I met Hisham Bharoocha many years ago during a tie-dying workshop and have been a fan of his as well as his amazing work ever since. Bharoocha is a multidisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, NY and working with music, painting, collage, murals, and audio/visual installations. I'm really grateful for how much time and thought he put into answering questions I had about what influences him and his creative process. Hope you feel as inspired as I do by reading this interview!
1. When did you first fall in love with visual art and music and knew you wanted to pursue these creative fields professionally? How do your paintings and collages affect your music and visa versa?
Hisham: I fell in love with creating at a very young age. All my early memories were of what type of music I loved, painting, and clothing I liked as a kid that my parents got me. There was a pair of red boots I remember loving, and once I grew out of them I remember going to the closet and looking at them, longingly haha. I had a specific watercolor painting I would do over and over of a house with a chimney, a lawn, dirt under that, and the bubbling core of the planet at the bottom. I must have been 5 years old or so when I’d paint those. As a small child I loved The Beatles and Pink Lady, a Japanese idol duo from the 70’s, early 80’s. I still have a cassette my dad made of 50’s hits that I sometimes listen to, which I loved when I was about 4 years old. My first concert was a Japanese Kodo drumming performance, and I immediately wanted to be surrounded by the vibrations I felt from the massive drums they were playing.
My mother is a visual artist as well, more on the craft leaning side, so I was always surrounded by art supplies. I loved drawing and painting as a child, and making the covers for book reports was my favorite thing to do in elementary school. I remember the teachers would think I traced the drawings and I felt so offended by that.
I don’t think I ever doubted that I would work in creative fields to make a living. I never thought of another option for a job. I’m lucky that my mother was very supportive of me trying to make a living creatively.
I feel that my music, or the music that is playing in my mind at any given point, often influences what I create visually. Sometimes I do start creating something visual, then I hear sounds or rhythms coming from it. All my work has rhythmic elements embedded in it. When the eye darts around the surface of a piece of work, there is a rhythm to that eye movement. There is space and time between when one focuses on any type of artwork, and when the eye moves again to focus on another area. Music and visual work all have positive and negative space between elements within the constraints of a composition. Without that relationship between those types of spaces one cannot comprehend the work. There would be no vibration created without positive and negative space. There is a certain speed, a natural inner BPM that each viewer has, and I find that both observers and creators have rhythms that live within their bodies and minds which drive them to be attracted to certain types of artworks or music. Music doesn’t necessarily need to be audible for one to be musical. If one hears music inside their minds but cannot express that outwardly, does that mean that person is not musical? I recently met a deaf musician in Montreal who would go up to speakers at shows to feel music at high volumes. I found that so incredible, and that they made music based on that physical sensation felt through other parts of their body. These are some things I think about when I’m in either my music rehearsal space or at my art studio.
2. You are intrigued by behavioral patterns based on how a person is raised culturally. How has your own upbringing influenced your work?
H: Being mixed race is probably the biggest influence on how I think about my work and why I create. As a younger person I felt I was never fully accepted by either side of my cultural background. As a kid in southern California where I lived during elementary school I was seen as an ambiguously brown person surrounded by people who were more clearly labelable in a general sense. People create definitions to better understand how they see the world, so I felt undefined in a way, a constant question mark to everyone trying to define me, to put themselves at ease. In Japan I was seen as “half Japanese”. We are categorized that way there and are culturally never fully accepted as Japanese people by society. I personally did not practice religion growing up so I am not accepted by Muslim people even though I am culturally Muslim on my father’s side. Recently there has been a new term called third culture people, and that has made my existence a bit easier, but that did not exist when I was growing up. I always imagine myself as a person standing on the edge of a piece of paper, balancing. As a kid growing up between many cultures, I became a deep thinker. I wondered why I wasn’t seen as one of “them”. I wanted to feel accepted by those around me. That said, eventually even as a kid I started to accept this position I had within social constructs. I tried to lean in on not fitting in. I wore clothes that I felt were different from everyone else. I got into counter culture at an early age. I had many challenges growing up and moving around as a kid until I was a teenager, but during that time I gained great appreciation for all the different perspectives that come from everyone growing up in different cultural settings. When I am confronted by an idea, person, or artform I don’t understand, I try to look at the environment in which a person or the context in which an object exists to understand it better. Being treated like an outsider gave me a perspective that not everyone has, and I create from that vantage point.
I grew up half of my life in southern California (LA and San Diego) and the other half in Tokyo Japan. As a kid I was a skateboarder, and skate graphics were everything to me, as well as the music I heard in skate videos. That all influenced how bold my work is. Subculture was something I was always excited by, because it was for those who didn’t fit into a mold.
Japanese aesthetics are also heavily embedded into my work. It’s so over encompassing that I’m not sure exactly how to point out details of how it manifests in my work, but I spent my teenage years in Japan, so I feel that my cultural existence is more Japanese than my Indian / Burmese side of my background. That said I have been connecting with the other side of my ethnic background much more, and I am feeling a deeper connection to it, by connecting more with family on that side. I am bringing in elements of those cultures into my work.
