An Interview with Lakshmi Mohanbabu

2016-09-05 (15)“Expressions”

Right to Left

Singing “Songs Bird’s Melody”, Dreamy “Chimerical Haze”,Ecstasy “Waves Of Exhilaration”,Teasing Smile “Blossoming Flames”, Agony “Spasmodic Anguish”,Love “Butterfly Kiss”, Joy “Bubbling Laughter”, Meditative “Misty Rapture”, Screeching “Strident Cry”


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MAD Museum of Art And Design Singapore

Offfical Website


Saatchi Art


Education:          BArch – Manipal Institute of Technology  – 1991

                                Fashion Design – National Institute of Fashion Technology – 1995

 Galleries:            11-12 Gallery – Singapore

                                Forest Rain Gallery– Singapore

                                MAD Museum of Art and Design – Singapore

                                Yang Gallery – Singapore

                                OED Gallery – Kochi India

Exhibitions:        Affordable Art fair

                                Bank Art Fair

                                Art Space @ Suntec – Solo Art exhibition

Lakshmi is a Singaporean who grew up in Kabul Afghanistan during the late 70’ and 80’s. She is a trained architect (B.Arch) and a Fashion designer who graduated from the leading Fashion Design College, The National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) New Delhi. She has over the past two decades taught fashion design, illustration, design history in various fashion institutes such as Lassalle School of the Arts and NIFT.  She has illustrated WHO books on disability and done a lot of socially conscious work over the past decades.

Over the years she has studied Art, Architecture, Jewellery and Design all over the world with significant time especially in Europe and the Asia Pacific. This has enabled her to incorporate cross-cultural elements in her designs be it in painting, jewellery or art.

She has a passion for art not restricting herself to painting but in the design of jewellery, Furniture and shoes. She has a plethora of work with over 300 paintings in various mediums such as Pen and Ink, Pencil Colour, Charcoal, Acrylic and Watercolours.

Can you tell me about yourself?

I am a Singaporean of Indian origin.  My family is originally from Kerala in India. My Father worked with the United Nations. My maternal grandparents were writers both of who have won the Kerala Sahitya Academy award. They were active in the Indian freedom struggle. My Grandfather, A.P.Udayabhanu was a lawyer, the Kerala Congress Committee president, a freedom fighter, Social activist and a member of the Legislative Assembly. My grandmother was a two terms parliamentarian and represented Kerala in the Rajya Sabha .

My paternal grandfather was an Artist.

I was born in Trivandrum Kerala in 1968 but spent the first few years of my life in Kathmandu, Delhi and Sikkim. Thereafter we moved to Afghanistan where I finished my schooling.

I went on to study Architecture at the Manipal Institute of Technology. On completing my degree I realized that my passion was in the Design field and I wanted to explore and learn more, thus I joined the premier Fashion Design Institute – The National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT- Delhi)

Post my degree in Architecture I started illustrating for The Voluntary Health Association of India where I worked on ‘Disabled Village children’ by David Werner and for the World Health Organization, WHO manuals .

Are you from Singapore? If no, which part of India are you from?

I am a Singaporean of Indian origin. My family is from Kerala in India.

What brought you to Singapore?

My husband was working in Singapore. I came for a holiday and fell in love with the city and stayed on.

You grew up in Kabul Afghanistan during the late 70’s and 80’s. What were you doing there?

My father was working for the United Nations in Kabul, Afghanistan where we spent almost nine formative years of my life. I finished my schooling there and moved back to India to study Architecture.

What are your interests?

My interests revolve around art and design. I love books, travel, dance and music.

What are you doing when you’re not designing and painting?

 If I am not designing or painting I would be thinking about it. I like to travel, visit museums, always looking out for sources of inspiration to incorporate in my works. What is life without design is the mantra I live by….

Interactions series of Paintings from Lakshmi Mohanbabu on Vimeo.


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Your “Interactions” body of work is very abstract and geometrical. What artists inspired you with this body of work?

The introduction series is an outcome of my training as an architect. Artist who have inspired me in this work are MC Escher, Piet Mondrian, Picasso. I was always fascinated by MC Escher’s division of spaces and tessellations.

Each of my paintings are greeted with a single line that divides the painting into two distinct halves the void and what is there, the yin and Yang. I like Mondrian’s use of simple geometry and division of spaces.

I like the Cubists transformation of the figurative into its Geometric components.

You have not stuck to one medium in displaying your artwork. What mediums have you used and why?

