Interview Bishakh Som
You are an artist and illustrator. Can you tell us about your career so far?
I've drawn comics all my life - my parents used to read Tintin comics to me as a child, which is probably what spurred it on in the first place. I was drawing all through school and very much wanted to study art at university but my parents weren't having it. I ended up studying architecture, which satisfied my craving to think and create in a visual medium but after many years in the field, I gave it up as a full-time job in 2011 and devoted myself back to comics, painting and illustration. The past few years have, fortunately, described a positive, upward trajectory for me in this new undertaking - I've had two solo shows of my paintings and I've been involved in a number of group shows too. My comics have appeared in some great anthologies like Ink Brick, The Graphic Canon, vol. 3 and the Winsor McCay tribute book, Little Nemo : Dream Another Dream. I've had the chance to illustrate a book on prefabrication in architecture (The Prefab Bathroom : An Architectural History) and to contribute illustrations to organizations as varied as Kaufman Music Center and the Immigration Defense Project. I'm very excited to have comics coming out in a Queer paranormal romance comics anthology this year and a Queer SF comics anthology next year. I have also put together enough comics material for a 200-page collection of short stories, which, to my great dismay, has not yet been picked up by a publisher. But I am not giving up yet.
Which themes are important in your comics?
Lately I've been thinking a lot about gender, about breaking out of the binary legacy of gender, of exploring the interstices that get overlooked in traditional representations of gendered relationships. Interiors, architecture, cityscapes and landscapes have also always informed my comics, even if it's just a matter of paying attention to the physical contexts which the characters in the comic inhabit. I've also been involved in a couple of poetry comics recently, which is a hybrid territory I'd love to investigate further.
You have worked as an architect. Why did you leave this profession?
I'm still freelancing as an architect at the moment just to be able to feed my cats but I left the full-time architecture world because a) the psychic environments at architecture offices can often devolve into toxicity - something that is perpetrated not just by the principals of the office but also by the clients, who, in the netherworld of high-end residential architecture, are capable of inflicting great emotional damage and b) the practice of architecture requires much more than I was able to invest in it - I know now that I am interested in multiple modes of architectural representation much more than I am in the process of getting buildings built. What seduced me at the outset about architecture, namely the practice and beauty of drawing, of representing space, seems to play only a small part in the quotidian workings of architecture as a business. The rest of the time, you are picking out $400 toilet roll holders. *sad face*
What is your opinion on the art climate in New York?
Unfortunately I'm a bit out of the scene here. I used to be much more involved with comics socially in the 2000s, when I was involved in Hi-horse (an comics anthology I created and edited with three dear friends) and would go to comics events like MoCCA and SPX but lately I've been more of a hermit. For a while I would also go to comics writing/drawing groups but that's also petered out for me - I'm sure it still happens but I'm just not part of it. I've never been part of the fine art world, though I've had shows of my paintings and hope to have more in the future, so cannot speak to that - but if I run into Kiki Smith or Chuck Close, I'll be sure to ask them what they think.
What other artists (any genre) should be more famous?
Kevin Mutch has been doing gorgeous epic-length comics on multiple fronts for a while now - his ongoing magnum opus, 'The Moon Prince', deserves a big fat coffee-table printing. Ellen Lindner's 'The Black Feather Falls' is a lovely detective story set in 1920s England, replete with period details and yummy colors - I want to see more! I also have to big up my dear friend Jai Sen, who writes hauntingly beautiful ghost story comics, and whose latest effort, 'The Dark Colony', will give you chills of the best kind. And finally, my comrade and collaborator Vidhu Aggarwal, whose poems I've had the pleasure of illustrating, and whose poetry collection 'The Trouble with Humpadori' is simultaneously lovely, hilarious, vertigo-inducing, and incredibly squishy. Music-wise, I think punk, now more than ever, deserves a spot on the cultural front lines - namely bands like Bad Breeding, who bring back the spirit of UK82 punk with extra ferocity, and G.L.O.S.S., who lace their venom with calls for transgender justice & revenge.
See also: Interview-Kevin-Mutch