I went to Myanmar (Burma) for my honeymoon in 2012. My father grew up in this country, even though he was of Gujarat Indian descent. One of my friends asked me if I felt any connection to the DNA of this culture and I thought about it from that perspective. I saw a lot of busy patterns used in textiles and art work, whether it was musical or visual. Those are both elements that are prevalent in all of my work. The mind is so intertwined with life experiences that we carry with us as we grow older, and I love tapping into my own mind as well as other people’s thought patterns, seeing how they grew up, what backgrounds they have culturally, how they express themselves in the world.
3. In what ways has fatherhood affected how you see yourself and your work?
H: Fatherhood has been a huge gift to me. It took the gaze off of my own existence as one singular being and brought my focus into a family as a unit. I now have to be a caretaker, with my son at the center of my universe. I love this shift. In this segment of my life, this was the biggest new feeling I had, A depth of love I hadn’t experienced yet, a new perspective I was given. I see another mixed race child that I have created, and wonder what his life will be like as the world we live in changes every way. I don’t see a clear change in my actual creative output, but I do have to manage my time better as a parent, so my time in my studio has become much more precious. I need to be more decisive and I think that leads to being more focused. I feel more productive in the studio now as a father.
4. Your work takes many forms and types of media, can you walk us through your creative process?
H: I am a very process oriented artist, but I do have elements that come from moments of silence, like when I am meditating, or exercising. Those ideas show up as visual or sound based ideas at random.
Regarding process oriented work, if it is a visual piece I am starting I may find a few collage elements that inspire me to create a collage. I may see something out in the world, photograph it, then process it on the computer, print it, then paint on it. In terms of sound work, I may hear an idea in my head or a rhythm I like coming from a car stereo, then apply that idea to an instrument, then build some kind of song structure from there.
Sometimes during meditation I will see a vision of some sort. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’m seeing something “spiritual” but more often it’s some kind of pattern, or some kind of melding of memories and experiences creating a moving visual image in my mind. I sometimes try to recreate that image in some form visually.
I feel many ideas come to fruition when your mind has space to become more objective and observant of the elements that you have absorbed as a human living your day to day life.
The flow of what types of work I am doing seems to be led by what people may be asking of me at any given point. If I am asked to do a performance, I will focus on that. If I get asked to make a commissioned work for a publication, I will concentrate on that. If I get asked to create a soundtrack to a film, I will focus on that. My life leads the way in terms of what I work on. I’m always thinking about what I want to, or need to create throughout the day. I do love when I have no requests from the world at large to create. That is the best challenge, to see what must come out of me without a deadline, but 90 percent of the time I have some kind of deadline I am chasing.
5. What projects are you currently working on and feeling excited about?
H: I am working on a few art book releases of my own which is exciting. I have a performance coming up on July 15th at Public Records in Brooklyn with an artist I respect so much called Moore Mother, an incredible poet and musician. I have another solo performance at the Noguchi Museum on July 18th. My band Kill Alters is planning a tour in Europe and the UK for October with another artist I love called Dreamcrusher. I’m also working on new solo electronic music of my own, drums and electronics music, as well as getting back into the visual art studio, trying out new ideas in painting and collage. I’ve also been dabbling in moving image work, which has been challenging yet exciting.
6. Is there a particular artist or designer that has been influential to your work?
H: There are so many but the ones that come to mind just off the top of my head are Eye Yamataka, Dieter Roth, Francis Bacon, Agnes Martin, Robert Erwin, Sol Lewitt, Tadanori Yokoo, Gabriel Orozco, Gerhard Richter, Lee Krasner, Richard Diebenkorn, Rosemarie Trockel, Anni and Joseph Albers, Carmen Herrera, Katharina Grosse, Eiko Hosoe, Cy Twombly, Isamu Noguchi and the list goes on.
7. How would you describe your artistic style? And how about your personal style?
H: I would call my artistic style harmonious maximalism. My personal style might be functional yet fun.
8. Where do you go or what do you do when you’re seeking inspiration?
I go to a lot of music performances and a lot of art exhibitions here in New York. I also love the ocean. Being in the ocean, eyes open with the blurry blue sea surrounding me puts me in my happy place. Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces. I love snorkeling, and that inspires me, the alien world we usually only see the surface of. I love seeing my creative friends push their own work. That inspires me so much.
9. What’s the most recent book you’ve read and felt moved or inspired by?
H: The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley. Fantastic observations and writing.
10. What’s the best advice you’ve received so far and who did it come from?
H: Keep at it, stay true to yourself and things will start happening. From my friend Tomoo Gokita, an incredible painter.
11. What are you seeking more of this year?
H: More exploration, within and out in the world.
Find out more about Hisham's work: