As she added water to it, the clay nestled and moved swiftly in and out of her palms. Now, she would sculpt the concept playing in her mind for a while, and it would take shape with contact with air and fire. Water, earth, air and fire—the elements would come together to create a definite, tangible sculpture of an abstract concept. “It somehow makes me feel connected to the ground, and more deeply, to ‘Earth’,” explains Shayonti. Shayonti Salvi has been on a journey as a ceramist for four years, and hers is a story of novelty, constantly being on the edge of this new field she found for herself, exploring new ideas and finding connections with old passions.
Being trained in a field is not always the same as learning your craft. Shayonti trained as an interior designer by profession, and worked in Bombay for seven years with two prominent architects, Niteen Parulekar and Sanjay Puri. She had done her Interior Design Diploma from Rachana Sansad Institute, after having done her Foundation Art from Sophia Polytechnic. But nurturing interest in her craft occurred only with shifting lanes. “The birth of my two children proved to be the catalyst, urging me to shift professions and follow my dream of being an artist,” she says. With that, she trained at The Golden Bridge Pottery, Pondicherry, under Ray Meeker, Deborah Smith and Cory Brown, after having completed a Diploma in Ceramics from the L.S. Raheja School of Art, Bombay.
Ever since she could remember, Shayonti’s world has had close association with art and nature. When she was a child, many nights were spent under the stars, camping in the wild with her family. This love for nature has led her to being aware of global implications related to nature and exploring various landscapes through travel. In exploring an interesting use for a piece of textile, or attempting to ‘go organic,’ Nature and Art are always the basis of it all. Shayonti does not deliberately try to fit into a particular space to accommodate her interests; it is the interests and values that define her way of living, and thus, the journey from an interior designer to a ceramic sculptor was a smooth one.
In the tormented lives that we live in, the heart often consoles the head. Shayonti’s heart does too, and she does not shy away from exposing all sides of the torments. She expresses her contradictions, conflicts and struggles with the same gusto as the positive side of things. Her current work is a reflection of this duality— thrown and altered forms. While the discipline of throwing on the wheel allows her to be true to the base form, it’s the alterations that give to her a wonderful break from the monotony of the wheel. And when the two techniques merge, she gets a chance to explore her ideas before forming them into series. “My shields signify defence,” she continues.“Defence from a society that is in desperate need of introspection.” For a society which takes battering and tells stories about the rips in their social fabric that they accept as normal, she feels a need for stopping and staring into ourselves. And when she personally needs introspection, the ocean is the answer for her. Down under the surface is a world were fluidity, movement and stillness coexist beautifully. While the corals and shells might be completely still, they create an illusion of constantly being in motion. It is this world, the world of movement, change and hope that she enjoys bringing into her work, which Shayonti believes is a challenge. But she finds ways of involving the ever-engulfing spiral which, as she explains,“courses its way through shells, waves, seaweed, tides and into her work.”
The clay that she uses, is what she believes connects her to the earth; it is a testament of her love of art and nature. When she was exposed to clay during her art studies, she realized it resonated with her the most. Most of her clay is either prepared by someone else before it lands up at her doorstep, or is made at her studio with the basic ingredients. But either way, it is her connection to the Earth. Recently, she has been wanting to use more locally found native clay. “After having done a workshop in 2015, I was astounded to find how well native clays work in a slow fired environment, regardless of how many impurities it may or may not have,” she says while explaining this recent shift. For someone always lost in creating new concepts and thoughts for her art, clay is a favorite attraction, because it brings her head back from the clouds. She keeps herself in touch with the ground as she interacts with clay. “I am interested in picking up clay from various locations, when found in the way I need it for my installation, and using that as the medium for my work,” she says.
“What amazes me about ceramics, is its use of all the five elements of nature and for that, it is to me, a truly complete medium of expression!”
As exotic as scuba diving and sculpting and merging the two may sound, this art form is very hard work. Unlike other art media, sculpting needs a fair bit of capital to set up a studio and ceramics needs a lot of equipment. In this context, sometimes, creative ideas have to take a step back.“All the capital I have invested in my studio has to be justified,”says Shayonti. “And I am constantly on the lookout for avenues where I can sell objects that sell faster than sculptures, like tableware.” A sustainable studio can only be supported by marketable products. A lot of energy goes into thinking in terms of the market, especially for Shayonti to whom this does not come naturally. This is when her years in Interior Design have come to the rescue. She has been taking initiatives to feel more comfortable in this market space by being a curator herself and organizing her own shows. “It is a journey that has just begun,” she explains. “And I am all too aware that I have a long way to go; but it is the process that is fun for me at this point in time.”
As an artist, evolution is important and growth necessary. “I have been a professional ceramist for four years,” Shayontisays. “It has been too little time to have really gone through many phases.” Nevertheless, the inherent love for the ocean, marine forms, and their exploration has consumed her thought process for the better part of these four years. She started out with exploring ‘kowrie’, and is currently exploring broken shell forms, as a reflection of broken animal homes. From previously being occupied with the journey from means to ends, Shayonti now concentrates on seeing the nuances of the medium of her work, the cracks, stretches, rough edges, and of course, the process of coming through.
Sculpting is where she finds home, where she is willing to give everything that it demands: physical strength, fair sense of spatial reasoning, an understanding of structural stability, spending long stretches of time, getting her hands dirty, and being comfortable with herself, yet walking the border to stretch the limits. While it is her qualities that create the art that she makes, it is also the art that makes her, her. ‘Sensitive, Inquisitive, Calm, Fragile, Strong,’ is how Shayonti describes herself. Contradictory, yet coexisting perfectly—much like the essence of her work where stillness and motion, conflict and peace all find common ground.