An artist, curator and academic, David Sequeira’s multidisciplinary practice, including painting, textiles and installation, has spanned over three decades, with colour as its driving force. From his home studio in West Melbourne—where he creates across his house—he discusses his all-encompassing approach to art making, as well as his bold exhibition, All the things I should have said that I never said, and its relationship to his Indian background.
David Sequeira: We’ve lived in this house since 2015. My partner is an actor, so our garage is his studio. I have the little front room, but we think about the whole house as a studio.
I like the dog walking in. I like the phone ringing. I like being able to wake up at two in the morning and walk downstairs and start painting. There’s something so convenient about having a home studio. I am interested in the inseparability between art and life—having a home studio is living amongst and with it. You need to actually come downstairs and go, “Oh, no, that doesn’t work. I’m moving that now.” That kind of thinking is not always done in your studio time. There’s the time that you’re dedicated to your practice, but there’s also the time where you’re just wiping down the bench, looking across at something that you’ve made.
It’s important for me to live with other people’s work. Even in that tiny little room downstairs, the wardrobes are full of other people’s art. I’m not just interested in what art looks like—I’m way more interested in the possibility of art.
David Sequeira: I work full-time as an academic, but I work on my own practice every day. It’s a really important part of who I am. I do my best thinking through making. My limit in my studio is three hours at a time. In the same way that I make time to do a nine-to-five job, you’ve got to make time for your practice. Sometimes it is two in the morning, and I’m quite happy to paint from two to five and then go to bed for a couple of hours.
I would say that my medium is colour. There’s an understanding of colour in India that is just not here in Eurocentric Australia. In India, colour is treated like a thing. It’s a relationship to colour that’s energetic, that matters. That’s a very important part of my studio and curatorial practice. I’m thinking about what colour is doing, and what it’s doing to me. I find that a very Indian philosophical approach.
When I’m planning, I’m cutting into colour. When I’m arranging vases on shelves, I don’t even think about them as vases—I think about them as pieces of colour, where every shade is different. There’s a reality about colour that’s deeply personalised. Next year is the 30th anniversary of my first show, and I’ve never moved past that idea of the reality of colour, and all the subtleties that come out of that. Just distinguishing a relationship with colour, and what colour can do. It’s fundamental to my process.
David Sequeira: There are three bodies of work. One is called Untitled India. The kurta is a long, loose shirt that men in India wear. I’m working on a suite of 56 of them, and 20 will be digitally printed with images that collectively form a very personal history of India. One is from 1947—it’s two refugees from partition [when British India was divided into two independent dominions, with 10 million people displaced]. There’s a guy in a hazmat outfit at Covid’s peak in Mumbai. There’s Lord Curzon and his wife—he was the viceroy of India, that photograph is from 1903 and they’ve just shot that tiger. And there’s a soldier with a rifle standing outside the Taj Hotel when there was a terrorist attack [in 2008]. I do a lot of thinking about infinity and colour, and the endless possibilities of combining colours. I wanted to place this history within the context of infinity. I’m interested in an understanding of India that’s complex.
In the studio downstairs, there are little geometric paintings on music manuscript. That’s a project called the Song Series. I’ve done about 400 or 500 now. I really generated some momentum with them during lockdown—they became a very beautiful, meditative part of my day. I think about them as little contemplative energy diagrams. I don’t think about them as being colourful—I think about them as being intensely coloured, but there’s this tiny amount of colour on a much bigger white page. It’s the intensity of that colour combination and the infinite number of combinations. That’s a very exciting space that’s sustained me for many, many years.
History and Infinity includes paintings by other people, plus about 1000 vases. In India, in the palaces and some of the mosques, the walls are decorated with vases.
I remember being really struck by this idea that a piece of decorative art was a witness to whatever went on in that room. I’m interested in blurring high art and low art—a lot of them were originally from places like Kmart. There are a couple that have become iconic pieces of design since, but most of them are op shop finds—mass-produced objects. And yet the process of selection and display transforms them into something much bigger. I think of myself as orchestrating these big, epic symphonies of colour via discarded objects. When I insert other people’s paintings, those two objects wouldn’t necessarily be in the same room, but you can connect cultures, art forms and histories via these decorative objects.
All the things I should have said that I never said
Bunjil Place Gallery
7 May—21 August
This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.