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Your Space Or Mine

Gaurab Thakali’s vibrant artworks explore the experience of music, city life, and the natural world

The latest artist to be spotlighted by Your Space Or Mine takes us on a journey through the world of underground jazz clubs, psychedelic dreamscapes, city-living, and mountain ranges.

Gaurab Thakali’s artworks are the product of the rich inner landscape of his imagination, hued with the vibrant colours of Kathmandu, populated and soundtracked by the musicians he’s most deeply inspired by, and informed by his encounters with a series of alluring subcultures. His distinctive work has appeared in prestigious publications such as The New York Times and The New Yorker, and his illustrations have also adorned clothing, skateboards, beer cans, record sleeves, and turntables. Defined by their saturated colours and gradients delineated by bold line work, his work moves between psychedelic landscapes, city life, and snow-topped mountain ranges, incorporating mystical elements with features of the everyday, while nature – at its most abundant and riotous – is ubiquitous.


Words by Emily Dinsdale

Les Colletes, silkscreen print by Gaurab Thakali
Collaboration with Camden Town Brewery X Secret 7 by Gaurab Thakali

The Nepalese-born artist moved to the UK when he was 15, leaving the colourful, frenetic city of Kathmandu for the comparatively subdued and ashen London. While memories of his home country continue to remain a vivid component of his work, Thakali became immersed in London’s countercultural skateboarding community, enthralled with the visual culture surrounding the world of skating. “All my friends who I grew up with who were skateboarding, they were going out and doing graffiti and street art,” he recalls. “So, it definitely had an impact on what I was doing as well, for sure… all the artworks and stuff that I saw, it’s definitely pushed me into a path of drawing and taking up art at college. Skateboarding was very key, I think.”

Yet music remains the most enduring influence. Exposed to jazz via friends at college, Thakali’s exploration through the diverse terrains of hip hop, rock, jazz, funk, soul, and beyond has touched every aspect of his work. Drawing on the inspiration of musicians from a vast swathe of genres and across many different decades adds to the sense of timelessness that pervades his work. While he frequently depicts musicians, he also seeks to try and recreate what music ‘feels’ like. Creating a visual language for the abstract experience of music, Thakali’s recurring interest is in capturing the ‘atmosphere’ of the music he loves.

The path of his career was more obtusely yet profoundly steered by music in 2017, when Thakali met fashion designer Nicholas Daley at a gig and the pair bonded over their shared passion. Since that first encounter, Thakali has contributed to every season Daley has produced, devising artwork to feature on the clothes themselves as well as creating posters and typography for the acclaimed designer. In 2020, Thakali also created the spectacular ‘Return to Slygo’ posters for Daley’s BUILDHOLLYWOOD collaboration.

Artwork for Nicholas Daley’s ‘Return to Slygo’ BUILDHOLLYWOOD collaboration by Gaurab Thakali
Art for Korahn Gayle's pro-board by Gaurab Thakali

Now, as he himself becomes the star of the latest Your Space Or Mine campaign, we talk to Gaurab Thakali about the dual influences of Nepal and the UK, how city life and the natural world inform his work, and how his abiding love of music has shaped and guided his life and career.

Could you begin by introducing your work to someone who hasn’t encountered it before?

I’m an illustrator and artist working on various platforms… print, digital, clothing, and media – quite like a wide range. But a lot of my work currently features in like the music side of things. When I started working as an illustrator, music was my first go-to thing. Like, that’s how I really started working. And from there, I was able to expand it in a way where my work began to fit into different spaces

When you say music was your entryway into art, do you mean in terms of it being an influence? Or in terms of your connections in the music world?

It was mainly more like influence, but then that led to more connections, I suppose. Because I was probably speaking a lot of people’s kind of language, in a way, because I was portraying artists and things I listened to. And just doing that, I was able to go to gigs and meet more musicians from the jazz music scene in London, I guess. And that’s how I started working with a lot more musicians – not just those who are based in London but also international artists as well.

Club Series, open edition print by Gaurab Thakali
Artwork for Hannibal Buress show by Gaurab Thakali

Would you say you were creating a kind of visual language for the music you’re listening to?

Yeah, I think I would always try and kind of imagine what it would have been like, or draw something that I thought, ‘This is what this music feels like.’ Like, making that sort of atmosphere or space… and thinking how people would be sitting, which way would they be like they were playing, and the sensation, for them, of playing the music. I just kind began of recording those sorts of moments.

You mentioned jazz, but what other genres do you feel an affinity with?

I listen to quite a wide range of music. I grew up listening to more hip hop and rock – stuff like that. But then, when I started uni, I was living with a few of my friends who were studying music in Greenwich at Trinity music school. And they were all studying jazz so I was getting more and more into it. And then we used to go to lots of gigs as well. So, yeah, from there, I think I was able to expand more into what I was listening to. And, having listened to lots of hip hop and stuff, there were so many interrelations between where hip hop comes from – like, the old like jazz and, moving on from jazz, to funk and soul and stuff like that.

Which artists or albums are you playing most at the moment?

I’m listening to Donny Hathaway, Lonnie Liston Smith, and Herbie Hancock… quite a wide range so I don’t get too bored by the same things.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

I think probably very bold. I use a lot of colours and I use lots of line work and lots of light and shadow. Maybe, inspired by the bold abstract expressionists or pop art. And comics as well.

Are there any artists from those different movements that you particularly draw on for inspiration?

