BV Doshi’s need to dream

The award-winning architect, who is showing at Frieze London, looks back at his creative practice and the art he made during the pandemic

BV Doshi is in his ninth decade, but you will never catch the architect whiling away his time. Over the last year and a half, the Pritzker Prize winner has been keeping busy working on his art. “I’m experimenting with different mediums without any baggage or ideas. So I am constantly discovering the unexpected,” he says.

Earlier this year, he participated in a group show at New Delhi’s Bikaner House. The exhibited works included two sculptures, canvas paintings, drawings, and even a teak wood door — all varied, but, as he explains, each has been built, experimented on and reworked over stretches of time. “Each time has something else to say, if you’re sensitive. And so I’m trying to connect to that particular time at that particular moment.” His paintings are currently on display at Frieze London.

Finding his real self

His recent immersion in art is thanks to the pandemic. So, I ask him about its impact. “The pandemic has been a scary time. You don’t know what the next moment holds. Vulnerability in such situations often makes you think of yourself and your bearings. Imagine you are on a flight and the gasoline is over — what will happen? You will leave it to chance. That is when your real self comes out,” says Doshi, who put aside his paint brushes briefly in August to share a virtual stage with Frank Gehry, “one of the most important architects of the century and an old friend of mine”, at the AD Design Show. “So, good architecture is where you lose yourself; it is almost fluid in its manifestation and experience without any preconceived notions. Very much like the rocks at Kailash Temple in Ellora.”

Doshi’s designs | Photo Credit: Vastushilpa Foundation Archives

During our chat, Doshi keeps coming back to the ideas of ‘losing oneself, total relaxation and understanding how different elements — even if it’s just a pen and paper — have unique interactions’. “Everything you know creates an impact. If you have one line, even the paper on which it is drawn influences the line, as there is a dialogue,” he explains, adding that each of his projects is a challenge and an experiment. “It is almost like an adventure of the unknown. So the joy is to discover something that you had never seen before and that’s what I try to do.”

Of ants, flies and design

Doshi’s designs are varied, but are rooted in Hindu spiritualism. Major works include the grotto-like Amdavad Ni Gudfa, the courtyard-focussed public buildings of Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Management (IIM), in addition to his barrel-vaulted series of buildings for Sangath, his architectural practice. Describing the process for creating each, he says, “I enjoy the act of putting paper and pen together and allowing them to float and converse. In doing so I often wonder how the ants move on a paper and create an impression. Or how a fly goes from one place to the other.”

BV Doshi with his paintings | Photo Credit: Courtesy AD India and Vinay Panjwani

When I press him for details, he laughs. “You know you are asking so many questions in one.” But then he attempts to give me a better understanding of his process: “I ask myself the question, what is it that I like to interpret or explain or create. Then I start [looking at] the location, the context and the things around it.”

It’s clear that over the years, Doshi has worked to integrate his practice with his firmly-held beliefs. Whatever the medium, it’s his holistic approach that guides his creative life.

The talk with BV Doshi and Frank Gehry can be viewed on the Architectural Digest India Instagram account (@archdigestindia).

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