for me it’s important that the materials and the process align with what I want to create.

Daphne

In what ways does the natural world inspire the stories you’re telling through your art and music?

Jatinder

I grew up in England within a large Sikh community as a lacto-vegetarian, which means no egg, no meat, no fish. We’d go to the temple where we have free vegetarian food as part of a system called langar, meaning food for all. There, we were taught about community and humanity and animals and other lifeforms. We learnt about compassion—and these teachings are what inform my work and life story.

Johanna

I grew up in France in the countryside. I was raised primarily by my paternal grandparents who were practicing permaculture, which also emphasizes compassion. Permaculture places emphasis on companion planting and other ways of sustaining a thriving ecosystem without killing insects or plants.

 

Now that we live in rural Oxfordshire we have an allotment, which allows us to grow some of our food. We are also hoping to grow—even as an experiment—some of the flowers we would need to create the colored paints we use. It’s something we’ve been thinking of doing for a while. Last year, for example, I grew flax, the plant that is turned into the linen that’s used on our canvases, just to see what the plant looks like.

Jatinder

Learning about that process of creation is also something we do on our travels. When we were in India, we did a paper-making course that used waste as the main material. The paper we made was actually amazing because the paper factory we visited was really small and very artisanal. They were collecting unwanted pieces of fabric from a nearby textile factory as well as leftover scraps from school and offices to create different kinds of paper. Johanna ended up using that paper as part of a series of artworks, which are on show at HOME, titled To End is To Start.

Daphne

It feels as though a large part of your practice is also centered on sharing that knowledge with those around you. How has your events programming grown and evolved over time?

Johanna

It’s changed quite a bit since the pandemic. Before Covid-19, we would serve tea at every event and, inspired by the Sikh practice, langar, we would also try to give food to people who had come to see the work when possible.

“Inspired by the Sikh practice, langar, we would also try to give food to people who had come to see the work when possible.”

Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck

Jatinder

Now, at HOME, we have a number of events in the calendar. For example, [last Saturday, 2 April,] we held a talk with one of my collectors. He has a large collection of Sikh and South Asian arts and more, and is very knowledgeable on topics surrounding South Asian arts and history.

Johanna

We’ve also just started the Gardening Drawing Club. It’s a nonprofit, and the aim is to bring free access to art and horticulture to people in the U.K. through workshops, talks and experiences. At HOME, there will be two workshops on 10 April, one for adults and one for children. I’m also hosting some of these at Camden Art Center.

 

The idea is to create a compassionate space for people to practice gardening and art. Often, we don’t realize that compost bags—even the peat-free ones that are more ecologically sound—contain blood, bones, and fish pieces all mixed in the soil. It doesn’t make sense for people who practice vegan lifestyles or, for example, for Sikh children who grow up vegetarian to garden with soil that contains blood or bones. So, the soil we used is always certified veganic and the pots are biodegradable. We combine planting seeds and other horticulture activities with art and drawing, so that people can enjoy themselves. And it’s free, too, so anyone can join in.

Daphne

I love that—I’ll have to try and swing by later this month. Finally, what are your plans for the future?

Jatinder

I’m looking forward to traveling to Canada in order to see my works in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. They’ve acquired some pieces and they want to do some workshops together in the future. So, I look forward to expanding: taking our workshops there and physically seeing my artwork in the museum.

Johanna

And for me, I’m excited to continue making; to get back into the studio and experiment with different ideas. I have a few exhibitions I’m working on this year, which is a pleasure. Also, it’s going to be summer soon. I love warm weather. And I look forward to continuing painting!

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