I like using different mediums because I feel they help you to express differently. However the expressions, drip drop and the interaction series are all done in acrylic. The Expression series is on paper the rest on canvas.

Each medium makes me think differently in the handling of the subject. I do feel I have to rewire my brain based on the medium I’m using.

What do you feel they change about the imagery and composition that is different from the painting?

My training as an architect fashion designer and a jewellery designer helps me to conceptualize and be able to bring to fruition all my ideas.

A lot of my work is based on cross cultural influences a blend of east and west.

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“Drip Drop Series”

“Expressions” and “Drip Drop” work

Your work seems to show a use of lines in a dramatic, vibrant but simplistic style. How would you describe your artwork?

 Both the expressions and the drip drop series border on a level of minimalism. I wanted to use the fewest lines and the use of just one or two colours to express range of emotions and movement. I like to pick inspiration drunk at movements through the last two centuries. I’m inspired by artists of the art nouveau movement.

 Do you see yourself as a colourist?

Yes to some degree I would see myself as a colourist.

 Which art movements would you say your work fits into?

I have been inspired is largely by the art nouveau movement and also pop art.

Do you use certain techniques within your work?

In the expression series I approached the work more like an architect with very precise line work and draughtsman ship. The drip drop series however was based on a more free approach what I love the paint to drip but guiding it by tilting the canvases in the direction I wanted.

What do you think they add to the composition of your work?

In expression series I try to focus on asymmetry within a very symmetrical face. In the drip drop the focus was on movement.

What artists influenced your work and why?

There is a number of artists whose work I admire. Alfonse Mucha, Rene Gruau, Aubrey Beardsley to name a few. Alfonse Mucha work because of his very precise draughtsman ship. Rene Gruau work because of his use of very simple graphic images and Aubrey Beardsley for his line work.

What is it you like about facial expressions?

I see facial expressions as a window to the soul. It is what defines who we are.

What was your first creative career?

My first creative career was that of an architect.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I have always wanted to be an artist as long as I can remember. I did not see any of the creative fields as different and becoming an architect was a step towards that.

Do you feel that you incorporate all of your creative industries into your work?

I do feel that every creative career that I have had influences my work.  This one of the reasons, that I like architectural geometry. As well as the figurative which encompass the whole range.


What got you interested in Fashion design?

I was always interested in art and design, that being the reason I joined Architecture. Post my degree I wanted to explore other areas of Design. Fashion was one such area, which caught my attention. I view Fashion as the design of the immediate space around a person and Architecture as the larger space encompassing us. To me both were very similar in theory.

I was selected at the premier Design institute in India, NIFT-Delhi.

I have worked with renowned Fashion Designers Tarun Tahiliani and J.J.Vallaya.

Where have you taught fashion design?

I have taught at the National Institute of Fashion Technology-Delhi, India and at LaSalle College of the Arts, Singapore.

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‘Lamp Installations’

You design jewellery, furniture and shoes. Any reason why these?

The principles of design for me remain the same – aesthetics and functionality. As an artist with a background in Architecture and Fashion Design I am able to visualize designs in ways that many cannot.

Why do you incorporate cross-cultural elements in your designs?

Even though I grew up in a war-torn country, I was fortunate that I grew up amongst people from all across the world. An exposure to world cultures in a confined, small place like Kabul helped define my attitudes and understanding of it intimately.

Teaching and studying the History of Art, Architecture, Fashion and Jewelry, and having lived and travelled in Europe and Asia has also helped me to visualize and combine cross-cultural elements.

How do you do it?

Even as a teacher I have remained a student! For I feel learning must never stop and art research is a life long process. Each day I learn and discover new things, I record images (people, objects, buildings, landscapes, shades and shadows etc.), ideas, or pretty much anything that inspires me wherever I go. Over the years it has become second nature to me. These inspirations are reflected in all my works of art, be it a painting a piece of furniture, a dress or a piece of jewellery.

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Your jewellery illustrations are based on the concept of multiple elements fusing together to create different shapes. Can you explain how the illustration is done?

When I am inspired by something I start to develop an idea, which further evolves to create a range of designs around that concept. The idea of fusing and repeating multiple elements has fascinated me for years. Months of brainstorming resulted in the conceptualization of the designs post which I start to illustrate them and give it form through my illustrations.

What started off looking like a simple illustration is now real and not just a concept, keeping in mind how the final product is to be manufactured. It is the result of a long drawn design process involving both the design and presentation with the use of the right materials.

