In the first of this new series, “my go-to therapist”, Ankon Mitra tells us how he overcomes moments of creative sterility by indulging in his alternate passions…
When a river hits hard ground which it cannot break through, it usually moves around the obstruction and finds an alternative curving path. I see a creative block as much the same – a blockage of flow. I know it is time to change strategy and find an alternative path, to keep flowing.
Besides being an architect, I also have an active practice as an artist and a landscape designer. I write, I like to photograph the ordinary from unique vantage points (see the tomatoes, lemons and garlic and the dead wasp) and I also greatly suffer from Tsundoku – the habit of buying far more books than I can ever hope to read (12 books to read at any given time). This means that when I suffer from creative deadlock in any discipline, I immediately jump to another. This has held me in exceptionally good stead since as long as I can remember.
During the lock-down I felt suffocated for a period in the meaninglessness of architectural practice in the context of the pandemic. I could not bring myself to work on the architecture projects with the team via zoom, Whats-app, and email, as though all was okay with the world and it was business as usual.
So I signed off for a week and spent that time on tending the terrace garden, mixing vermi-compost, documenting fungal and pest infestations (the tomato plants were suffering from blossom-end rot and needed crushed egg shells in the soil to recoup from the calcium loss) and then planning the summer planting with the gardener. My seven-year-old is a budding horticulturist and loves picking fallen flowers, buds, and seeds. He makes basic shapes with them (see the Laburnum rectangle he made). After 8 days of gardening and education by my son, I rediscovered joy in architectural detailing and a newfound rigour to get back to drawings.
External deadlines work wonders for getting stuff done. Even for self-initiated projects, I try to go and find an external force which can whip me from time to time – there is nothing as motivational as a powerful kick in the backside, a maxim that every creative will vouch for (I am sure)!
I have gone ahead and found co-writers for the two books I am writing (and an editor of a publishing house as well), who are ensuring that grass cannot grow under my feet. Similarly, for the art projects, I always seek out an art gallery or a curator, who defines a deadline for me to finish my project.
Creative people have highly networked brains which is a blessing but also a trap, making it possible to go on endless tangential thoughts and lateral explorations of ideas! The external whip brings discipline and structure, even when we are thinking out-of-the-box.
These are my random thoughts on rediscovering love and meaning in everyday work when the creative juices seem dried out or bottle-necked.
Ankon Mitra is an architect and artist of international repute. Recipient of the All-India Gold Medal for Sculpture in 2018 from the Prafulla Dahanukar Foundation and the Lexus Design Award for Craft Design in 2020, his work has been exhibited in India, Italy, France, UK, USA, Japan and China, and his art forms a part of prestigious collections worldwide.
Photography credits: Ankon Mitra
Text credits: Ankon Mitra