Meet Sishir Bommakanti, a current MCAD MFA candidate, Ringling alumn, dream enthusiast, and lover of oddities. When he's not creating visually stunning depictions of chaotic neverwheres, he's exploring the subtleties of his favorite films and spending quality time with his oddly characteristic cat, Alfe.
Read more about his processes, work, and current Light Grey exhibition below!
Tell us a bit about yourself! Where did/do you go to school? What brought you into the art world? What kind of projects have you worked on recently, or what projects are you currently working on?
I am currently a canidate at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design MFA program. I am focusing on Visual Studies, however my main line of work is illustration and painting. I got my BFA at Ringling College of Art and Design (class of '12) in Illustration, and I currently live, study and work in the city of Minneapolis.
My illustration work is focused on editorial, publishing and everything in between, but within my own practice, I tend to focus on "the fringe" and the odd corners of our world. This ranges from the paranormal, supernatural, and mythological to other weird areas that people tend not to look into.
My process is wide-ranging: from pen and ink to mixed media, painting, glitch distortion and so forth. Depending on the project or context, I adapt my process to a specific structure. Most of the individual elements I create end up becoming assets for collages, so I can build a narrative using individual shapes, textures and lines.
Recently, I worked on a major project with Popular Mechanics, creating a series of images about everyday objects that can kill you. I also recently worked with the VCU [Virginia Commonwealth University] Communication Arts Department on a cover illustration for their student run comic anthology. Currently, I am working on a series of spot [illustrations] and a full wraparound for an independent publisher, as well as finishing up a series of drawings and paintings for my solo show [The Sleep of Reason] at MCAD's Gallery 148.
What does your workspace look like? What creates the perfect creative space for you and your practice?
My workspace is part study room, part editing station and part traditional painting studio. Although I am a messy person, I still tend to organize that mess in its own rows and columns. I initially work traditionally, and most of my experimentation tends to be within the traditional application, so I have a large part of my studio dedicated to drawing and painting. I have another part of my studio dedicated to editing, composing and processing things digitally. Finally, I also have a nice little couch where I can chill, read and ideate for new projects or images.
A perfect creative space for me is one where i'm most comfortable. Too often, previous iterations of my studio have been incredibly messy, unorganized spaces, which inhibited my work process. I've been learning and appreciating how important it is to have at least some form of organization within a studio space to allow for a more stress-free environment.
What is your typical process when approaching a piece? Do you have any favorite resources or materials?
When approaching a piece, I start with a bit of research, drawing and thumbnailing. Although my process is generally reactive, I still build a 'container' that will allow me to limit my process. After building some structure, or getting a 'general idea', I start reference gathering, often trying to find various angles of certain subjects. This allows me to build upon my thumbnails, but still limit myself to the shapes and elements that I already decided on. Finally, I draw the elements out individually using traditional media, scan them, and composite/collage them into an illustration as a simple line drawing that can then be colored and pushed further via digital processes.
My favorite materials are pen and ink! I also use a range of brushes: nice clean ones to damaged ones that I use for textures. I have an Epson v700 scanner and spend a lot of time scanning in various textures I've made at incredibly high resolutions to create my own unique and personal library of assets. Another favorite resource is collecting old black and white photographs, both in real life and through online sources. I don’t necessarily use them for any major reference, but they work as interesting compositional materials, especially since older, analogue photography involved a reasonable understanding of composition and value.
Can you tell us about a little bit about your current show up at Light Grey?
The series featured within Light Grey’s Fairly Dark exhibition includes a series of my illustrations and drawings that lean towards the abstract. The illustrations provide a good summary of imagery I often repeat, such as ghosts, demons, rotting creatures and other surreal elements stitched together as if they were a set. However, my drawings are more experimental. They were a ritual of reaction: drawing one element at a time, I reacted to each image to see how the composition would work once the entire page was filled up.
For me, emotions such as stress, anxiety, mania and other psychological ailments are what I consider demons from the darkness. Each image is meant to provoke that feeling of being overwhelmed or in a panic, like the initial shock of having a hundred things go through my mind when dealing with a situation. It's an interesting phenomenon we all deal with, some more than others. The ritual of drawing, for me, would then be an act of sealing these demons, so they can’t bother me again, at least until the next time.
The work in this show and much of your other work seems to draw from dreams, chaos, and the surreal... Do you do a lot of research when approaching your subjects, or does it come more subconsciously?
Definitely a mixture of both. My illustrations are more research-heavy, in order to create an image that can compliment the article, story, or idea that I’m given. My personal work operates within this same process, but I get the opportunity to be a lot more esoteric and layered with my approach and execution. Personally, I like layered narratives, like those incredibly subtle references within movies, stories and video games.