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‘Interactions Tables Installation’

How do you think of the ideas for the jewellery designs?

I have trained and tuned my sub-conscious mind over the years to gather and store information related to art in its various forms. I maintain a record of information that may seem trivial or irrelevant to others but for me is an unending source of ideas.

For example I may take inspiration from a fallen leaf found while walking in the botanical gardens and convert it into a piece of art (jewellery).

You have over 300 paintings in various mediums such as pen and ink, pencil color, charcoal, acrylic and watercolor’s. Which medium is the hardest to you and why?

Every medium has its own potential and understanding it is the key to creating a good work of art. Years of studying various artists and art forms and working with different mediums has given me the experience to choose a medium I feel is appropriate to a particular work of art. I do not consider one harder than the other. This is something I have learnt from every field that I have worked in.

As an Architect I was trained to use multiple mediums like Steel, Glass, Concrete etc., to create a building. This mixture of multiple mediums comes from understanding each medium’s properties, its weaknesses and strengths. Similarly in Fashion Design I saw the importance of understanding my medium. I had to understand that silk tulle behaved a certain way or crepe draped differently and therefore I had to design keeping this in mind. These principles of using multiple mediums I have imbibed in my art and paintings for I feel it is far more important to express my feelings than to be bogged down by a medium. For me the medium is merely a vehicle to reach my destination.

You have illustrated ‘WHO’ books on disability. When was that and where were you based?

I illustrated books for ‘WHO’ starting in 1991 when I lived in Delhi.

What was the experience like?

It opened my eyes to the harsh realities of life and gave me a wealth of information on the subject at the time. I indianised the book ‘Disabled Village Children’ by David Werner. I had to create illustrations to suit the Indian village context depicting people with disabilities getting on with their daily lives. When I look back I think in a way, it did prepare me to deal with my mums illness years later as I saw her slowly succumb to cancer till she passed away in December last year.

 What are the differences in the thought process of designing and painting?

I approach both in pretty much the same way. I work within the framework of an idea. Once the concept is clear in my head I create guidelines that I need to follow. The guidelines being a theme, the medium, the presentation and the process from research to conceptualization to the final work of art.

 What message do you want to send across with your work?

 The paintings are based on the concept of the Yin –Yang, The Yin and Yang of Geometry.  Each painting is divided by a single continuous line starting and ending at the same point, dividing a square in two sections representing male and female, creating an illusion of a complex set of patterns, a mandala.

“The interdependence” of a crest and a trough forming a wave is reflected in the two sides of the painting, with one side raised and the other receding. A wave is created only if there is a crest and a corresponding trough, the creation of one being dependent on the other.

As a representation of racial harmony and interaction I decided to conceptualize my creation around the color wheel, which essentially represents the mandala, the interaction of colors creating new colors, the addition of light and dark in the receding and raised spaces adding yet another dimension to the hues giving it a range of values.

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 The series consist of groups of triads, “The Primary”, “The Secondary” “The Tertiary” and so on. I have interpreted each level of interaction with a greater degree of complexity focusing on a different basic geometric form. The realization of the interrelationship between two elements to form a third unique element was the pivot in choosing the color wheel.

 The traditional Hindu Shri Yantra is formed of intersecting triangles surrounded by lotus petals within a square with four gates, I picked this idea with the use of the triad within the color wheel which when rotated about its center gives the next set of triads therefore the primary the secondary and the tertiary going on to an infinite range of possibilities.

 Over the years of my study of global architectural forms and buildings has helped me to simplify this idea of complimentary and interdependent spaces and hence visually the use of a depressed area and a raised area of the Yin-Yang. The raised arrows interact with the depressed space and the depressed arrows interact with the Raised space.

What has been the most rewarding thing designing and painting?

I have always found both designing and painting have a meditative quality for me. The thrill of being able to see an idea through to what I believe is its logical conclusion is extremely rewarding.


Do you see your art style changing again?

I do not like to be restricted to a particular style. I understand the need to be recognized for a style but I wouldn’t want to be forced to do so because that would lead to a lack of creativity. I do see myself continuing in a few directions but all of them which would be uniquely my very own style.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?

I have an ongoing exhibition of the expressions and interactions series at the moment at MAD the museum of art and design in Singapore

What are you currently doing?

I am currently working on my next concept “Mobius” and researching into the same.

Have you had any previous publications or press releases?

To view Lakshmi’s press releases visit:

Author: Helen Ingram

Self Published author, artist, interviewer and owner of New Art United