Remember the days when you were kids, armed with crayons in your hands, you went around trying to paint on anything you could lay your hands on! The whole world was a canvas then. Some of us ruined our walls, well that’s what most parents felt, and then we got a good rap from them. Those were the days! Some never gave up that habit of painting the walls; they grew up wanting to paint walls with their creative ideas. For people like Jas Charanjiva, the entire world is still a canvas. She still has that childlike feeling inside of her, and this is what makes her such a great wall artist. This is the story of how Jas Charanjiva became a successful wall artist and is promoting this modern art form in our city of Mumbai. Let’s paint some walls!
|'Smokin is for Villans' - Jas's wall art on Chinchpokli Road, Bandra|
Jas was born in Kent County, UK, the same place where her childhood hero Mick Jagger was born. She spent half of her childhood in Toronto, Canada, after which her family moved to California. At the age of 6 she discovered David Bowie, the English pop legend known for his distinctive voice and style. Bowie’s style and his works had a significant impact on Jas; she has named her studio ‘Life on Mars’ after one of Bowie’s songs. “He's so conceptual. Costumes, make up, characters. His music was real cool and later I realized how sophisticated it was and appreciated how ahead of his time he was”, says Jas about her idol. At 12 she discovered the world of street art; she was mesmerized by this style of art. Eventually she ended up making a career in street art.
Jas was introduced to the world of street art at the age of 12, when she got her first professional skateboard. The artwork at the bottom of skateboard caught her eye. She started checking out these skateboard artworks in a popular magazine called Thrasher, a magazine dedicated to skating. Her initial trysts with street art where simple works of chalk on sidewalks. Once on her way back home from school, she wrote names of her favourite bands on the sidewalk with chalk. She did this for about a quarter of a mile before her Mom caught her and reprimanded her for this act! Her first wall art was a recreation of an album cover on the walls of a record shop opposite the Church of John Coltrane. On Sunday’s the church would see huge crowd and she wanted to paint something cool with a message for the people waiting in queue to get inside. Her work, commissioned by the record shop, was only an album cover and she could not put any message on it. However, the urge to paint something meaningful with a cool and witty message got her into further exploring this genre of art. She did some legal and some illegal works in San Francisco, California. Most of her works were messages about people living their lives in a bubble.
Few years ago she moved to Hyderabad, when her husband’s company sent him on a three year project to India. After the project was over they decided to stay back in India. The transition from New York City to Hyderabad was not so bad for her; in fact she found it cool to be somewhere different. The only issue was that street art was in a nascent stage in India and Hyderabad, especially, didn’t have anything worthy to be called a piece of art at the time. Mumbai on the other hand had a fair amount of good street art. In places like Chapel Road, Bandra, there is a waiting list of businesses and shop owners who want their walls painted. “Mumbai streets have some good pieces of art but there's not enough of it. Majority of the best work is from artists outside the country. We have some regular artists that visit often to paint here. Like Rock from France and Loomit from Germany”.
Her first solo show was all about bringing street art indoors. She had a huge room of raw concrete to paint. Jas spent 10 days and nights painting the room. The room was very hot and this inspired her to create the theme ‘Fire wall’ for her solo show. This show launched her as an artist in India. Her second exhibition Diamond Dogs + Super Creeps was inspired by David Bowie’s songs and characters. GQ magazine was coming out with a 6 page article on David Bowie, so the online editor of GQ suggested to Jas that she create some event around Bowie the same month. The show happily sold out.
So what is about street art that makes it so special for Jas? “I love the rawness of it, I love that there's no intention of making money out of it. I love that it's based on the love for it. I love there's an unpredictability to it as in one stumbles upon it and it can be painted over the next day or remain there for years”. She also loves the fact that street art is so smart, clever and sometimes witty. Jas feels that there is still a lot to be done to promote street art here in India. She feels that all the talented artists we have in the city should contribute at least one piece outdoors. People in India get to see so little of street art. When they do come across one, they are amazed, but what they can’t understand is “Why someone would do such a thing for free?”
Having established herself as an artist, she now runs her own studio ‘Life on Mars’. The name is derived from one of David Bowie’s songs about a girl who wonders if there’s life on mars, as she feels that life on earth is all messed up. Like the girl in the song Jas too gets affected by the things happening around her and that’s how the messages in her murals come about. Now she is expanding her work to murals for kids. Most of her current works have angry annoyed characters, so now she has to work on making happy characters. Jas plans to continue her street works in Mumbai and all the places that she is invited to. She is also working on selling original art. She would also like to create a few illustrated books in the future. There are a lot of things she wants to do and she is trying her hand at all of them. Given a chance she would like to collaborate with Buff Monster an artist from US and she would also like to work with the Rolling Stones or Bowie on a project. For the time being we just hope that she does more and more street art around Mumbai. The city needs more artists like Jas to change the face of this city, to make it more beautiful through their art! We hope Jas’s works will inspire other talented beginners to take up street art.