We caught up with Amrit Randhawa AKA Taxi Cab Industries, who is a visual artist based at Islington Mill. Since graduating from Graphic design at Salford he’s done all sorts, from poster design, to painting and printmaking, zines, publications and putting out mixes, Amrit’s practise spans it all. We chatted about making bootlegs, not taking yourself too seriously, the art of not specialising and the power of self-publishing.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Amrit Randhawa, I’m 25 years old (which sounds old, and is !).
I work under the studio moniker Taxi Cab Industries, which is an umbrella name for all the (silly little) things I do. I mostly create contemporary graphic design for lovely clients, but occasionally I’ll do some Contemporary Graphic Design for myself, or a painting, or a T-Shirt, or a train wreck mix (on garageband) which also operates under the name Taxi Cab Industries, and is likely to be seen on a black background on my instagram.
I’ve also acted as associate lecturer at Salford on the BA (Hons) Graphic Design course for the last three years, and have recently been appointed Module Leader for the MA in Visual Communication. This isn’t something I often talk about, usually because I’ll get ten messages later on like “hey man, I’m thinking about getting into teaching, can I have your job?” — but over the past year it has subsumed all of my leisure time so feel like I should mention it more often.
Where does the name Taxi Cab Industries come from?
Good question ! The name was given to me by my parents, or so I’m led to believe. Oh ! You mean Taxi Cab industries? Well — it’s a secret, but it’s a good question so I’ll provide an answer (just not a direct one).
The bands that were formative to my youth, around ten years ago, all had quite *googles “quirky synonyms”* eccentric idiosyncratic unconventional unorthodox unusual off-centre strange bizarre weird peculiar odd freakish outlandish offbeat names. For example, Arctic Monkeys is not a particularly good name for the sort of music they made? Or was it? Vampire Weekend is the antithesis of a name of a band that doesn’t sound like the genre of music they made. There is likely a great deal of freedom In having a name that doesn’t necessarily align with people’s expectations. In many ways as soon as you have an alias you can work under you can just start making work. It’s that simple.
For me, the name arose during an extremely banal module in my second year at University where we had to spend 12 weeks branding ourselves. Classic design school stuff: make a logo, a business card, think of “networking strategies”. This was a seminal moment for me, after seeing most of my classmates using their own name and then adding a suffix like “creative”, “studio”, “design”. I never wanted to be called “Amrit Randhawa Creative Studio+Photography+Illustration+Layout”. I’m being silly of course, but in many ways it would’ve been nice to have just branded myself as Amrit, but my confidence was a little shaken after lots of people at University could not pronounce my five lettered name. At the time it was easier for me to hide behind an alias where I was able to create experimental work, although it wasn’t particularly experimental it felt like it at the time. Most of my clients are correct in calling me Amrit, but recognising that the studio name is Taxi Cab Industries. Occasionally, I’ll get an email like “Hello Taxi”.
What are you aiming to explore within your practice?
A few years ago I used to say my practice attempts to explores the concept “absurdity” but now that I’ve stopped reading Camus and pay taxes I’m not entirely sure of my answer. I jest, of course, I do not earn enough money to pay taxes. I do think I’m interested in the margins of things, and not the thing itself. I’m very much so interested in context. An example of this is finding typefaces that maybe have a tenuous or obscure link from a historical context. There is no one thing I’m looking for, I guess just not the obvious thing. The world has an incredibly skewed semiotic structure, which doesn’t always adhere to the theory we understand about signs and meaning.
I can’t transcribe the things that I explore within my practice, hopefully these are self-evident and perhaps carry some weight. Philip Guston once said (I’m about to absolutely mis-remember this quote) something to the effect of : if I could understand my paintings I’d be a psychoanalysist which means you can’t be a painter. It is entirely up to you (the reader, yes, you !) what the work means. In an idyllic way, I think Derrida has largely informed the sort of work I make — his style of prose and his tangents are explorations of his thoughts — I like to think make visual outcomes in a Derridean way.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Everywhere really ! I think getting inspired is the easy bit, finding the time to manifest the work into an outcome is where I struggle.
Walking, cycling, running errands is usually when ideas start to appear in my head. The main thing is that I’m never inspired at my desk.
I find really good ideas come to me when I’m stuck in a revolving door because the person in the segment in front doesn’t know how it works.
In this respect, I think my inspiration doesn’t come from the thing itself (going to John lewis), but the margin of the thing (getting stuck in the revolving door)
With this said, above all, my main inspiration comes from books.
