Glass enters the wonderful world of artist Hormazd Narielwalla

“THE Dead Men’s patterns?” says Hormazd Narielwalla, as he leads me into his new studio around the corner from London’s Whitechapel Gallery, “they are right here, on the wall. I once found them on the floor”. Covering an entire wall from stone floor to ceiling, neat bundles of paper dangle from iron hooks, tinting the space in the light and calm atmosphere of a Bleckker Street antique shop.

The arist Hormazd Narielwalla in his studio Courtesy Denis LanerThe arist Hormazd Narielwalla in his studio. Photograph: courtesy Denis Laner

Treasures from the past, lining up for discovery, complemented by golden cups from Spitalfields Market and a Moroccan fishermen’s lamp from Paris. As beautiful as they look in this carefully arranged installation in its own right, one thing is certain, these long strips of brown paper won’t be allowed to rest for long in that position, as Narielwalla, who has a Phd from London College of Fashion, is an incredibly productive man.

Paper cuttings used for Anansi Tales, a series of artist books by Hormazd NarielwallaPaper cuttings used for Anansi Tales, a series of artist books by Hormazd Narielwalla

The further we delve into the story of how the London-based artist who was born and grew up in India once stumbled upon the source of his inspiration on the wooden workshop floor of renowned master tailors Dege & Skinner on Savile Row, the more I become convinced that it isn’t actually accurate to say he found them, but rather that it was them, finding him. Kurt Vonnegut introduced the concept of a “wampeter” in his novel Cat’s Cradle as a pivotal point around which a person’s life begins to revolve in the majestic chaos of a spiral of nebula. The discarded cuttings patterns have most certainly become the wampeter of the life of Hormazd Narielwalla.

A page view from Anansi Tales, a large format artist book by Hormazd NarielwallaA page view from Anansi Tales, a large format artist book by Hormazd Narielwalla

Following his chance encounter on Savile Row, and an exhibition of the resulting first works, initiated by Sir Paul Smith, the artist’s practice now receives submissions from all over the world. Like ghosts from the past seeking shelter in  Narielwalla’s workshop, piles of exquisite paper turn up from places remote and nearby alike. Somewhere on the hooks sit the patterns of Benedict Cumberbatch, as the National Theatre once sought a home for unused costume cuttings sheets. Hormazd Narielwalla is not an archivist though, he is an artist. And a teller of magnificent visual stories too.

Seated Woman No.2 Hormazd NarielwallaSeated Woman No.2 Hormazd Narielwalla

In his hands each of these precious pieces of classic brown paper becomes the starting point of a unique collage, carrying with it its history, its essence, while abandoning its surface or form when entering the eternal realm of art and gathering autonomy from its former purpose. “Freed from function”, he explains, “I treat these patterns as abstract drawings in their own right and, like architecture, they are outlines for spaces to contain and to define the human body.”

Reflections in a Water Garden by Hormazd NarielwallaReflections in a Water Garden by Hormazd Narielwalla

Fittingly, he has just opened a solo show at the Foundry Gallery in Chelsea, a beautiful boutique space associated with an architectural practice. In these new works, Narielwalla explores his connection with architecture, tracing his inspirations by Le Corbusier and Vitruvius and thus taking a closer look at the relationship between the proportions of the human body and architecture, in terms of aesthetics and functionality alike.

Elephant Parade No.6 Hormazd NarielwallaElephant Parade No.6 Hormazd Narielwalla

“You can look at tailoring patterns as geometrical abstractions that represent the body in sections. They are not unlike the modular system of Le Corbusier’s buildings in Chandigarh. My artworks become a metaphor for our bodies and the architectural spaces we live in. Here I have set out to explore the relationship between the physical body and architectural landscapes,” he says.

The exhibition unravels beautifully around these pillars, or focal points in the artist’s vast oeuvre. There is Seated Woman No.2, a bold work taking on the human form through the lens of the legacy of Cubism. In close proximity sits the endlessly elegant Paisley Paper Cut, which comes with a deep bow to Matisse. In between there are particular references to India, the place where Narielwalla grew up, such as a magnificent series of light-hearted Elephant Parades.

Paisley Paper Cut by Hormazd NarielwallaPaisley Paper Cut by Hormazd Narielwalla

But it is a work made from French patterns for two separate women’s garments that demonstrates this artist’s tremendous capacity for silent drama. Surrounded by a large dark wood block frame, Reflections in a Water Garden lays like a mysterious pond before the viewer, an oracle open to infinite interpretations, a meeting place where Pablo Picasso and Julio Cortázar share a secret.

Elephant Parade No.4 Hormazd NarielwallaElephant Parade No.4 Hormazd Narielwalla

Back in the studio I am being treated to a glimpse of the latest issue of his artist book Anansi Tales, a series of work that Narielwalla has dedicated years to. Brought together in the most exquisite binding, the pages for this elegant large format work are proof again that a master raconteur of visual tales is at work here.

by Oliver Krug

Works from Hormazd Narielwalla’s Body Architecture at the Foundry Gallery in London are available to buy here. Further works can be found on the artist’s website

About The Author

Oliver Krug is environmental editor at The Glass Magazine. His other topics include contemporary art, literature and photography, music, film and politics. As a travel writer he is interested in sustainability and ecology, and as a keen sailor aims to spend as much time on the water as on land. He is co-founder of Wavelength Foundation, an international circle of journalists, scientists, academics and cultural leaders who aim to advance the environmentalist agenda through the channels of arts and culture.

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