Karthik Vaidyanathan, who gives Channapatna craft quirky new applications, says his lack of a design background helped rather than hindered his work
If you’ve been struck by the bursts of colour at Channapatna en route to Mysore, here’s your chance to bring some of that into your home. Varnam, an organization that brings the typical Channapatna lacquer and wood aesthetic to home accessories and lighting, will have a show opening today.
Karthik Vaidyanathan, the founder, stumbled on the Channapatna craft accidentally, on a road trip to Mysore a year and a half ago. At the same time, he had been volunteering with The Ants, the NGO and handicraft store in Indiranagar. enthused by their work with craftspeople, he decided to set up a similar channel for Channapatna craft, one that would highlight utilitarian possibilities.
So he began to visit Channapatna, with printouts of possible designs – starting with one for a lamp. It took three months for Karthik to be taken seriously by the local craftspeople; artisans didn't think one individual could have any business for them worth sustaining, he recalled at an interview. He then started placing orders just so they could see he was serious, and things eventually took off. Part of the hesitation from local artisans was because Karthik was looking for the traditional lacquer coating. “Many people feel that lacquer is expensive,” he said. He finally found a cluster of artisans who worked only in the traditional style.
Curiously, Karthik thinks the lack of his design background aided him, in making his interpretations straightforward. He starts with simple sketches – these have now moved to a stylish app on his iPad – and goes to Channapatna to make the prototype, after which it is produced in quantities. “I work with my eye, sitting next to them. And the artisan makes suggestions as well. It's a live process, a dialogue.”
A full-time IT job has now been rearranged into a part-time arrangement; Karthik spends three days a week travelling to Channapatna. Because of this divided time, there are no plans for a retail outlet yet. “There's no pressure to compromise on what I want to do,” he says of the arrangement. Meanwhile, he has retailed to a few stores, such as The Ants and Purple Turtle, as well as an online shop at the Indian handicrafts website Shopo.
Karthik is careful to distance himself from any perceived ‘saviour complex’. “I don’t think the artisans need saving – I think they’re doing us a favour,” he says, refusing to ascribe any higher moral ground. At the same time, he recognises that infrastructural support is needed: for instance, he has seen that there are frequent power cuts, and not enough rebates from the government. And the price of lacquer has increased. “The craft needs protection, but the people don't need ‘saving’ as such.”
The venture started from nostalgia, and it’s perhaps apt enough that shoppers will pick Varnam's brightly-coloured salt-and-pepper shakers or hangers out of a similar sense of fondness for the not-oft-seen style. “It started with memories of growing up, for me, such as the pickle jars at home.”
The Channapatna Swirl: Reimagining The Channapatna Craft, an exhibition-cum-sale, opens today at 6.30p.m. at 1Shanthi Road studio, Shantinagar. It will be on till October 21 from 11a.m. to 8 p.m. Call 9980735911 for details.