Artists We Love: Sujay Sanan

INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr PHOTOS courtesy of Sujay Sanan

Cape Town-based artist Sujay Sanan uses drawing to show appreciation for nature which has translated into his latest big project – the South African R5 coin. We find out more about the process.

How did you get into creating art?

I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember. I was around three when my mother taught me to draw an elephant. When I was around five I had this realisation that if I could imagine every small detail of something I could produce a likeness of it, the possibilities seemed endless, and I’m still trying to get there. I lost touch with art in my late teen years and followed science a year into university. In 2014 I started to draw and paint full-time. I started to learn how to paint in late 2014-2015 because my partner convinced me to pick up a brush.

What mediums do you prefer using?

To produce my work I work with graphite, watercolour, acrylic ink, acrylic paints, oil pencils, kiri (paper cutting), and pens of various kinds. It keeps evolving based on what I want to achieve. I’m deliberate in my approach. So I tend to stay with a medium for a while.

How did your style develop?

That’s a really difficult question. I probably have more perspective on my process than my style. I’d really like to hear how my style is perceived when people have followed my different bodies of work. What is it like? I’d love to hear your opinion.

Do you have a piece that stands out for you?

Every now and then I get lucky and create a work that really resonates well with the intention I’ve set for it. “Otter spotting” from ‘A Place I Know’, “Indian Connection” from ‘Ultramarine’, “Cape Leopard” from ‘Imagine a Forest’ and maybe “Run”  and “Ocean of Stars” from “unEncountered”. I’ve been working on newer works more recently and perhaps approaching the core of that inner truth.

Do you prefer commissions or your own creations?

All commissions are my own creations. I don’t take creative direction from anyone and work form the visions I have. I’m fortunate to be supported by people who resonate with my process. I am lucky to be able to undertake this journey on my own terms thus far.

What is the process for making an artwork?

I generally work towards a body of work. There is a narrative that forms around a central thought. And it always takes many works to elaborate on the main theme. There is a volume of visualisation that takes place. I cannot create without a certain conviction. A fanatical devotion to drawing, refining, and questioning paves the way for my paintings. I have to hold this feeling from beginning to end. So it is not something that I can switch on or off. I have to live the process.

Where do you look to get inspired?

I look to the natural world for inspiration. The story of life, evolution, how living beings respond to stimuli and adapt and change. When we interact with one another, that stimulus awakens a response, a constant process of iteration and change — that is where I find inspiration.

Tell us about the process for the coins and how that came about?

It all began in 2019 when I received an email from SA Mint, a subsidiary of SARB (South African Reserve Bank). I went in for a meeting. Signed a document that was classified by the government as “top secret” and drew my proposal for the coin. Soon after it was selected and I refined the artwork. There is a lot to it. But we know how the story ends.

Sujay Sanan

Any local artists on your radar?

We live in a city with such a concentration of talent. Artists here are extremely skilled and driven. It would be a shame to name a couple of names. There are just too many. Many more for me to get to know yet. Even though we are in a proverbial pond there’s something about the water here.

What does a typical day look like for you?

We built a studio at home. So the commute is fairly easy. A detour to the kitchen for sustenance, coffee you know.

I get to the studio by 7-7:15, light my Palo Santo incense, set my intentions and get down to painting. There isn’t any more coffee after 9 so when I take a break I check on the plants in the garden. New leaves that have grown. The local Mantis, the skink, the occasional little snake, the usual suspects. There is observation of one another, some reverence as I like to imagine. Then I sharpen my pencils or wash some brushes and paint until about 2:30. I have a child, he needs to be brought home from school, it’s part of adulting, and I’m getting the hang of it. We spend time as a family. Walk in the mountains. I’m into rock climbing. So a normal day wouldn’t go without either climbing or preparing my body for a climb. Then there’s supper. It’s fairly early. So there is time to read or indulge in a bit of screen time. Sleep comes quickly and easily.

What are your plans for the upcoming months?

The future looks very exciting. A new body of work is underway that pushes the limits of my imagination. There will most likely be new shows and new opportunities to grow.  That is the artist’s journey, isn’t it?

See more of Sujay’s work, here.

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