With my work, I want to be able to provide a clear compositional narrative, while allowing the layers of content to become an opportunity for the viewer to look into the image even more. I guess I’m kinda haunted/bothered by the quote, "You spend more time with your work than your viewers." [Creating these layered works] is a way to extend the viewing time of an image, and allow the opportunity for dialogue whenever possible.
What draws you to these themes in the first place? Do you feel like it's just a natural part of who you are?
My upbringing. I'm glad I had the opportunity to grow up in India with a good family that allowed for diversity in my beliefs. That's often not the case where I came from. This opportunity allowed me to ask questions about religion, science and history without being criticized or ignored because I was a child. I grew up around grandmothers reciting Hindu prayers, cousins studying science, my father explaining the structure of the universe while fortunetellers were explaining astrological charts. I find the surreal, the spiritual and the sublime very fascinating because of how weird and interesting legends, folktales, and dreams can be; yet the historical, scientific world we live in is equally or even more stranger than fiction.
I would like to, as an illustrator, bring some of these concepts I’ve been researching into an environment where people can be introduced to something new or surreal. Currently, my interests are focused on dreams and their limitless potential as a from of storytelling. I think our contemporary culture has fallen out of favor with allowing dreams to be part of our lives; they have become peripheral events that are meant to be dismissed in order to function in society. With my work, I hope to be able to rekindle this conversation with people.
What are some of your favorite pieces of media? What inspires you? Who are some of your favorite artists right now?
Music has been a major influence in my work. I can't listen to music when I'm working because its direct influence is too distracting, but while taking walks or just in my room, I like to create associations with imagery, narratives and made up movie scenes when I'm listening to something. I’m mostly interested in the more abstract, ambient and instrumental music of Tim Hecker, Stars of The Lid, Dead Texan, Matthewdavid and Arca (just to name a few).
I often find my biggest inspirations to be media completely unrelated to my line of work. Currently, I’ve been obsessed with photographers such as Daido Moriyama, Joel-Peter Witkin, Sally Mann and Weegee. Also, experimental filmmakers such as David Lynch, Bill Morrision, Andrei Tarkovsky and more recently, The Vasulkas. An all-time favorite for me will always be the film Decasia by Bill Morrision.
Within the realm of Illustration, I keep looking at Kathe Kollwitz, Hannah Hoch, Dean Cornwell, Harvey Dunn, Barron Storey, Robert Weaver and Mucha, to name a few.
Is there anything significant or process-changing you've learned recently? Something that you feel really pushed you in the direction that you're going?
Repetition. My fear was always that repetition would cause my work to lose its evolution, so for a while I was working with a variety of media using a variety of approaches. This was both a good and bad experience: the good being that I learned a lot, the bad being that I had no general direction, and I was throwing away potential processes before they could bloom into something substantial. There was no real improvement in my work.
Through my MFA studies, I’ve started to embrace this concept of repetition. The biggest thing I’ve learned recently is that repetition will allow for evolution. Like studying, doing a specific process, approach or style over and over will allow you to understand it better, and eventually discover more efficient ways to approach an illustration or image. It’s a process that allows one to build upon and then divert to a different direction. The Horror Vacui drawings done for Fairly Dark are a good example of me embracing this process of repetition. Drawing similar subjects over and over, but in a diverse manner, allowing me to find new ways to say the same thing. This process has not only helped me push my drawing and compositional skills, but also to begin to create a consistent body of work.
Can you talk about any of your upcoming projects? Anything you’re working on that you’re really excited about?
I'm currently finishing up a body of work for a solo show [The Sleep of Reason] at MCAD's Gallery 148 in Minneapolis. I’ve spent the summer working on a series of images that relate to a dream journal that I created in 2011. I've been using that journal as a point of inception to build narratives and imagery related to reoccurring dreams, nightmares and other liminal states. I wanted to create a show and environment where I can have a dialogue with people about dreams and their potential application in the waking world. Hopefully I will be able to have those conversations during the opening on August 31st! Tell your friends!
Do you have any dream projects that you’d like to work on, either personal or commercial?
I had a dream project that was recently corrupted by the Great iMac Crash of 2017. However, a few days ago, I discovered that the main files for it were backed up in a corner of my dropbox! I've been building a fantasy world full of its own culture, history, and geological landmarks. I wanted to take all the research I've been doing in history and mythology to inspire and allow me to create my own world. It’s the slowest, most inconsistent, and most ever-changing project ever, but I'm totally ok with that. It's a corner of my own creative world where no one can ever bother me, and I'm free to create as I wish, knowing that the only deadline is my own mortality. As a child I would create my own world and narratives (as I’m sure a lot of us did), and this project is meant to maintain that child-like imagination whenever I get the opportunity. Needless to say, I never get bored during long lines.
Anything else you’d like to add? Where can people find your work?
You can find my work over at www.sishir.com
My tumblr is Cadmiumcoffee.tumblr.com