El Garbo --- Where Art defies Convention
“I’ve never been to a gallery,” Monish Bali throws a bouncer at me. Thankfully, he adds an afterthought, “But obviously I’m well versed with the big guys. I delve into the art that appeals to my eye. I do not need lengthy explanations or verbose pamphlets to familiarise myself with something beautiful.” That takes care of the flummoxed look on my face. The emphatic explanation eases the cranked-up brows as we settle down with a masala chai at El Garbo to discuss Monish’s penchant for good design and what propelled him to create a space in the heart of Delhi that shuns all set rules and formats in the realm of art and design.
Monish invited surprise from connoisseurs in the capital when last month he opened the gates of El Garbo in Jangpura. Though he still hasn’t decided the category the space falls into, the city’s crème is witnessing a highly instinctive side of Monish, the MD of Mount Shivalik Breweries Ltd, that was undercover till now. It’s true that his home is a veritable trunk of fabulous art collected over the years via his travels but this baby is aesthetically distinct and different. Superlative, too. It showcases the man’s yen for luxury, flamboyance and the larger-than-life. “I’ve had ancestors from whom I’ve imbibed this love for the timeless and vintage. My maternal grandfather, N N Mohan, pioneered the beer and liquor industry in India and from a young age we were familiarised with art and artefacts. I knew I had it in me but could never pursue the passion as duties towards the family business beckoned,” explains Monish.
About 60 handcrafted exhibits at El Garbo (the Spanish for panache and poise) push the boundaries of art and design with an innovative flourish. Inspired by his penchant for classy collectibles, architecture and history, the creations at the space, fashioned as a countryside side home with winding wooden staircases and graffitied walls, marry functionality and design in a glorious way. Think a recreated battery-operated Rolls Royce 1904 to jazz up an open-air soiree, a stone dust and resin component sculpture levitating precariously at an angle, a perfect Jaguar XK120 replica converted into a plush cushion, a pool table that alters itself into a dinner table, a biplane crafted as a glass hanger for a quirky bar and a halved World War II Harley Davidson painted and mounted on a wall. The list doesn’t end here. And just so you know, Sachin Tendulkar has already chosen the biplane glass hanger for the bar in his Lonavala farmhouse. “I never expected this kind of a response. I thought since I am not exactly doing art in a conventional way, experts will rip me apart. But, the orders are just pouring in. But I am not selling from here. We will be recreating each piece but in limited numbers. El Garbo is not a conveyor belt,” beams the visionary.
Christened with unique names, each piece has been made inhouse and the precision is noteworthy. It shows that Monish has nurtured an eye for details. The execution is minute and impeccable, with every nerve, spoke and grain in place. “I pored over each creation with the artists when the pieces were being crafted---like a helicopter parent. Because, they were giving wings to my artistic visions. I never wanted to be an art gallerist hence, I purposely steered clear of paintings, till when my relative introduced me to the works of artists such as Swapan Roy, Swapan Maity, Gautam Dey and Biswajit Goswami. I loved what I saw and commissioned them to create big canvases for me. I would like to especially mention Gautam Dey. His brush strokes in water colours are phenomenal.”
Similarly, there are the rugs that artists have hand-knotted for El Garbo using paintings and photographs as inspirations. For instance, the space has a stunning rug recreated from a Rex Ray graphic art. “Once I walked into an artist’s studio when he was crafting a rug that just had a tiger’s face as a design. He painstakingly used 28 colours to enliven a simple design which on hindsight, was a very difficult job. I knew I had to get it here,” elaborates Monish, exhibiting the keenness with which he chooses the works. Skull is another magnificent creation that Monish has already booked for his own nest. Four and half lakhs of stainless steel beads are stuck on a giant skull head sculpture giving the installation a surreal spin. “The artist who made this often used to tell me that he saw beads in his sleep,” Monish chortles.
El Garbo products are already finding cosy corners in the luxury arena. Quirky tables made from motorbike parts have found their way into JW Marriott Aerocity. A set of marble chairs titled Adam & Eve are being readied for another client. “These are heavy pieces that take months to make. These chairs are 500 kilos each. Transportation and infrastructural issues have to be taken care of as well. But then I’m loving the attention these works are getting. Which means I am not throwing a stone in the wild. I want people to appreciate my take on luxury and design and understand the value of living with them,” rounds off the man who just gave the city a swank address that might not fit into any set category but is making all the right noise.