Acclaimed businesswoman, artist and philanthropist Michelle Poonawalla showcases her artistic journey and all that goes behind the making of this glam diva.
Michelle Poonawalla needs no introduction. Art shows and socialist and philanthropic causes keep this artist-wife of business czar Yohan Poonawalla in the news. Growing up in UK and India, art has always been an integral part of life for Michelle. With a graduate degree in Interior Design and a Bachelor of Arts from the American College, London, her art practice has developed over time and formalised when she had her first show in 2016 at the Gateway School and has since, continued to exhibit her work in solo and group shows in India and internationally.
Whilst Michelle’s artistic style has varied, experimenting with techniques and technology has remained a constant in her approach. She marries a classic paint-on-canvas style with digital technology, to create dynamic 3-D works that have a contemporary sensibility and reflect modern-day concerns. Besides being an artist, she has also illustrated and published a well-received children’s book The Adventures of Harvey Mouse-Sleepover alongside her daughter Tania in 2017. In a recent interaction with HAIR, Michelle lets us in on her artistic journey and her beauty and glamour statement.
Excerpts from the interview:
Art has been an integral part of your life. Whom do you admire as an artist?
Art has been a part of my upbringing. I have grown up admiring my late grandfather Jehangir Vazifdar who was an illustrious architect and an astonishing artist. His works have been showcased with the likes of great artists like MF Hussain, Ram Kumar and FN Souza. His gift to me was the ruler technique of oil painting that is fake-proof. It is a technique that employs oil paint along with a ruler.
Tell us about your professional journey?
I have had different styles of art – from the 3-dmensional butterfly art with video mapping that brings the work to life, to the ruler technique and other oil works and sculptures. I only began showing my art in 2016 wherein I made a special butterfly artwork for Gateway School in Mumbai that garnered immense praise. Since then, I have had numerous exhibitions across India, with solo shows at Vis A Vis Gallery in Delhi, curated by Swapan Seth and Spazio Gallery at the Trump Towers in Pune. The same year, I took part in the Harvest Exhibition in Delhi which included art from the old masters like M.F Hussain, SH Raza and FN Souza. My work has also been displayed in Italy at the Marco Antonio Patrizio gallery. Thereafter, I showcased an entirely immersive digital installation called Introspection at the Kochi bienalle collateral. Introspection was also shown in Dubai at Alserkal Avenue during Dubai art week in 2019.
You eventually went on to art shows all over India.
It started when a dear friend asked me to make an artwork for the Gateway School and created my signature 3-dimensional butterfly piece. Post the exhibit, I received calls to make similar art works. From there on, I went on to participate in Khushi – India On Canvas in conjunction with Sotheby’s, New Delhi, 2017; India Art Story, Kolkata, 2017; Elephant Parade India, Jaipur, Delhi and Mumbai, 2017 and 2018; What If You Fly, a solo exhibition at Vis A Vis Gallery, New Delhi and Spazio Gallery, Pune, 2018; Moving into the Future – Harvest 2018, a group exhibition at Stainless Gallery, New Delhi, 2018; a project at the Parma Art Fair, Italy with Gallery Marco Antonio Patrizio, 2018; Born Free at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, 2018 and Introspection, a collateral project at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018 for which I turned to sound, to create an immersive installation, followed by the same instillation taken to Dubai.
While your artistic style has varied, experimenting with techniques has remained a constant in your approach.
The ruler technique was my grandfather’s legacy so it will always remain my constant. This special technique is what he shared with me and no one else, so it holds immense emotional value. I wish to teach the same to my children one day and ensure this stays within the family. Experimenting with technology and techniques is something that I really enjoy doing.
Your art creates a contemporary sensibility that reflects modern day concerns.
This first began with my butterflies, and from there it led through to the technological installation in Kochi and Dubai that was very well received. For my Kochi project installation, I wanted a very touching and relevant subject, hence Introspection was born, which is a very relevant topic world over. The violence, terror and bloodshed are universal disturbances to all. I wanted people to stop and ‘introspect’ and think where the future is going. I like my installations to have very strong messages and have many more lined up for the future.
Do you also think ‘Art inspires life’?
It is absolutely true. I think everything in life has an element of art and design if you want to see it. Art is everywhere.
Who do you look upto as your muse?
I think all great artists and creative thinkers are my muses. I like to see, learn and get inspired by them.
How was your experience of illustrating the children’s book The Adventures of Harvey Mouse-Sleepover alongside your daughter?
In 2017, my daughter published the book The Adventures of Harvey Mouse–Sleepover which was then distributed to underprivileged children. I have always told her, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’. Therefore, one day when she came to me with this fascinating story of Harvey Mouse, I did the illustrations for her and it was a moment of pride when the book got published, sold in stores and also received such positive feedback.
What are your other hobbies in life?
My hobbies are landscaping, interior designing and spending time with my children.
You have upped your game by looking beautiful and staying glamorous.
I believe in the mantra ‘Be yourself’. One must be comfortable in one’s own skin to be beautiful from the inside and out. I love fashion and style and I do it for myself. I wear clothes that I enjoy and feel comfortable in. And I have a positive outlook in life. I think all this makes people naturally look beautiful.
What’s your favourite look for social gatherings?
I like to dress apt for the occasion and location. I like to know where I am going and how the crowd will be and dress according to that. I like to follow my own style and make my own choices without blindly following trends. Being confident plays a huge role in how you are perceived by the world.
Do you follow hair and beauty routines or hit the spa for relaxing treatments?
I do not follow specific spa treatments but I like to invest in good quality beauty products, masks and shampoos for my skin and hair.
What are your favourite hair and skin products?
For make-up, I love Bobbi Brown and Charlotte Tilbury. For skincare, the brand I prefer the most is Kiehl’s. And for hair, I like Kerastase and Shu Uemura.
Your best beauty hacks with the readers?
My beauty hacks that help me stay healthy and beautiful are:
- Get enough sleep
- Have good nutrition
- Do yoga
- Have a good mix of relaxation and work
My beauty obsessions
Beauty philosophy: Beauty comes from within so be happy, smile, laugh and you will shine no matter what
Everyday look: T-shirt and jeans
Make-up mantra: Less is more
Day time look: Natural
Night time look: Glamorous
Wonder beauty trick: Always have a pair of high heels handy; they can take you from day to night. Using dry shampoo is also a wonder beauty trick.
Most lovable trend: The bohemian summer trend of free-flowing silhouttes
Go-to hairstyle: Soft tonged hair
Essentials in vanity bag: Concealer, lip-gloss, kohl pencil and perfume