Meet Jas Charanjiva the founder of Life on Mars – A Factory of Art and Design. Jas was brought up at California where she pursued street graffiti, underground art with a bottle of spray paint simply to disrupt or protest. In her earlier avatar she has worked for one of the leading entertainment firms in NYC besides freelancing. Now she is in India, and Mumbai is where she started her own design studio.
Jas has been a prolific underground street artist before she even thought of converting here passion into a business. Converting free thinking art-form into cool and edgy urban designs which has the potential of becoming cult art, Jas says. As we went through interviewing her, we realized how important it is for an entrepreneur to have a firm belief on his work. Only then one can challenge the ordinary and transcend the pain. Read on…
What is art and how do you describe your work? Tell us more about Life on Mars?
I like what Gary Baseman said in an interview once – “I have a very liberal definition of what art is. I have a conservative definition of what good art is.” I am the same way. My work is urban, low-brow art that often has some meaning underneath. Sometimes the meaning is obvious like a protest and sometimes the meaning is subtle or hidden.
Life on Mars is the art and design brand I have started to showcase and commercialize my signature graffiti art on commercially available merchandise and as commercial art. My art is inspired by the song Life on Mars by David Bowe. Its about a girl who wonders if there’s life on Mars because she’s not happy with the way things are on Earth. I can relate to that girl and the characters I create are a reflection of that girl.
What is your background and training in art?
I have no formal training in art. I just grew up drawing and painting and found inspiration in all kinds of places. I feel that is one reason why I have a certain uniqueness about my work.
What inspired you to start-off graffiti art?
My upbringing in California is completely responsible for introducing me to this underground art. I fell in love with the art found on skate stickers and the back of skateboard decks. The one distinction that stands out immediately is some of the graffiti seen in California is the richness of Latin culture. There’s also a lot of California graffiti artists who prefer the classic graffiti styles. It’s nice to keep the classics alive while the new and fresh style pop up every day. I grew up watching this street art in the alleys of San Francisco and Thrasher Magazine (skateboard magazine from San Francisco). So I guess the surrounding to which I was exposed to at an early age, helped me develop that taste and the eye for observation and unique taste required for developing and appreciating this art-form.
What are the challenges you have faced or are facing to start off?
As any entrepreneur, my biggest challenge is funding. Very honestly I believe in my gut feel and some where deep inside I knew that my work has the full potential to be commercialized in India. I have been approached by people who wants my art in merchandises I take these things as good indicators of there being a demand for my type of work. Many of the underground artists, in the US especially, who’ve crossed the line to do some commercial work (collaborations with big companies, product lines, etc) have fared quite well. I can constantly see the loyal fan following (however little it is) for my work and I believe its just a matter of time when I see my work getting noticed in a major way.I’m not worried about people not being interested in my work. All I need is to be able to afford a big enough space and a good team so I can efficiently create work.
What is your comment on the maturity of this form of art and its acceptance in India?
There’s a growing interest in graffiti here in India and with the internet people who are interested in graffiti can witness the impact street art has in different cities around the world. I’ve given lectures on graffiti and underground art. Most of the people who attend the lectures may not know the artists by name or may not have seen majority of the work I show them but everyone in the room shows keen interest and appreciation. The movement here has started.
The Wall Project [read my last post here] in Mumbai has made it pretty common for people in places like Bandra to see graffiti on walls. That’s a good start but it certainly doesn’t stop there. My cause is to encourage talented artists whose work has the right appeal for the streets. I want to see work that has meaning, statements, purpose but I want it to look appealing at the same time. Cities like Mumbai and Delhi have potential to be cities with impactful street art like Berlin, Amsterdam, NYC, Rio de Janeiro to name just a few. Encouraging talented artists is not enough. Property owners and city officials also need assistance in getting exposed to the beautiful art out there. As far as unauthorized street art goes, I’m all for it as long as it’s done in a place that makes sense and it’s not done by some person who foolishly uses a spray can to paint nonsense that has no purpose and no style. That type of person hurts the street art movement.
What entrepreneurial qualities does one require to venture into art as business? What should be the driving force for such a venture?
Innovation and self-promoting skills are crucial. A lot of traditional artists are reserved when it comes to promoting their own work. Since graffiti and underground art are a part of that DIY culture so self-promotion and strategizing alternative ways in getting your work seen by the public comes natural to some underground artists. Case in point, street art. Whether it’s authorized or not, the art is seen by hundreds of people walking past it. Taking it to the next level for some of these underground artists may be to show their work in a gallery or to start selling their work to a wider or new segment. Their innovative and self-promotion skills will give them a leg up. Adjustments and evolvement may need to take place when venturing into a new arenas especially when your work is not mainstream. Knowing how to appeal to the new audience without compromising not only takes innovation and self-promotion skills but also believing in yourself and your work.
Well from Jas’s answers it is not hard to guess that entrepreneurship in any form has the same set of challenges. Work, pitch, funding, sales and visibility. It is all about pursuing a dream, whether technology, music or even street painting!