How important is your home town of Stockport to you in your work?
Good q ! I will preface my answer with a quote from Marx and Engels (via the Experimental Jet Set website)
“If humans are shaped by their environment,
then this environment has to be made human”
‘The Holy Family’ (1844)
I’m not sure if Stockport is hugely important, any environment is inevitably going to shape one’s view of the world. I was born in Stockport and grew up there — although I’ve experienced all sorts of racism there and have often not been made welcomed — it will always be my home. It is nice that the Underbank is lively, and it’s cool that I’m able to make t-shirts that other people can identify themselves in, but my memories of Stockport are overwhelmed with being a (uncomfortable) token person of colour.
On your Instagram you mention commodity fetishism? Can you expand on that some more?
So, commodity fetishism is a term first used by Marx in Das Kapital. It explains our relationship between use value and the exchange value that we assign a thing. It can be a loaded term, but I used it once on a flyer for the “marx and spencer” t-shirt — gave it out to people at Sounds from the other city in 2018.
Baudrillard’s semiotic theory takes commodity fetishism as it’s starting point.
Being self employed and making visual things means I’m often assigning use + exchange value to signs.
There’s painting, mono print, digital pieces and recently digital airbrushing - how do you select the materials or the medium to work in?
I do not select the materials or medium to work in. I try lots of ways until I’ve found the correct thing for a project, which can be time-consuming, and an expensive way to burn through materials, but only through exploration and trial and error will you decide what medium will work for a project.
I don’t start a project thinking “i will do this in X medium”, I’ll try different processes, and work out through trial and error.
It’s very likely that I have an attention deficit disorder — I find it very difficult to focus in one particularly style, it is extremely difficult to be consistent, which is why I’m not. I try not to be precious about the mediums I work in. The example that comes to mind is Picasso — who worked in a plethora of different mediums, and in different styles, constantly trying to push ideas, and re-contextualise images in new ways.
Can you tell us more about the guises and projects you work under?
I guess most things I do are under the name Taxi Cab Industries, for convenience and efficiency (the two pillars of taxi cab industries).
One example of an attempt at efficiency was creating a sort of “online gallery” in 2019 called Good Schools. It was originally going to be a book made up of all the paintings I’ve done from 2017 - 2018, but thought it’d be make a nice website. It was built by my dear pal Rory Clifford, but I’ve neglected painting (in pursuit of paid work) so haven’t really updated the site in a while.
There’s a thing me and Vicky Carr always talk about doing called Migrane which would be an ongoing project where we release a Graphic Design journal, which would be loads of references we think graphic design students would enjoy. We’d both love to do this, but honestly who has the time ??????????? (not us)
You recently worked on Hypertext - online book fair - How was that?
Hypertext was an incredibly fun project to work on.
So, Hypertext was an online version of Bound Art Book Fair, which obviously couldn’t take place irl last year, Bound’s organisers; Lillian (of Chateau International fame), Joe (of Village books fame), and Robert (of Preston is my Paris fame) are literally the best people in the world. They were dedicated to making a good event, and although it took months to create an entire e-commerce site with audio/video integrated for a 48 hour event, the pay off was so sweet. There was loads of good talks over the weekend — I particularly enjoyed the conversation between Sam Hutchinson and Aram Sabbah. Sable Radio provided some incredible mixes throughout the weekend, I was honoured to have been asked to create a bhangra mix to see the weekend off.
It was a privilege to work with Rory, Lillian, Joe and Robert.
What do you think has been the biggest impact of COVid-19 on artists?
This is a very tough question to answer. The longer I think about it, the more I realise that most people I know who are artists don’t make their main source of income from art. I’m not sure if I have an answer for this question.
My gut feeling is to say that in the grand scheme of things most artists haven’t been greatly impacted by Covid-19. To engage in art is to have spare time, some level of security, and (likely a) physical space. Yeah, I don’t have a great answer to this question, I think this question perhaps can’t be answered now, but maybe in 5 or 10 years time.
Which 3 people or orgs do you think MUKA should know about?
As you can hear throughout the interview, Amrit has a continued cynical streak in his being that hits home with his use of contextual references and general knowledge. That alone is what Taxi Cab Industries is to us, a cynical view on a world through an intelligent mind.
View all of Amrit's work here - https://www.instagram.com/taxicabindustries/?hl=en