SN Spotlight: Untold stories, inspiring journeys & unfiltered insights of your favorite creators!
Today, we take you into a realm of exemplary artistry. A self-taught artist, master of multidisciplinary creativity, ultimate sneakerhead and lover of metal music – Meet Santanu Hazarika. Hailing from the mesmerising landscapes of Guwahati, Assam, Santanu is a luminary in the contemporary Indian art scene.
An engineering dropout, Santanu Hazarika is a doodle artist and an illustrator with a dark yet distinct art style. Crowned as the very first Red Bull World Doodle Art Champion in 2014, Hazarika bagged a contract with Red Bull International and is now the Global Ambassador for India. He has ventured across the globe, curating and displaying his art, from Mumbai’s bustling streets to the remote corners of Siberia.
He has since collaborated with a marquee list of brands such as Adidas, Reebok, Budweiser, Amazon Prime, Dust of Gods, Converse, Levi’s, Volvo, Porsche, Harper’s to name a few. Santanu has also worked with hip-hop artists like Raftaar and Divine to build visual identities through their album art. He featured alongside Indian celebrities in the 2023 FIFA anthem by rapper Lil Baby.
The Social Nation team spoke to Santanu Hazarika to uncover his surreal artistry, the journey so far and what lies ahead. Read on to know more:
What does creating art mean to you?
Art for me is a language. I like to have fun with it. It is a universal language through which I can express a lot of subliminal messages. Art is a very subjective way of summarising a lot of experiences. It’s a very tangible entity and for me, it’s something very organic, natural and something that always gets me out of bed.
Can you tell us more about ‘Visual Art’? What is it exactly?
Everything that stimulates your vision, everything that you see and everything that has to do with your visual senses, is ‘visual arts’. It can be as basic as graphic designing where you’re designing adwords, products, and packages, or it can be as big as giant murals or wall art or sculptures.
How did art come into your life?
Through comic books. Where I’m from, a small city in Guwahati, Assam, there is not much dialogue around art and design. Art was only considered to be a hobby. My introduction to art was through comic books. I was really fascinated by and fell in love with the comic book covers. There are so many colours, so many characters, and so much movement going around which was really stimulating for me as a kid. So, I started collecting comic books from those hand-me-down stores. That actually pushed me to recreate and copy those covers and characters. That habit of drawing just stuck on and that’s how I got into making art.
We’d really love to know what is your creative process like.
To be honest, I don’t have a set process. I’ll give you 2 scenarios. I have my studio where I go and work. So I have the whole day to fool around with paint and whatnot. Some days I’ll not draw anything and I’ll just sit there and think about drawing something but I don’t end up making a single line.
And there are instances where I’ll get up and straight up start painting and drawing. Sometimes there will be an event where I have to make a live painting in front of hundreds of people. So because I don’t have a particular process I am able to adapt to the environment. It gives me control over what I am doing.
Describe your art in 3 words.
It’s very fluidic, very intricate – detailed, and it is very visceral.
Was your art always this dark or was it different before?
Most of the comics I collected were violent or sexual. So my art ended up being an extension of that. Later on, I moved on to Mangas and a lot of Japanese artists that I follow create a lot of explicit artworks. So, I had this inclination towards things that are provocative. Then I managed to come up with a different visual language where it’s not very evident that it’s provocative but what you take back is a slight bit of provocation. I fused a bunch of ideas from here and there and packaged it into a whole different style of art form.
You have created some stunning album art for various established musicians. Which project has been your personal favourite?
I’d say I really had fun working on Ritviz’s album artworks because that was a whole series of artworks that I did. Starting from his first album, “Ved” – that was one of the most iconic album artworks and people really associate him or me with those artworks even now. That would be one of my most favourite projects because through that I met a lot of beautiful people.
I was on tour with him and on stage in Guwahati once where my artworks were blown out in big sizes as giant walls. They were also assembled in different cities so it was a very humbling feeling, I was very happy.
Shruti Hassan and you are such a powerfully beautiful couple together. What is it like dating an artist? Do y’all discuss or critique each other’s creative work?
The thing is that we’re both artists so we’re both very sensitive when it comes to our work. With her being a musician and me being a visual artist, I have also worked with a lot of musicians and have my own taste in music and she also knows a lot of visual arts. So, we have a lot of common grounds there. We do critique each other’s work but we do it in a very respectable way.
What we practice is a very respectable approach on how you put forward your words when you’re critiquing their piece of work. We’re always in close proximity so whenever we create something new, my partner is the first one to see it or I’m the first one to hear it. That way it’s a good critique, it’s like a sounding board for us where we understand what’s wrong and what might be better. It’s always good to have someone who understands what you’re doing and critiques you while knowing who you are personally. That makes a lot of difference.
