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From Khan Market to Connaught Place: Meet the artist who brings Delhi’s iconic places to life

"Delhi is an artist's dreamscape, it has more layers than an onion -- a city of migrants, a centre of power and a stage for inequalities," said artist Aditya Raj

Written by Prerna Mittra | New Delhi |
November 11, 2021 12:30:33 pm
Delhi, artworks in Delhi, Delhi artist, capturing Delhi through artwork, Delhi based artist, Inktober, iconic Delhi places, artwork of iconic Delhi landmarks, artist, artistry, Instagram art, indian express newsWhile many creators have romanticised Delhi in the past, what makes Aditya's artworks stand out is the fact that he seems to have gone back in time to capture the city in pictures, but without a camera. (Photos: Aditya Raj)

“I started thinking about how rain is depicted in illustrations. In comics that use gouache or watercolor, they use light blue, so I started using that color.”

— Lucien Smith

In Aditya Raj’s artworks, there is a strange lull emanating from within the colours — one that is associated with familiarity of home, the smell of an old book yellowing over time. His first of the Inktober series is a famous and delicious Delhi landmark, one that he has painted in calming blue: Khan Market’s Big Chill café.

 

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A post shared by Aditya Raj (@adirajart)

But, it does not stop there. The 30-year-old’s Instagram account — replete with pictures of the city he calls home — has a vintage touch to it. The artist has been eulogising the national capital by means of his paintbrush. He has covered, thus far, many known and unknown places within the city.

While many creators have romanticised Delhi in the past, what makes Aditya’s artworks stand out is the fact that he seems to have gone back in time to capture the city in pictures, but without a camera. He recently chatted with indianexpress.com and talked about his process, and why he chose Delhi as his muse.

 

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A post shared by Aditya Raj (@adirajart)

“Delhi is an artist’s dreamscape. Historically, it’s seven cities, sociologically, it has more layers than an onion — a city of migrants, a centre of power and a stage for inequalities. Each corner has a story and every stone of nearly every building has a history that could date back centuries,” Aditya said.

The CR Park-based artist was a law student, who started painting soon after he got his degree. Hailing from Jaipur, Rajasthan, he has been living in Delhi for the last 11 years. “I have been painting professionally for about four-five years now,” he said during a telephonic interaction.

 

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A post shared by Aditya Raj (@adirajart)

He mostly makes portraits — working around gender and sexuality — using water colours, acrylic paints, etc. “I started Inktober as a personal challenge, to make one illustration every day in the month of October. Delhi is the city where I grew up, a city which taught me my politics, gave me my friends and made me an artist, so I really wanted to give back something. It was a way of archiving my love for the city.

“I had intended to feature places that I have a personal connection to, like Nirula’s, which was the first restaurant in Delhi where I ate when I came here to study law a decade ago, or Majnu ka Tila, which is where I spent countless days eating the best food! But once I started posting it all on my Instagram, it kind of took a life of its own. So many people had stories about the places I was painting. And suggestions as to what I should paint next and why,” Aditya said.

 

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A post shared by Aditya Raj (@adirajart)

He added that he didn’t want to include monuments in his list, because people already know about them. So, he has featured in his series places that are iconic, forgotten, unheard of, or those that look aesthetic.

While he always “enjoyed making art”, he had not considered it as a career up until he was in his third year in law school. “In 2014, I got a chance to have an exhibition in Delhi at this amazing community café called Fursat Se in Shahpur Jat. Amrita Bhasin, who ran the café, offered me a solo show and completely believed in my art. And the response was amazing, which made me realise maybe I could do this full time.”

 

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A post shared by Aditya Raj (@adirajart)

For the self-taught artist, the love for his craft goes back to when he was in school. “I always enjoyed reading and researching new artforms. Even as a child, I used to go to the book fair and buy every art book I could find and then try to replicate paintings in those books,” he shared.

Each of the prints of all of his artworks will be up for sale, too. Aditya said the time spent on each artwork varies. For the illustrations for Inktober, he has been spending three-four hours every day, “because I do need to finish one each day. But, I also paint with acrylics on canvas and each painting can take anywhere from a few days up to a month”.

 

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A post shared by Aditya Raj (@adirajart)

“Many of the next few pieces are crowd-sourced and I am really grateful for everyone who sent in suggestions,” he said, adding that sometimes he goes to the places himself and makes a quick sketch there, taking in the mood and the nuances.

 

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A post shared by Aditya Raj (@adirajart)

“But, it is not always easy.” So, he clicks a picture using his camera, and then replicates the image on the canvas.

But, if not an artist, what else would he have been? “A lawyer probably considering I did get a law degree,” he said, adding that he intends to “travel”, make “more art”, and “paint some other cities, too” in the near future.

 

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A post shared by Aditya Raj (@adirajart)

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