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Can you tell us about your background?

A number of area colleges and universities are known for their rigorous degree programs in studio art. Priya Nadkarni, a graduate school fellow in studio arts and instructor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, expects to earn her master of fine arts degree this May. Her current large-scale oil paintings use “fractured pictorial space” to convey “multiple identities,” a play on the Internet’s ability to enable users to transcend space and time.

A New Jersey native, Nadkarni graduated magna cum laude, in 2008, with a degree in printmaking from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of Arts, in New Brunswick, N.J. She said her work, “through a gender and race conscious lens,” also references the “legacies of images” that have come down through the history of art.

Her family is from India, a country she has visited.

“I did grow up with knowledge of my ancestry,” said Nadkarni, in response to a question about the influence of heritage on her own identity. “We are Konkani, which is a very small ethnic community/language/culture/region in India. However, being born and raised in this country, there is a sense of belonging to both worlds, since culturally and socially I do behave and think differently than my family in India.”

Nadkarni, who is a recipient of a Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant for emerging artists, is having a solo exhibit of her work in the university’s from May 1 through 8. There will be a public for the artist reception on May 3, from 4 to 7 p.m. For more information about her artwork, visit http://priyanadkarni.com/

It looks like you may have decided early on to have an offbeat and unconventional career in art. So, why? Why do you paint? How does it express who you are? How does it express what you perceive?

I knew from childhood that I was interested in art, even more specifically painting. And I really don’t know where I got the idea from because no one in my family, or my sphere of influence, was an artist. But I began to take painting and drawing very seriously when I was in high school. And I believe I wouldn’t be here if it had not been for the encouragement of Umesh Kalbag, my grandfather. He was a journalist and screenplay writer in India. As the patriarch of the family he had a lot of influence, although he lived half a world away.

I had excelled academically in math and sciences, but I was very decided on pursuing art. It was something that was deeper than what I knew to verbalize. I realized at the time it was certainly not the path of least resistance, but it had a draw that couldn’t keep me away.

At this point in my life, art making–painting, is a career and a serious business. I’ve spent most of my life, and certainly my undergraduate and graduate careers, building up to where I am now. So more than being concerned about my work expressing me or even representing me, I think it has to be a statement that somehow impacts larger dialogues of art. The work we do, whether we are artists or not, comes from our experience and the summation of our selves, so inherently it does say something about us.

For me, painting becomes a way of digesting the external world through an internal experience. I think I was always a painter, since it was my first access into art making (learning to paint still lifes of fruits as a child). And yet, in an “art school sense,” I came to painting later, after already having explored avenues of video, performance, and other methods of image making. I was very clear and calculated in this decision to paint.

How has your Master’s helped you?

Having completed her undergraduate degree at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Nadkarni has been inspired, she says, by the benefits presented to an artist at a large state university.

Nadkarni says the sense of community that develops among undergraduates at UMass, in particular, is also evident among graduate students there.

“The first couple years grad students share studio spaces, and there is a lot of interaction and collaboration,” she said.

However, as she prepared for her MFA thesis show, she said, she needed to filter out distractions, which she was able to do in her own studio.