How did your art meet Instagram?
Back then, Instagram was all about food, places and location-based things. I was posting about the different places I would travel to. Towards 2015-16 I made my first art account because everyone was forcing me saying ‘ you have to have an Instagram page for your art. You have to be professional about it.’
I had just won the Red Bull World Doodle Art Championship and when I came back they told me that I need to have a page otherwise ‘where will people see your work.’ So I was forced into making an art account. Since then I’ve been at it. I don’t have millions of followers and I don’t wish to also, whatever I have is very organic – people who genuinely love my work. I just post whatever I like.
Everyone faces setbacks in life. Can you take us through your journey and how did art heal you or help you deal with the challenges you faced?
It’s been a difficult journey for me. My background is in Engineering. This is an age-old story of an Engineer dropout following their passion, haha. When I started off, I had no idea that art could be a profession or a career because nobody told me. There was no idea of art, how big it could be, or if you could really pay your bills through it. I was good at studies, I’ve always been a smart kid. I wanted to study science but I confused it with engineering and was miserable at it.
After that, I was diagnosed with Depression so I was put on medication for a long time during my college days which really stunted my art. When you’re on medication, it numbs you out. You don’t feel a lot of things and so you can’t create or make art. That was a turbulent time in my life when mental health was a big issue and back then there was not much awareness. Failing at engineering and wanting to be an artist was like a domino effect for me.
Were your parents supportive of your decision to take up art?
Initially, they weren’t. Naturally, because they didn’t have much idea about art, so I can’t blame them. Eventually, they turned around when I won the Red Bull World Doodle Art Championship, things started moving and I got the recognition. Then, they became very supportive of me.
North-east India’s visual arts community is quite under-documented. As an artist who has reached global fame hailing from Guwahati, how can you better promote these underrated artists?
I won something, I got a platform and the opportunity, not many get that. It’s always a one-in-a-million situation. Because of that reason, a lot of kids from smaller towns lose hope. They don’t have an example to show their parents that this guy did it so I can also make it. I didn’t have one either and that was a huge issue because that’s how parents will understand, right?
The biggest part of my career and the reason why I do these interviews is to give that hope to those kids and to have someone they can speak about to their parents. And whenever that question arises like ‘Why do you want to do art?’ or ‘Who’s there from your community?’ I want to be that example for them. That’s why I don’t shut up about it!
We love your fashion and styling! Can you tell us about your love for it?
I like to curate my look. Of all the artists I have observed or am inspired by, I’ve always seen that they also appear a certain way. They also like to curate themselves like the artworks that they create. Similarly, my whole approach to myself is that I should be a walking example of the work that I do. Even my tattoos are based on things I’ve been inspired by and liked growing up like – Anime, Metal music and stuff.
I like fashion and what it means, the whole design aspect of it. I feel like fashion is very impactful and a unique artform in itself. I want to get into that. I’ve designed for brands – one of the first companies that I started in college was an apparel brand called Dilate Inc. So, naturally I have an inclination towards it. I always like to wear something that is unique and different. I like collecting things most of my clothes are not ones which you can buy, they are rare pieces that you would have to collect from somewhere. There are always stories and references associated with each piece of cloth that I wear.
You have showcased your art across mediums and collaborated with the who’s who of the industry even internationally. What’s next for Santanu? Any exciting upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I just took a new studio place and I’m setting it up hence there’s a lack of art on my page currently. But once that starts, there’s only going to be giant paintings all over and more art-related content. The next few months are very important.
I’m venturing into a commercial side of my art because I’m getting into consumer products. We’ll be launching this whole line of electronics and peripherals with Zebronics, like headphones, gaming mouse, keyboards, mouse pads, sound systems and more – with art on it. We’re going to announce the collaboration soon.
Apart from that, I love sneakers. I’m a big sneakerhead. Growing up, I didn’t have the resources or means to buy expensive sneakers, and now that I’m capable of getting them, I have a problem. I don’t have space to keep them. Me and Shruti get into fights because of my sneakers. I’ve finally designed a pair of sneakers that I’m going to be launching probably early next year. It’s with this homegrown brand called Comet. I’ve come up with a unique design. I’m really excited and looking forward to that. It’s a big thing for me to have my own line of sneakers and hopefully, everyone else also likes that piece.
Santanu Hazarika opened up a whole new world of art for us that we extensively deep dived into and had a blast exploring. Hope you enjoyed it too!