Practical Art

Product designer Aashka Shah, of young and emerging design company Artis, takes ordinary materials and turns them into one-of-a-kind furniture and wall installations.

Text: Manasi Tahalani
Photographs: Courtesy Aashka Shah

Product designer Aashka Shah

Product designer Aashka Shah spent her childhood pursuing an array of creative activities, from dancing to glass painting. Today she counts herself among the lucky few who have been able to turn their passion into a profession — that of crafting furniture and wall installations. “Since my teen years, I tried and enjoyed all sorts of extracurricular activities. But finding my calling wasn’t a realization that happened at a single point. I think it was at every step and different phases of life when I’d sit back and think — Hey, I really enjoyed making that or I love what I’m doing right now, why not do more of that?” she says. After studying graphic design at Symbiosis Institute of Design, she took up a course in luxury product design at NIFT where she got the opportunity to explore various materials and eventually found love for metals like brass, copper and paint.

“Graphics taught me a lot but I was never the sort to just sit on the computer and make things. I like doing hands-on work. I remember we had a whole semester of working with materials and I was the happiest then. It’s wonderful to see how the materials change naturally over the years. Especially with ceramic/clay… I love how you can bend and mould it into any desirable shape instantly,” informs Aashka.

The Free the Mind artwork — in the lounge area of KD Hospital in Ahmedabad — highlights the importance of positive mental health and well-being. Blue stands for tranquility, health, healing, confidence and faith; whereas orange stimulates mental activity and stands for joy and happiness.

Soon after her course, Aashka founded her own company, Artis, and decided to focus on two mediums of design which she loved working on: furniture and wall installations. “As a designer, I do not want to restrict myself to just art or just design… I feel both are closely knit and there is a thin line of demarcation. Wall installations allow me to go crazy as it allows me to be more artsy and be less practical. Whereas with furniture, the focus is more about design and functionality,” explains Aashka.

So far Aashka’s line-up of wall installations include Under the Sea, Floral Geometry and The 5 am Mirror — which have been private commissions. But it is the Free the Mind artwork which the designer counts as her favourite. This hand-painted installation in the lounge of KD Hospital in Ahmedabad depicts an artwork showcasing a man in a meditative state, with innumerable butterflies flying from his mind, into the horizon. The idea behind it, Aashka explains, is to highlight the importance of mental health and free the mind of negativity, depressive thoughts and an unhealthy mind-set.

Under the Sea wall installation was inspired after the client’s experience of a dive at the Gili islands in Indonesia. The client requested the scene to include the deep blue ocean, the intricate forms of corals and a school of fish passing by. Ceramic was explored to create the corals and matte copper for the fish.

“The client wanted to lighten the atmosphere by adding some colours. They didn’t want the installation to be out there but more like a subtle reminder about mental health in the background. Painting a 50-foot-high wall is no easy task. I’d be jumping floors to make sure each butterfly placed looks good from different angles. Everything happened smoothly and the entire piece came together really beautifully. I’m proud of my installation team and they pulled out the work very neatly,” says Aashka beaming. As for the furniture she has created so far, most of them were bespoke pieces for her clients. But she is quick to tell me that her brand’s vision has always been to cater both — affordable, as well as luxury furniture. And that she will soon be coming up with two collections which is a reflection of this perspective.

In the course of her journey, the product designer has worked on projects at cafes, salons and commercial spaces. And there’s no doubt that Aashka is driven by her work and passion for art and design. But according to her, she derives the most happiness and satisfaction from seeing her clients appreciate a job well done. “Seeing my designs being executed gives me a thrill and an adrenaline rush. Also, I am a true people person, so I love collaborating with new artists and interacting with clients,” adds the designer.

Talking about her plans for Artis’ future, she says, “The next five-year plan consists of numerous collaborations with like-minded designers and architects across the globe. I want to take ordinary materials and give a new output using old techniques. I love to travel and I take tons of inspiration from my travels. Hence, a new line of travel inspired collection is also in the pipeline next year. I’m also keen on commissioning installations in public spaces,” she signs off.