Last month, Sakshi Gallery, in Mumbai, concluded an exhibition called ‘Cameos in a City’ by up-and-coming artist, Schön Mendes. A student of Rekha Rodwittiya and Surendran Nair’s Collective in Baroda, Mendes’ paintings were sold before the exhibition even began, and had to be borrowed for the gallery. Mendes has liberally taken the characters that inhabit every Indian city: the barber, the vegetable seller, the construction worker. While every individual can be viewed alone, the sum of it makes for breathtaking viewing. Here, he talks to MW about his journey.

The beginning

I’m originally from Goa, and have been living in Baroda for the last eight years. I’ve studied mass communication, and for some time I was in Mumbai, working at a production house. After that I decided to become an artist. The plan was to apply at Faculty of Fine Arts. But, I couldn’t get an admission because of technical reasons. I’d gone to Baroda on the invitation of my sister [Sonatina Mendes] who’s also an artist. Through her, I met Rekha Rodwittiya and Surendran Nair, and they taught me. I received an all-round art education, which includes not just theory and regular discussions on art, but an entire way of life.

Cameos in a city

These works span four years, and I usually take three months for each painting. My preoccupation has always been the city. I explore the city through the people because the kind of energies they have is what directs the energy of the city. For me, a city is never static. What one person does in many ways influences what another person does. All of it comes together to form this huge crescendo of energies. I enjoy bringing in elements from various sources. So, in my works you’ll see figures from art history, popular cinema, from my own memories and experiences. I like to start a conversation between all of them and see where that leads.

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Paintings by Schön Mendes


On memories and style

Things like some of the typical Goan furniture and showpieces are from my memories of Goa. I get my attention to detail from miniature paintings. The borders I use are taken directly from there. A lot of these small details like bed sheets and carpets and tiling have been taken from real life. In a lot of my works, I have a basic structure in mind — the calendar, a scroll coming to life, a maze, a circus, a factory.

On Baroda

Baroda is a very small city, and everyone knows each other. Some of the people in my paintings I actually know. There are all kinds of people in my society. I have neighbours who are carpenters or government employees. I enjoy interacting with them because I like to tell stories within stories. My paintings bring all these stories together to make one big story. You can view each story individually, or you can see the whole.

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