Interview with Khyati Trehan

Khyati Trehan is an independent graphic designer and 3D visual artist from New Delhi, India. Her work is textural, playful, emotive and driven by an ache to make the intangible tangible. Khyati’s career has seen her work across disciplines, drawing inspiration from the context of the work and often exploring the edges of all things visual for the likes of the Oscars, New York Times, New Yorker Magazine, Apple, Adobe, Absolut, Instagram and Snapchat. Khyati was one of Print Magazine’s 15 New Visual Artists under 30 in 2017, was chosen as the Artistry Creator of the Year at Adweek’s Creator Visionary Awards, won the ADC Young Guns 19 and most recently, made it to the Forbes 30under30 India List.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m somewhere between a graphic designer and a 3D visual artist, living in New Delhi, India and working everywhere. My art practice sees textural and emotive work, drawing heavily from the context of the brief and a deep study of the world I'm designing for.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in graphic design?

The National Institute of Design, where I went to study, began with a one year long foundation where we covered the makings of all nooks of design to figure out where we’re leaning and pick a focus area next year. I found myself enjoying the courses that had to do with Graphic Design. It was a no-brainer. But today I’m inspired to continue pursuing and stretching my career because being a designer allows me to live many lives; when I’m helping visualize research topics of an AI lab and shift the way we talk about its impact, I’m surrounded by bioethicist and machine learning experts. When I’m making art for music, my life is all about the musician's story. Design keeps my life interesting. 

How would you describe your creative process?

The seed of an idea is often somewhere in the context of the work, and I wear the hat of a visual detective rummaging through everything there is to learn about the problem to find what it is we want to say, and how we want to say it. At the same time, I find that spontaneity, serendipity and digging into personal experiences can be powerful work tools. My personal work leans on them more, and I enjoy letting my hands have a life of their own.

How much does your city and surroundings affect your creative output?

A well lit room does wonders for me, and there’s no shortage of light in Delhi. I also cannot listen to music when I’m doing work that takes thinking. Car horns and road banter are the score to my everyday life and it almost feels too quiet without them. In addition to the sensory overload that makes Delhi, the metropolitan city is like colors of all of India mixed into one rich messy brown pigment. That very chaos and abundance tends to make its way into my personal work.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like New Delhi?

I have a complex relationship with the city. I have the same love for it that I do for a friend I’ve grown up with but I’m not sure I objectively love it. New Delhi is tightly packed with people and things, which is a facet of the city that rolls over and impacts everything, most often negatively. The wealth disparity is jarring, crime is high, travel is a nightmare, air quality is just downright bad and women’s safety is at an all time low. Sometimes I think about all the experiences in the city that I’m missing out on, that could’ve inspired my life and my work because the night isn’t accessible to women just as well it is to men because of our vulnerability to sexual violence. 

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that evident in New Delhi?

Culture, sure. Art and Design, not so much. It’s the artists, design publications, residencies, private galleries, foundations and lately, brands that align themselves to art that make spaces within the city. This also means that these spaces and events are catered to a certain section of society, gate kept and not always accessible without your name on the guestlist.

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the artist/creative to improve the quality of people's lives in their city?

Creative work should add value to people’s lives, but it’s everybody’s responsibility to improve life in the city by doing their bit.

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

I've built a habit of collecting real world textures wherever I find them. The Texture Tourist, a personal project, was initially just a place to dump all my findings and give the textures in my iPhone photo album another place to live. What began as a way to capture all things tactile for R&D turned into a way of seeing; a way of looking closer; a way of discovering cities and stories through the textures that make them. Turns out there’s a whole subculture of texture collectors scattered all across the world, whipping their phones out and inching closer to the stuff most people walk past. The project evolved to become a crowdsourced catalog of urban textures categorised by where they were found, open to submissions on Instagram (@thetexturetourist).

If you could add or change something about New Delhi, what would that be?

I’d address everything I’ve listed under the question about my struggles with the city and more to cover missing basics and turn Delhi into a place where happy people live.

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why?

I’m a superfan of The Anthropocene Reviewed, a podcast where John Green reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale. I don’t know where or how I’d come in on this imaginary collaboration with John Green, but his word-smithery, humour and insight on any project would be hard to pass.

What do you do to switch off?

I don’t switch off as often as I’m told I should; when I’m not working for people, I make for myself.

What Does Home Mean to You?

Home is a place where I feel most at ease, and most like myself.

Describe the perfect day for you in New Delhi.

I wake up on time and don’t go back to bed, get fresh air (which is asking for a lot in Delhi) at Sundar Nursery, get a buttery croissant and cappuccino at Quick Brown fox, steal a few hours of alone time to do nothing and recharge my social battery, then go watch a play at Stein Auditorial or Black box that makes my tummy hurt from laughing too much, get home just in time to see it rain lightly outside while I snack on pokaras and drink chai, tick a few work to-dos in my Notes App, host a party on our terrace with friends who order mutton biryani for dinner, they clean up before leaving early next morning. A long but perfect day that would be. 

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does New Delhi evoke a personal smell to you?

I become cognisant of smells connected to Delhi only when I’m making a return from elsewhere. I know I’m close to home when I can see and smell the chat (street food) street 3 mins away from my home.

If you weren’t living in New Delhi and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

I’d pick Berlin in a heartbeat, minus the bureaucracy that comes with living in Germany. That city is a stimulant.

Khyati Trehan - mixtape

New Delhi by Khyati Trehan

A selection of places in New Delhi - recommended by graphic designer and visual artist, Khyati Trehan. See Khyati's citylikeyou profile page here

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