Drawing inspiration from the mundane, the everyday

Toshi Singh draws on the everyday movements, stories and scenery of both her home country, India, and local suburb, Mooroolbark. Pictures: MIKAYLA VAN LOON.

By Mikayla van Loon

Appreciating small, somewhat mundane moments in life for some might seem tedious but for Mooroolbark artist Toshi Singh it’s what brings her the greatest inspiration.

Having been selected by the Yarra Ranges Council Regional Exhibitions Program to hold her first exhibition at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum, ‘The Everyday’ explores what that means across two cultures and countries.

“This is the work I have done in the past three to four years and my inspiration is like it says ‘everyday’, I like to find beauty in uneventful days and the people I meet, the places I travel to, and nature,” she said.

“For a lot of people their art is based on social issues and all of that, mine is not that. I like to find beauty in just the little things in life. Inspiration is everywhere, you just have to find it in the smallest of things.”

Originally from Bangalore in India, Singh moved to Australia to be with her husband just over four years ago and highlights the stories, moments and parts of society in both her home country and local suburban life in Mooroolbark.

“I’m still in the process of understanding what everyday means in this context because this is still very new to me,” she said.

“I just go around my area in Mooroolbark. It’s very diverse, you have people from all ethnicities.

“I collect a lot of references for myself. It’s not like I see someone and I just start painting them. I compose something in my head and then I try to show ‘this is how everyday looks to me’.”

Making the move to Melbourne just prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 around the world, Singh went back to India for what was meant to be a short time.

“I went to India for 20 days and then it was pandemic times and I couldn’t come back for a whole year,” she said.

It was during that time of lockdown that Singh said she completed a number of artworks, observing the streets of India and painting memories of her childhood.

“My art isn’t just the things I see, it’s also some of my childhood moments that I don’t have a photograph of but it’s very close to my heart.”

One in particular depicts her grandmother cooking for a special festival where her family would gather together.

For Singh it’s the smaller details that matter most, like the rattan cart, the clay-based wood stove and the red dot called bindi that married women wear on their forehead.

“These little details are very important for me to show in my work because that’s what evokes nostalgia.”

Singh’s artworks also show the hustle and bustle of markets, as well as the street corner shops that appear everywhere.

“We are all tea drinkers and tea as in Chai. Every corner of the street, every nook and cranny you’ll find a Chai stall and it’s not a fancy cafe sort of place, they’ll just sit on the road side and make fresh tea.

“We have a lot of street dogs. So there’ll be one under the bench or just waiting for a biscuit. So all these little things coming together is very important for me.

“I could have not done the dog at all but I feel like it would have taken away from it because if it’s a street scene you will find dogs there.”

Inspired by India’s love of colour, Singh’s use of watercolour and gouache brings a vibrancy to her artworks, making them burst with cultural and personal stories.

Having always loved to draw and putting her skills into practice becoming an architect, Singh said she never imagined she would have her own art exhibition.

“I always loved to draw even as a child. I used to draw a lot and my parents used to encourage me but nobody encourages you enough to take it up as a career.

“But I ended up doing this anyway. So everything led to this which is very interesting. I never thought that this would happen.”

And despite the ups and downs of the last four years, Singh said they have been incredibly creative.

“2021 when I finally was able to come back to Australia, that was the time when I was pregnant and then 2022 it was just parenthood, we were struggling because we don’t have many family or friends.

“It’s 2023 now so we are still parents and struggling but these four years have been very fulfilling and these have been the most creative years of my life.”

See ‘The Everyday’ upstairs in The Chambers gallery at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum, located 35-37 Castella Street Lilydale until 3 December.

The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday 12pm-4pm.