Vikram Goyal: 15 years of drama

Known for his decadent designs, the designer on his Bikaner House exhibition, why brass is his material of choice and how made-in-India needs every advantage it can get

Updated - February 02, 2019 12:29 pm IST

Published - February 01, 2019 03:42 pm IST

I am five minutes late, confident that no one in Delhi’s unsunny weather emerges before noon, but Vikram Goyal is standing outside, waiting for me, despite having had a late night of entertaining guests. “I’ve been a banker,” he says, later in the conversation, which means relationships and businesses must hinge on mutual respect.

He’s dressed in black, a colour Delhi-ites love because Paris does too, but it’s obvious Goyal is his own person — he wears a black sleeveless Nehru jacket. “I’m a Virgo, fastidious about details, so my focus on quality and design,” he says. His design house, Viya, does bespoke products and interiors for hotels, homes, and some business houses — on the bedrock of using natural materials in traditional craft forms, though the end result may not look ‘Indian’ or ethnic. More and more though, he’s getting out of interiors, focussing on product design, which is his forte and because “there are a few talented interior designers we’d like to collaborate with: Vinita Chaitanya from Bengaluru, Vikram Phadke from Chennai, Adil Ahmed from Delhi.”

Most of what he’s displaying at his 15-year celebration in Delhi are larger-than-life sculptural pieces, the best of his work from over the years. It’s ironic that he’s hosting it at Bikaner House. “The irony isn’t lost on me,” he tells me. “We’re sitting in a beautiful building which is created by the British, celebrating the best of Indian craftsmanship.”

There’s more irony: Goyal worked in Morgan Stanley in New York, as an economist, after graduating in development economics from Princeton University. He came back to India because “I wanted to do something on my own, to work with something indigenous”. So he and three others co-founded Kama, the luxury Ayurveda brand. The thread between Viya — co-founded with his sister, Divya (who handles HR and operations) — and Kama is that they’re both brands “working with an Indian language using international design and quality, to promote an Indian idea internationally”.

View from above

He leads me to the first piece, his newest work, a screen or room divider called Shangri-La. Hand-crafted, as all his pieces are, out of brass and malachite, it’s an interpretation of how urbanisation and a growing city would look from outer space — mostly buildings and some flora and fauna. “What we’re looking at is architectural, abstract,” he says. It could become a light source, a table base or a sculpture.

“We started with India Modern inspired by Mughal domes, the lotus, fish scale. It’s there that we first made the finials. Then we moved to Art Deco and Brutalist to nature, from structured to unstructured. And then into free-flowing, sculptural, with no frame,” he says, as he leads me to Midnight Sun, another large sculpture that’s an interpretation of what the sun may look like from another planet — abstract, celestial, with abalone, malachite and lapis lazuli. Somewhere in between he did Repoussage (a metalworking technique). Interiors were started in 2013 when a friend from Chennai loved his home in Delhi, and asked him to do hers.

Experiments in brass

His 40-product exhibition shows made-in-India artisanal that meet at the intersection of utility, installation and skill. His wall scones, for instance, are art that have lights ensconced in them (he dislikes direct light), while the Art Deco bench commissioned by Christian Louboutin had the legs of their original design tweaked, to look like heels, about 10 years ago.

Brass, he says, meant they could revive the local, traditional material, and work with the artisans. Plus, it’s versatile: malleable, ductile, and can be forged, hammered, inlaid, its colour transformed from bright to burnished. “People were already doing semi-precious stones in wood or stone, like the Taj Mahal; we started inlaying them in metal.” Influences, he says, come from all over, mostly from travel, seeing other people’s work, local materials, and even age.

His artisans work with sheet metal, and few pieces are cast, unless there’s a purpose — like a frameless table. In the West, he says sculptors have machines, so it’s possible to cast metal in large pieces, but in India we don’t have such capacity. “We treat sheet metal almost like wood or fabric. So each little bit is cut by hand, crafted, treated, welded. Each part takes a couple of days. It’s a much more laborious technique.” The craftspeople, about 70 to 80 of them from around Delhi, had basic skills, which he honed.

Finding his balance

Different things work for different markets, and sometimes, it’s unpredictable. For instance, Kelly Hoppen, the British interior designer, picked up the finials for a restaurant in Mauritius. About half the business comes from abroad, but everything can be customised. The attempt, he says, is to have an international aesthetic, with pieces that can work across time. “I only ask my client how do you want to live and what do you do in life.”

It’s not all about the art, though. “There’s a balance between what is commercial versus what is fantasy. It’s like couture. So if someone says, ‘This is not what a divider should look like, I’d say this is what a divider could look like.’ But we do have workers to pay, so we’ve got to make sure some things sell.”

The challenge is that “there are very few discerning people who want to celebrate made in India. Everyone wants foreign labels. It’s ridiculous — we’re so colonised that we’ve gone to the other extreme. It’s taken a lot for us to get people to appreciate it, and to say this is what Indians can do”. His style is large, far from minimalistic (he doesn’t believe too many can it pull off), detailed, has movement, and sometimes makes you smile.

Till February 14, at Bikaner House. Details:

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