This too — shall pass.
2019.06.25Aileen Lee

This too — shall pass.

A story about our embroidered Intuit Tee collaboration with Vancouver-based ceramic artist Janaki Larsen.

"Well, this was my first thought," Janaki paused as she lifted her pencil, "so this is what I will go with." 

She scribbled the words "this too shall pass" onto a scrap piece of paper. Moments earlier, I have asked her to write a message for our embroidered t-shirt collaboration. I examined the four words she wrote down, taking in their meaning. The message was positive and comforting, but was unexpectedly straightforward and commonplace. The words seemed plain at first glance, especially when Janaki was anything but “commonplace”.

I looked around at Janaki’s studio, remembering the first time we met. It was roughly two years ago when I first set foot into this space, astounded by its unique aesthetic. The walls were heavily textured, beautifully marked with cracks and peeling paint. The floor was a painted white, but covered from corner to corner with scratches — a proof of Janaki’s hard work in the studio. Her shelves were filled with broken ceramic pieces and vases that held all types of dried-up florals. One old chair perched on the corner, with half of its upholstery missing. Despite its age and damage, it looked regal and resided over the room like a vintage throne.

The furnishing look aged and worn, yet it gave Janaki’s space a sense of timeless beauty. A thin layer of white clay dust blanketed the room, which made its occupants glow as the sun spilled in through the windows. There was no better way to describe it — Janaki’s studio was overflowing with character.

From where did Janaki get her creativity? I wondered.

“I look at things all the time,” Janaki said, as if she read my mind. She was pointing at the message she had scribbled. “If you just watch, a lot of things happen when you think nothing is going on.”

She went on to explain why she chose to write the phrase.

“I have a tendency to think, maybe over think things. I often forget that they are only thoughts and I will feel differently sometimes in a mere second. So when I am stressed out and tangled up in  my mind, this is a gentle reminder that it is merely a fleeting moment. In a broader sense, it's also a reminder of the impermanence of everything.”

One of Janaki’s strength is her knack in finding beauty and interest in the unnoticed.

I picked up a pale green plate from one of her shelves, and asked about her design process.

“I like to conduct ‘mini experiments’ to watch nature evolve. This green plate, for instance, is inspired by my moldy bread experiments,” she explained as she left the room, and re-emerged with a mysterious plastic bag in her hand. “I decided to leave bread alone for a few weeks, just to see what happens. The resulting mold created such beautiful texture that I had to incorporate its colours and character into my own projects.”

She gingerly took a piece of moldy bread and placed it onto the green plate. Bread and plate immediately clicked. It was a moment where a painting meets its muse. 

“I also have an ongoing sprouting potato project. And you see that flower over there?” Janaki directed my gaze to the only fresh bloom in the room. “Most would consider its current state the most beautiful, but I am more interested to know what it will look like in two weeks.”

“I am always curious to see what’s next, what’s beyond.”

I felt as if I understood her work a little more. Janaki’s social media profile always exuded authenticity. Her posts never felt tailored to what is popular or trending. With her ceramic pieces, there is a softness and a looseness, but still well contained. There was nothing sloppy or messy. Everything was centred and considered.

“What is it about decaying, moldy objects that interest you?” I asked, decided to dig deeper.

“Most of the stuff I collect are dead,” Janaki answered with a chuckle. “I love texture — and had felt this way when I was a kid, way before I attended art school.”

“As a child, my family lived in a house that bordered a forest and I had a drying rack in my room that was filled with my nature collection. It consisted of oddities such as bones, shells, tree bark and seaweed. Objects intrigue most me when their life is spent. Their “death” is a reflection that “they have done it”. That, to me, was a sign of triumph.”

Janaki nodded. “With your work, I can see that you do love people, and you integrate your experiences with people into your designs.”

“Vestige is thoughtful. You are not a designer who simply seek to make money — but someone who enjoys the entire creative process. This is reflected in the considered, meaningful products you make.”

Our conversation continued on well into the afternoon, as we discussed our businesses, our visions and our art. Creative work often comes with its fair share of challenges. Janaki and myself are both one-woman-bands, meaning we have to wear multiple hats, solve problems independently and take very little days off. Despite difficult days, we are always grateful for the opportunity to pursue our passion.

Our meeting ended with some final words of encouragement from Janaki. “Everything is constantly transforming and changing. So try not to get attached to only one moment — because it too shall pass!”

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