NEW YORK ISLAND GIRL - MOKSHINI
For fashion illustrator and artist Mokshini, creativity is greater than self-expression. It’s a way of life. And her world, an intersection of art, fashion and joy, is thoroughly enchanting.
Photography Rose Callahan
Describe your work.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Sri Lanka to very creative parents- my dad was a great painter, and my mum was amazing at crafting things out of nothing. As an only child, I spent a lot of my days drawing; it was something that I found solitude and peace in from a very young age. My mum joked that I drew before writing, so it's always been a part of my life. When I was about three, we moved to New Zealand, where I lived till I was 24. My dad passed away when I was nine, so drawing became even more of a tool to express and heal. During my school years, I immersed myself in the arts, doing subjects like graphic design, art design, and painting. I knew I wanted to be in the creative industry but didn't necessarily want to be a painter. It was only in university, after studying fashion, that my mentor encouraged me to pursue illustration for my master's. It felt self-indulgent to paint all day, but in time I realized it could be a viable way of making a living if I wanted it to.
What brought you to New York?
New York has always been an obsession of mine; from the music to the movies, I always knew I wanted to be a part of it. During my college years, I studied a documentary on Andy Warhol and was inspired by his beginnings as a fashion illustrator knocking on the doors of major fashion magazines. I thought to myself… I NEED to be in New York! I wanted to be challenged and was curious to see if I could handle the competitive environment. If I wanted to follow this dream of mine, I had to jump into some deep waters. In New Zealand, after I graduated, I received a visa that allowed me to move to America and work for a year. During this time, I taught at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, teaching fashion drawing alongside one of my favorite artists, Gladys Perint Palmer, who told me, "Everyone knows good from bad, but New York knows good from great." So, of course, I continued to pursue New York, and here I am, still ….11 years later. It's made me grow so much as an artist.
Your work is full of color, wit, and positivity. Do you think your work is an extension of your personality?
Perhaps the two are intrinsically connected? Like anyone, I go through phases …sometimes color and attention scare me, and I like wearing black for months. Other times, I get bogged down in negative thoughts… but in general, I try to make a conscious effort to see things in a light, less 'serious' way (as you can see in my work). I choose to walk into the world and focus on the joyous moments and interactions between people, to embrace the small moments of pleasure. It's challenging drawing happy things when you're sad, so this is a great practice.
At what age did you start live drawing?
I started live drawing in my early 20s. Once I moved to New York, I got into it more as the market for live drawing was much larger than in New Zealand. I enjoyed it because it was energetic and fast-paced. Fashion drawing is about direct, spontaneous line work, and live drawing allowed me to keep this practice alive. That's why I love watercolor for this type of work. I found live drawing beneficial because I got to connect with people and brands and gain confidence drawing under pressure…this meant trusting my instincts more and letting go of the outcome itself. Of course, I also enjoyed seeing the reactions when people received their drawings- making someone feel special is a great feeling.
Can you please draw the photographer who is capturing you?
You have collaborated with your partner, Moses. When and how did you both decide to create Moklé Studio?
Moklé came about very organically. I've only ever dabbled in ceramics, it was more of a hobby, but once my partner saw some of my pieces, I think it inspired him to give it a go. Instantly, the clay had him captivated. It's been inspiring to see his pottery journey and the breakthroughs he's had with throwing.
One time I returned from a trip to Sri Lanka and came home to tonnes of pots sprawled around the apartment. I was mind blown! Naturally, I was excited to paint on them. It was fun for me to work on a three-dimensional surface but also to explore various styles outside of my traditional aesthetic. Over time, we bought a kiln and now have a few pop-ups under our belt. Soon we'll be gearing up for our online store and stocking in various stores.
Moses and I have always wanted to collaborate and start a business together. Moklé made so much sense because we both worked to our strengths and shared a vision for living an artistic life with a sense of freedom to express ourselves. We met in Salsa class, and we've been together for about four years. Who would have thought?
What is the hardest part about being a creative and the artist's life?
One of the hardest things is to be fearless in exploring your emotions and thoughts…even when they go to dark places, something insightful reveals itself and can inform or be expressed in your art. Part of the work is being connected with oneself. I also believe that being your own motivator, critic and cheerleader can be difficult to balance and navigate.
Finally, working for yourself means managing your time and knowing how best you work, your struggles, and boundaries- this requires patience and room for experimentation.
Your dream project ?
I would've once named a list of impressive brands in the fashion and magazine industry I would want to collaborate with. However, more and more, my dream project is a personal one, such as creating a little home for myself and making everything in it, from the doorknobs to the dinnerware and lighting fixtures. I would want to do beautiful murals in the home and have a library full of my favorite art books. Envisioning a home with our art all around it makes me so happy- it would be a dream project.
If you weren't an artist, you would be a ___
A different person! Being an artist is such a big part of my identity now.
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