Kartikey Sharma does street art in Pune and he is on a mission to clean and paint 100 walls. He is the kind of person who makes us believe that street artists are heroes. Kartikey is also a TedX motivational speaker, cancer winner and founding member at Jumbish Creations.
This is the first time he has opened up in such detail about his mission, his life and his motivations in an exclusive interview with Wicked Broz and I am proud to present this conversation that I had with him over e-mail to you guys.
When did you first pick up a brush or pencil? Like seriously, not the forced classroom type but on your own.
I was in class one and I used to draw tiny airplanes at the top left on my class notebooks above the date.
Those days I would wait for Sundays to sit the whole day and make a big drawing on an old unused chart-paper which no one in my family was going to use. I don’t remember buying art supplies so it usually used to be those left out brown papers and old books and left over crayons which I was basically recycled all the time.
What was your childhood like? Which part of Pune did you grow up in?
I didn’t grow up in Pune. I was born in Chennai and brought up in Goa and Chennai. My mother takes care of my dad and my father is a fauji. He serves in the Indian navy. I only came to Mumbai in my 12th standard and then to Pune for my college in 2010.
My childhood was spent in a typical north Indian family house hold. My parents are from Agra. I had a very loud and violent home environment growing up and I remember being a very angry child but rather always scared at home.
Growing up my anger came out on the field. I was a furious and celebrated athlete. I was one of the fastest runners in school. I played for the school football team, I played table tennis for my state, I played competitive cricket, kabbaddi, shot put, long jump and even swimming.
Painting was a side of me people never really knew as I wouldn’t share it with anyone. My school friends now tell me that in school they could never imagine me painting and how come I picked it up suddenly.
I used to maintain a file where I would place all my drawings and that was my personal collection. In all the transfers that my father had from one place to another, that file is lost and probably lying in some box in my parents store room.
Pune is a special place for Wicked Broz as both Omkar and I have had a deep connection with it. What are your special places in Pune? Any stories you want to share?
Pune is super special for me as well. I painted my first street art in Pune back in 2010 in my college.
One of my favourite places in Pune is The French Window Patisserie as it is a super peaceful place to sit and paint. I have spent around 6 months waking up and going to French Window, making my open air studio there and painting on canvas every day. It was my long healing process and getting back to painting while recovering and staying away from Pune for three years.
“I didn’t care to disturb them and they were basically me from a long time ago just exploring the canvas.”
There were times when people would come up to me and have random conversations of their painting experiences. I once had two toddlers coming and picking up my brushes on their own and painting on my canvas. I didn’t care to disturb them and they were basically me from a long time ago just exploring the canvas. I had many such experiences while painting there.
We hold a section called Tuesday Tips on Wicked Broz Instagram and you once replied that your biggest teacher was failure. While it’s true in the most part, can we have a more real answer though? Like what’s your background? Did you go to arts school? Did you intern under someone?
I actually went to an engineering college. When I wanted to take up art as a serious career I went straight to JJ school of art.
This was during my engineering days and I made friends with one student at JJ. I spoke to the director and got permission to sit in classes but wasn’t allowed to paint so I would just sit and observe.
One day in 2013 when I was interning with this core mechanical company called Thermax (Pune), I saw an ad for an exhibition in Mumbai by Mrs Geeta Das. I just took off to the given address. I met her at her exhibition which had a lot of Bollywood people and many out of my league artists. I asked her to teach me and convinced her to give me shelter in her house and I didn’t go back for the next 15 days. I wore her husband’s clothes, ate food that she served and just spent time observing her paint.
Apart from this I have had no formal training or internships under anyone.
I just keep painting every day and mostly finding work in painting to sustain. I was finishing college and my equation with my parents was such that asking money from home was difficult. Hence, it was no more learning but rather finding jobs to pay the bills.
I never had the courage to go back to my parents after college and hence I stayed back in Pune itself. I took help from friends and took loans and kept only and only finding work in painting. All this while I failed on a daily basis to afford the daily food or to get a job and saw too many rejections and always kept updating myself and hence I say that failure was my biggest teacher.
The first time I heard about you was through a newspaper article some 4 years ago. You were fighting cancer but had decided to use walls as a medium to spread awareness about the cause anyway. How’s the fight on that front?
Well, cancer is a part of my life and I had to fight it twice. The first time in 2009 when I was 17 years old and in my 12th grade and the second time in 2016 when I got diagnosed again.
It was a tough fight, rather it still isn’t as easy as I would like it to be. I was ok with cancer giving me excruciating pain and discomfort for years and I kept fighting it with a smile because I knew if I make it through, my life will be great.
