Ian Malhotra makes prints by hand and intricate drawing using a variety of coding languages. He received an MA in Print from RCA in 2020 and a BA Fine Art Manchester School of Art 2014. He’s been working in the mediums of drawing and printmaking since 16. Ian will be in a group show with his cohort from the RCA at the RCA 2020 Graduate show at Oxo Tower, London in June. He will also be exhibiting in a group show at Galerie Isa, Mumbai in the summer.
'The Solemn Land', 2021
How did you come to work primarily in printmaking?
Since college, I had an art and graphics teacher (the artist Jo Ruth, now based in Yorkshire) who taught the basics of drypoint engraving onto plastic, screen printing, transfer prints etcetera. It was very informal, but suited to my way of working as I was primarily drawing. Printing is a natural extension of drawing. When I went into my foundation and BA, I started doing bits of performance and animation as an extension of drawing and printmaking. In my head the performances would still be printmaking, considering the visual information from computer coding and how this information gets sent. I would do these drawings made up of all Morse code symbols and letters that formulate into images that the codes describe.
Did you learn Morse code for your practice?
I learnt Morse code through repetition. In the detailed line drawings, I started to notice the marks I was making looked like dots and dashes, so I thought to start hiding messages in the drawings: hiding the letters of the word 'mountains' in a drawing of mountains, so that what the picture is made of is the same as the picture. So I thought of it more as printmaking.
'Press Any Button' (detail), 2021
Can you talk more about your performances that incorporate this relaying of coding information into creating artwork?
When I was performing I would stand over in one area of a room and say Morse code letters and have a partner draw the lines and make the drawing. It’s the human performance of a computer sending images. The printmaker is like the machine, and whose work is it, the printer’s image or my image?
Do you know what the final images will look like that come from these performances?
I’d start with an image, I’d have it in front of me, I’ve got a ruler and I'm drawing line by line.
The idea of the performances was that people can come between it, mess it up, like white noise, shout, ask a question - the person at the other end of the room can’t hear the message I’m relaying, so the information and the image will be corrupted, there will be an empty gap on the print. I’m interested in the hierarchy of information, what is and is not accessible, especially in language, touching the sound of these messages conveyed and what gets lost in translation.
Where are these images from?
They’re from video games or films, they’re all CGI. You know how people in the 18th century went out into the fields and sat out in the light waiting for the perfect image? I'm trying to do that but with computer images. I go out on a journey and find this moment and try and capture it, but instead of doing it in the real world, I do it in the CGI world because that’s how most people can see and engage with nature, especially during the last couple years with forced confinement (this is why I returned to doing more of these drawings the last of couple years to be honest).
These images are all from computers, all CGI? Do you search online for landscapes? Where do you find these images?
No, when I was a kid, my parents were quite strict, we were only allowed to watch 20 minutes of TV a day. Then at university, all these guys I was living with were playing GTA, and it blew my mind how realistic it was. These images are from video games.
Can you talk more about your fascination with CGI landscapes and where this interest comes from?
Like the clouds you see - someone turns them into 0s and 1s and sends them to a computer, they go from 0s and 1s into an image again, and it looks so real. So the process of trying to turn the world into a code that turns back into an image - I’m slowing it down, and being a human in it, and showing how the real world becomes a code and becomes an image again. Red Dead Redemption and GTA are my go to games; I buy games that have the open landscape and walk around in the world. I take a picture of the screen and that’s what I draw; which I find interesting as well, when that’s not the point of the game. The point is to do the challenges and rob banks.
How do you consider the imagery you are depicting, being not from nature, but seeming so real in how you present it?
This is how a lot of people are experiencing nature (I know I’m speaking a bit presumptuously from a city dwelling perspective), whether it’s a videogame you are playing or you are looking at a screen watching a David Attenborough documentary. I try to get images of landscapes with water, clouds, trees and mountains as these are the most difficult things for the games to capture.
I’m trying to use these very binary codes to capture these things that are fluid and ephemeral; difficult to capture, in a pointless way because these qualities of nature are not really suited for it. The dots and dashes shouldn’t make something look fluffy like a cloud, or fluid like water, or jagged and receding like a mountain, but then it does when you step back and your eye is tricked - that’s the thing I am interested in.
How long does one work take you to make with how intricate this process is?
It takes me more or less 100 hours to make one larger scale work.
Can you talk more about the process of taking inspiration and practice from coding: something that is considered fast and instant, even though the work going into it takes time. But you are slowing it down significantly further.
All the stuff I do is computer systematic processes and trying to do them by hand in a slow way. I use lots of different codes, trying to mimic different ways of production - like a printer or a scanner. I’ve made prints with little squares like pixels, like a scanner - choosing what is light and what is dark - which is what a scanner decides when it builds a composite image. But I’m doing it by hand. In one work I’m using braille to depict scenes from space.
There’s something silly but also important about being human, spending a long time trying to achieve perfection, knowing you can’t and that a computer can.