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A look at the work and career of the Kent-based AnilKumar

AK wants people to view a chaotic world with more joy (c) Karen Bengall
AK wants people to view a chaotic world with more joy (c) Karen Bengall

It's the vibrancy that strikes you first when you step into the Tunbridge Wells home of artist AnilKumar, better known as AK. Beyond the warmth of the welcome - led most emphatically by his Tibetan terrier, Roscoe – is the warmth of surfaces painted in earthy ochre, red or rich teal blue, with his upstairs studio no exception. It’s certainly a reflection of AK’s work, which is also lively, warm: 'Art is about capturing a phenomenon and then using colours to bring it to life as if the work is talking to you,' he says.

AK’s role today as a full-time artist, though, is a far cry from his original training in mechanical engineering, first at Cochin University in India, then with an MBA specialising in Entrepreneurship and Consulting,at Bradford University. Qualifications were followed by eight years working for IT and Consulting firms both here and in India, but art was always his passion. ‘While we have some wonderful art in India, those who practise it tend to be seen as artisans,' AK reflects. 'Growing up there and coming from a professional background, it just didn’t feature as a career option at all. Instead, it was all about IT, law or medicine.’ Nevertheless, from his school days onwards, AK was always sketching and painting whenever he could find moments away from his studies. ‘It was a way to express myself, to try to make beautiful things and I found it very absorbing.'

Great British Life: Taste of Kusama's Pumpkin playfully takes inspiration from the work of Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama Taste of Kusama's Pumpkin playfully takes inspiration from the work of Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama

Work and further study took over, and he moved to Bradford. ‘Wherever I’ve based myself I’ve followed my other great passion: cricket!’ says AK, ‘In fact, that’s part of the reason I ended up in Tunbridge Wells: there’s a thriving cricket scene here and you’re not far from Lords and the Oval’. By 2012 he’d rediscovered the art he’d so enjoyed creating as a boy and by 2015 he was ready to take a career break, allowing him to follow his passion full time. ‘I wanted to be truly happy in my work and not forever thinking, ‘what if?’’

AK began taking his paintings to every gallery and art fair he could find, but the response at first was far from encouraging. His luck changed, though, when he met curator, Gita Joshi, who specialises in encouraging artists to grow and develop, and to exhibit their work. ‘She was the first person who helped me see all the possibilities,’ says AK. ‘I think she saw the fact I’m self-taught as an asset. I’m a free spirit who doesn’t see things in perhaps the same way as a conventionally trained artist might do.’

Great British Life: Riffing on the work of Henri Matisse: AK's Never show up late to a naked dance party (c) Karen BengallRiffing on the work of Henri Matisse: AK's Never show up late to a naked dance party (c) Karen Bengall

He staged his first solo exhibition at Old Brompton Gallery in London, which led to his work being selected for The Other Art Fair, an event staged by prestigious Saatchi Art in London. ‘The response to my work was fantastic’ says AK – and in particular he found an audience for his Circles of Life series, a set of 10 resin-coated acrylic paintings that fuse classic pop-art references with Eastern influences. More exhibitions followed and AK continued to see things turning around: ‘I arrived with my work in a van and checked out of exhibitions in a taxi – there was nothing to transport because I was a sell-out! Suddenly, I was seeing support and encouragement, not only from potential buyers of my work, but from other artists, too, which was incredibly gratifying.’

Thankfully, the enthusiastic reception AK encountered was enough to keep him going during lockdown, when sales of his work grew online work. ‘I’ve ended up with clients all over the world – I have one client for instance, who regularly buys from my miniature series.’

Great British Life: A burger for the smallest of appetites.... (c) Karen BengallA burger for the smallest of appetites.... (c) Karen Bengall

These are tiny images inspired by the work of traditional Indian miniaturist artists, created using coloured inks, watercolour and even gold leaf, and featuring everything from books to hamburgers to animals, all in painstaking detail – with an included penny creating not only a collage-like feel, but adding to the sense of scale.

AK’s work has also proved popular in Australia, and in Dubai, where he’s looking forward to exhibiting soon. He has a canny awareness of the need to get to know his markets and create art for them accordingly. ‘Yes, you have to think commercially,’ he says, ‘But still while creating an ongoing dialogue between the artist and the viewer – that’s what gives art its energy.’ His commercial nous means that while his originals cost thousands of pounds, his prints are available to suit most budgets. Recently, too, he’s branched out into corporate art, creating an artwork for a hotel in Essex – and he’s also found time to write and illustrate a book, The Bulbs of London, which offers a whimsical ‘walk’ through the streets of London.

Great British Life: AK and Roscoe (c) Karen BengallAK and Roscoe (c) Karen Bengall

So how does AK keep his own energy levels and creativity ‘topped up’? ‘I find inspiration in the works of other artists, who I’ll sometimes reference in my own pieces, everyone from Damien Hirst and Banksy, for instance, to Henri Matisse and the work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Beyond art, I’m interested in everything from travel to nature,’ he says, ‘And I’m also a real foodie – if there’s some unusual dish I hear about – say from Icelandic cuisine, or whatever – I’ll want to try it. I’m big on all sorts of exploration! I called my company ‘Spherical Thoughts’ because spheres are objects with the largest of surface areas – their potential is enormous and I’m very keen to explore the potential of the world around me and of myself.’

‘There’s no average working day for me,’ says AK, ‘So I need to be in control with how I put things together – my studio is very organised - because when I’m working, time really can just go by in a flash.’

AK describes being able to concentrate full time on his work as, ‘a total privilege. The future is something I look to with real excitement: creating new pieces, finding new audiences for them and continuing to see my work becoming a conversation starter. Art should bring a smile, make us think and make the chaos around us that little bit more palatable,’ he says.‘That’s what I’m aiming to achieve.’

Find AK at sphericalthoughts.com



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