I used to look at a lot of artwork by David Stone Martin. He used to do lots of vinyl covers. He made over 400 covers and they’re just very beautiful. Also, drawings by Andy Warhol. Before he did the screenprints he was doing these really beautiful ink like drawings. You don’t see them very much, but when you actually find them, you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s quite amazing.’ I started looking at Charles E. Burchfield, the American painter. His work was also very much based on capturing the environment – the sound of nature. He painted in a really beautiful way. You can see it and be like, ‘Oh, that’s what he’s trying to do.’ It is really amazing. And I think, being able to capture a certain kind of atmosphere is very key in my work, I suppose. And I think that’s why I look up to some of those artists quite a bit.

You grew up in Nepal and London. Could you tell us about the dual influence of these different landscapes and cultures and how they combine within your work?

I think I’m probably working towards that at the moment. Moving here aged 15 and then studying here changed things for me. And I never really drew what I remembered in Nepal. But for the past five or six years, I’ve started recording it more, and now I’m trying to go back way more than I did… I think about the mountains over in Nepal, where I grew up, and just trying to, like, see how I fit it all together. I’m still working it out, so we’ll see where it goes. Moving to London was quite a bit of a shock at first. But then I guess, when you’re so young, you adapt so quickly. And it kind of worked out alright for me, to an extent. Yeah, I mean, it was just getting used to it, really.

Can you tell us about life in Nepal?

I grew up in the capital city, Kathmandu. It’s probably, like, ten times more hectic than here in London. I was quite used to it, because that’s all I knew, really. But my parents and my family, they’re from quite a rural place up in the mountains. We always used to go there when we were kids to visit.

Love is everywhere, risograph print by Gaurab Thakali

When you depict urban landscapes there’s often a sense of the natural world encroaching on the built environment. What do these two different kinds of terrain symbolise to you and why do you like to bring them together so much?

I think it’s important to have natural spaces around the city. Growing up in the city my whole life, every time I leave the city is so nice. So, I always find it that it’s important maybe to, like, draw things together and highlight those sort of spaces.

In cities, you obviously have like so many things to you can do…art galleries, cinema, loads of different gigs and stuff like that. But with nature, you feel good instantly if you’re out there. I think it just makes you recharge and take a step back.

My girlfriend’s from Cornwall and every time I go down there it’s always really nice. Just go by the sea and just chill. And then you come back into the city it’s a shock, right?

What would you say are the recurring themes you keep returning to, artistically?

I draw a lot of figures. And also, landscapes… a city, or, like, the environment – forests and mountains and stuff like that. Or interiors of clubs. So those are things that I keep coming back to, I suppose. But it’s always because I think I prefer recording things I’m around or that I’ve seen or been to.

Triptych screenprint on Nepalese handmade paper by Gaurab Thakali

You mentioned your bold use of colour. What part does colour play in your work? And why are you drawn to these kinds of colours, do you think?

I feel like with colours, there’s an element where I think growing up in Nepal, it was like, things were so bright. All the people, what they wear… women in red saris and colourful traditional clothes. Everything seems a bit more saturated with bright colours, and I think that may have influenced me quite a lot, even subconsciously.

Could you tell us a bit about your collaboration with Nicolas Daley?

Nick is someone who I’ve been working with for the last three or four years now. I actually met him at a gig where I was selling some artwork, and I’d designed the poster. It was Church of Sound, and the band was Ruby Rushton, at the Round Chapel in Clapton, I think. It’s really beautiful there with, like, really high ceilings… The band were in the middle and everyone sat around. We just started talking then. Nick had some ideas to work together and, from there, we just started. We’ve been working together ever since, pretty much every collection that he’s done since then. I normally do the typography work for him as well, for each season. And also some artworks that could go on his clothing as well.

Artwork for Nicholas Daley 'Slygo' show by Gaurab Thakali
Artwork for Nicholas Daley 'Stepping Razor' SS21 by Gaurab Thakali

And you’re also an avid skateboarder, is that right?

Yeah, I used to be. I mean, I’ve kind of stopped now. I stopped because I guess I was getting a little bit older and I guess I’m just kind of growing up now, but I still do love it. Every now and then, but not as regularly as I would before.

Do you feel that having been a part of that kind of skateboarding community has fed into your work at all?

Yeah, I think it definitely has fed into what I do. When I first moved here as a kid, skateboarding was one of the first things I took up. It was very helpful for meeting people, I’ve made so many friends. And also, visually, there’s so much around skateboarding, the visual culture is so strong. All my friends who I grew up with who were skateboarding, they were going out and doing graffiti and street art. So, it definitely had an impact on what I was doing as well, for sure… all the artworks and stuff that I saw, it’s definitely pushed me into a path of drawing and taking up art at college. So, yeah, skateboarding was very key, I think.

Book cover for 'You People' by Nikita Lawlani published by McSweeney's by Gaurab Thakali

Your work has actually been featured on skateboards as well as other commercial products such as cans, T-shirts, and posters among many other things. What other kinds of objects would you love to see your work on next?

I really want to make rugs, like proper rugs. I think my work could translate very well onto rugs – the colours, gradients, and tones that I use. I think it’d be quite interesting to try that. And maybe even ceramics as well. My girlfriend, Jessica Tremaine, she’s a ceramicist, so we’re going to try and work on some pieces soon.

How do you feel about your artworks being displayed on the streets of London? How would you like your BUILDHOLLYWOOD billboards to affect people who encounter them?

I always think, when someone sees one of the artworks, maybe they can actually go and listen to the artist I’ve drawn – if it’s a portrait of a musician – so they can go and take something from it, maybe, and explore. And then, say, if someone really likes it, they’ll be like, ‘Okay, why is this so magical?’ And then they can go and experience what I was feeling when I was doing it. That’s something that I think about when I’m making that work, I suppose. And London can be pretty grey around this time of the year. So, it’s always nice to have more colourful things, especially in the city, where there are buildings after buildings.

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