• UO Studio Visits: Manik Raj Nakra

    We're excited to spend the next couple weeks in Austin, TX to celebrate all things music and UO community (click here for a full rundown of the UO Live showcase we're hosting at Space 24 Twenty!) 

    Leading up to the trip, we've teamed up with local artist Manik Raj Nakra to design a limited-edition tote bag with proceeds that benefit one of our favorite spots in the city: the magical Barton Springs. The totes will be exclusively available at our showcases in Austin — so be sure to come by to pick one up!

    Read on to learn more about Manik, an amazing illustrator whose work fuses the ancient with the modern and colorful in an exciting and refreshing way. 
    Photos by Michael A Muller

    Where did you grow up and what got you into art in the beginning?
    I am a combination of the west coast, India, and Texas. As a kid for show & tell once, I had to bring something that started with the letter of my name. I made monsters. I spent maybe weeks drawing and cutting out notebook paper and brought dozens of monsters. Some had long tentacles of pages taped together. The teacher hung them in the classroom and kids complained they were scary. That sounds like a successful art show to me.

    Your art typically with animals and perhaps ancient figures rotating around mystical scenarios with the use of bright colors. Where does the bulk of the inspiration come from for your work?
    Ancient civilizations. The rise and fall of them. How folklore and myth play into their ritualistic practices. I think Pompeii is awesome. Journals from colonialists describing jungle "savages," the Terracotta Army in China, cobras in ancient Egypt, it all gets me excited. Current civilization is not super interesting. It's mostly funny to me. So I try to take some of that ancient imagery and history and modernize it with pop colors and stark compositions to reflect today's paranoia.

    How did your upbringing, surroundings and objects in your youth play a role in weaving their way into your art?
    I spent my elementary school years in India and that is where I started seeing people with 100 heads, half monkeys, blue people drinking blood, and all the rituals and bonfires surrounding Hindu mythology. I was born in America and then moved to India so it was totally wild stuff to me but not my schoolmates. I was fascinated by the freak show side and didn't care about the faith part. I also saw the lingering effects of colonialism in everything from dialect to food which I think seeped into me subconsciously. And now seeps into my art. The pimp hand of the British Empire was still strong there in the late 80s early 90s. I also was allowed to watch rated R movies from a young age so of course I went straight to the hard stuff-horror, violence, etc. I haven't seen many of the kid movies of my age group. I'm sure that has worked its way into some of my tiger attack paintings or severed sultan heads.

    Are scenes depicted in your art purely fictional or are some drawn from real life occurrences? Where does that balance lie?
    I don't like to make art from my life. I'm not going to paint a portrait of my friend or make a short film of some place I went or something. Too much of an introvert for that. There is no balance. 

    What is the most important message you are trying to get across in your art consciously or perhaps subconsciously?
    History repeats itself. Not sure if thats nihilist of me or not.

    Tell us about your typical work day and its routines.
    Work, basketball, eat, studio, sleep, repeat. Pepper in some drunken outings with my homies, dancing, breaking stuff.

    What is the most inspiring thing in your life outside of art?
    Easy question. My parents. They immigrated here in the late 70s from basically rural villages, kept their head down, worked harder than anyone I've met, overcame prejudices, and managed to buy a house and pay for both their kids' college. Forever grateful for their sacrifices.

    Favorite current book, music, film, food?
    Pusha-T is the greatest rapper alive and has been for the last 5 or 6 years. On my bedside is On The Way To Work by Damien Hirst. Bring it on haters. Ive read it a few times. The best film I saw in 2016 was "Embrace of the Serpent" but my favorite film was my Chinese bootleg version of "Popstar." My favorite food is cheese plates from fancy restaurants and corporate fast food chain french fries. Preferably both in the same meal. Très magnifique!

    Secret talent or second career?
    Art is actually my fourth choice career. First choice was NBA player, then backup dancer for Usher, third a Joy Division cover band. Sadly those didn't pan out. I have discovered a secret talent for making my girlfriend roll her eyes at me at my hijinks.

    What’s next for you?
    More hijinks! Bigger better faster harder stronger art. I'm working with Amber Abramson, the curator from Busy Being/New Image Art, on a show for LA and I've got a collaboration working with a hotel I cant announce which one just yet. Maybe I will put out another zine in between episodes of the new season of Fargo. I wish I could say its designing the new pair of Jordans but alas, a boy can dream.

    Learn more about Barton Springs and the work of the Barton Springs Conservatory