Unfortunately though in the process of the treatment the blood supply stopped in my bones and I got diagnosed with a condition where my hips are broken, so the pain, limp and the dis-functionality of my hips now is a permanent condition. This condition is called Avascular Necrosis (AVN) and I need a complete hip replacement but I am not ready for it right now, also that nothing much will improve after the hips replacement according to doctors. Basically the functionality won’t really improve as such, the maximum it will help is in pain reduction and that’s about it. I’ll always have a limp, my hips still won’t be able to take much weight.
Right now I am used to the pain and desperately don’t want to go to the long procedure and really long recovery period. I would rather just do what I am doing and take this pain quietly. I still do have the side effects of cancer – I puke often, I am on a lot of meds, I do fall sick easily but I don’t mind these things anymore. I am thankful that I am still able to paint.
Every artist has a theme or a style, what do you think yours is? What are some of the prominent reasons behind your style?
My theme is surrealism.
I keep trying everything all the time though but I always end up in surrealism when I am painting for myself. I am a huge fan of poetry as well. Though, I haven’t been updated with literature recently but then surrealism is the poetry of painting for me and that’s what I love doing.
I always think my strength is in my mind and I might not be the most skilled painter but I can definitely think and I keep trying to challenge my mind and hence go for surrealism.
What major projects or exhibitions have you been a part of?
The biggest project I have been a part of is the biggest flyover sculptor installation in India which my company built in Pune at the Hadapsar flyover.
I have hosted most of my own exhibitions but I was a part of this group exhibition in Mumbai in 2016 called Artistry where my painting was exhibited beside MF Hussain ,SH Raza, Souza, Satish Gujral, Abanindranath Tagore, Ashok Kumar, Jamini Roy and among other, Mrs Geeta Das (Remember the lady who I had gone to in 2013 to teach me art?).
What is Jumbish? What do you do there?
Jumbish is an art movement, the basic idea was to create jobs for artists. We create projects when our clients needs art solutions and we pick the available artists from our database to take up these projects hence providing them with jobs.
My role in the company is to do everything related to art, I design the concepts, I get the artists on-board, I work with them to execute the project.
Jumbish recently started its own art school by the name of Open Door art school which was my dream since we started Jumbish and hence I take care of this vertical as well now. Here in this school our vision is to take art beyond classroom and to make students learn art in the most unconventional way , we have also introduced art entrepreneurship as a subject to make them study the business of art and familiar them with the real world.
Tell us a bit more about Open Art School. What’s been the response there so far?
Open Door Art School is an attempt to correct everything we think was incorrect with the teaching and learning process we faced while growing up.
The responses have been good. We are targeting everyone who would want to learn art but feel it’s too late or not their cup of tea to go to an art school. We had 10 registrations in the first month and I aim to get around 80 students by the end of November.
Who would be your dream collaborations?
Well, I honestly haven’t really thought about that. Now that you are asking I would want to collaborate with Subodh Gupta and KK Raghava in the near future.
Can you tell our readers what is the Clean and Paint project in Pune all about?
Clean and Paint Project is basically a cleaning and beautifying drive I am carrying out in Pune. The idea is to identify walls which are dirty and abandoned and clean the nearby area and paint a mural on the wall. I aim to paint 100 such street art pieces over the next few months.
What subjects do you hope to touch upon during this 100 walls project to paint Pune?
I want to touch upon mental health a lot because I have been suffering from it and I feel the calmest while painting and as selfish as it may sound this whole project is keeping me calm and going especially after suffering from various anxiety and panic attacks to an extent that my doctors want me to start medicines.
I believe the more I paint the better I feel and hence, I don’t want to start on medicines. Apart from this I have had requests on topics like disability, environment and climate change which I will slowly cover and I am open to requests on this front.
In the long term does this paint 100 walls exercise matter? Will people listen?
Infact its aligned to our vision of spreading street art. So many beginners would want to take up painting seeing such street art and the messages we paint on them would work as a reminder when people see this walls near their house or workplace.
Most importantly we will have a 100 clean walls in our city.
This might just be a start of a revolution where people don’t wait or seek permission before cleaning and painting a dirty wall and rather just do it for the sake of good.
Wicked Broz exists to promote the street art and hip hop culture in India and our team has promised to pledge an amount of INR 6,000 towards the noble cause of Clean and Paint Pune City.
You can help Kartikey by sharing this story with your friends and potential sponsors for this cause.
You can pledge your amount here: Link to Clean and Paint Pune Ketto page