Alina Young talks to local artist and co-director of the East Bristol Contemporary gallery about his career in the arts, his work, and the broader artistic community within Bristol.
Turning into Karanjit Panesar’s studio off Gloucester Road, a fanfare of hammers and chainsaws reveals the artistic hub inside an unassuming exterior. The workspace is shared by several artists, Panesar explains, working in their own space. What he loves about the studio, and why he has come here since graduating, is the freedom to use it however he wishes: make a mess, work with wood, throw cement.
As we tour the space, it seems ideal for an artist whose love of material and matter requires working without constraints. Panesar’s artistic interests were born at school, and then evolved into painting, sculpture and film during his higher education. His play between mediums reflects his ideas about material generally; ‘I very much enjoy pulling things from anywhere and turning that into a practice. I try not to limit myself,’ he explains.
Since graduating from the University of the West of England in 2014, Panesar’s career has taken him to a residency in Plymouth, exhibiting around the country, and co-founding the EBC—East Bristol Contemporary—gallery. He draws inspiration from a myriad of places, and so thematically his work has huge variation and has evolved constantly throughout his career. We delve into Panesar’s relationship with material—the vehicle to his many ideas.
[He enjoys] questioning the relationships between materials and their perceived meaning, and how loosening and rewiring connections can create new results
‘Each interest defines itself and chooses what medium it’s going to end up as. Sometimes I start with a material and then it will turn itself into an idea, or the other way around; it’s like a big tornado. I explore a malleable understanding of matter, and the different ways it can be understood and read. I like stretching an idea, or a material, or a shape, until it’s almost something else; examining what happens in-between something being raw and something being finished’, he tells me.
At this point, I spy a painted sentence underneath a shelf: ‘It’s a question of connections, and of loosening them up a bit to start with’. This quotation from the Dadaist manifesto aptly reflects his enjoyment in questioning the relationships between materials and their perceived meaning, and how loosening and rewiring connections can create new results.
The concept of connections and juxtaposition extends to naming his work; he likes to play with the viewer in his titles, hinting at new ways in which his work could be read and so questioning how our understanding can be moulded. He remarks how his ‘work is explorative, asking “What am I saying if do this? What will happen if I put this object with that object?”’
It strikes me that much of Panesar’s process is akin to that of an explorer. He describes how his motives and directions are not always immediately clear, but he instinctively lets his ideas grow and manifest themselves into art that often leads to other ideas. When I ask for an example, his answer surprises me—at the core of his earlier work was in fact a piece of writing, titled A Concrete Constellation.
‘I’ve kept coming back to it, and used it as a framework to carry a lot of work and as a way of thinking about things. It explores the space within concrete as a setting, so it’s weird, absurdist. Nothing really makes sense, and rather than being plot driven it explores little, imagined moments—the character encounters a substance called Gloop, which manifests itself in different ways. It was one of those instances where, when I first started it, I didn’t know what it was about; in the years since, when I’ve been working on it I’ve realised things about the text and thought ‘Oh that’s what I was interested in, that’s why I was doing it.’
In his recent work for a show in Liverpool, one can see how Panesar’s ideas take root and evolve. Both A glacier is a set of points, like gloop or a rumble of apples (2017) and Everything to its proper place. quick with the kerosene! who’s got a match! (2017) explore a state of flux and the in-between. The concept of Gloop encapsulates this idea perfectly—a ‘dripping that is chewy, malleable, viscous’ and is ‘responsible for the unseen state of flux within objects’.
‘[E]veryone realises that art’s a bit of a weird thing to do, so everyone is very supportive’
A glacier is a set of points, like gloop or a rumble of apples seeks to represent this three-dimensional action of dripping in two dimensions. Yet, by giving the work sculptural elements, it returns it to this third dimension—it is caught in-between, in a liminal state between the two. In Everything to its proper place. quick with the kerosene! who’s got a match!, Karanjit asks himself: ‘How close can I get to making a static object move?’. He stretches the concept of a table and gives it a sense of liquidity, representing the molecular movements within objects; his manipulation of the concept takes it to a point where ‘while it has some of those traits, it’s not a table.’
Beyond his work as an artist, Panesar also co-directs the East Bristol Contemporary gallery, which he co-founded with the intention of providing a platform for emerging artists. The gallery came about through a necessity for these spaces, which Bristol once had but in which it is now conspicuously lacking. EBC’s most recent exhibition was especially angled towards this, as it exhibited the gallery’s winner of the UWE Graduate Award—Alasdair Munro—alongside two other graduate artists. The award included the opportunity to be mentored and to participate in the realisation of EBC’s show.
Motivations and directions are rarely clear-cut, and what we are ultimately left with is the desire to continue to explore and to experiment
Panesar passionately believes in the importance of such exposure, being a young artist himself. Although the beginnings of an artistic career are not without their challenges, Panesar enthuses about the artistic community; many artists his age are in a similar position and want similar things, and he explains how ‘everyone realises that art’s a bit of a weird thing to do, so everyone is very supportive.’
I ask Panesar, then, what it is that he wants from here, and his answer is refreshingly simple—to continue creating and exhibiting. As I leave, I think back to the nature of his personal artistic process and remark how fitting this future goal is. Motivations and directions are rarely clear-cut, and what we are ultimately left with is the desire to continue to explore and to experiment.
What are your responses to some of the ideas and issue raised in this interview? Do you share Panesar’s views on art, the artist, and Bristol’s provision for your practitioners? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @EpigramArts