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Can you tell us about your background?
As a child, I was interested in two things — art and reading. I was the kid who earnestly drew the anatomy of the cockroach or the spirogyra; who thought that art was the most important class of the day; who spent hours in the corner drawing. But art did not occur to me as a career option. Instead I got a bachelor’s degree in economics, while painting and drawing in my free time.
The first time I visited an artist’s studio was in 2001, just after I graduated from college. I was visiting Port Hartcourt in Nigeria, where my father worked. My mother suggested that we look for an artist who could teach me while I was there. That’s how I came to meet Diseye Tantua. I studied oil painting with him over the summer, and working in his studio made me realise that that was what I wanted to do.
NC: When did you decide to devote yourself to an offbeat and unconventional career such as art? What lead to that decision, and where did that decision lead you?
I enrolled in a master’s program in economics but decided to think over my options. Two years later I had no clear plan, but the real world was beckoning. I started working as an economist, focusing on human development studies. During my first job at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, I enrolled in a 6-month part-time course at J.J. School of Art in Mumbai. The course gave me a good foundation in drawing and confidence in my skills and strengths.
By 2005, my career (which was going reasonably well) was moving toward a PhD and teaching and/or research. But it was clear to me that my heart wasn’t in it. So I quit. I decided to focus on art. I took up freelance editorial work, and later worked part-time at a magazine.
Can you tell us about your career path?
I began to find my way as an artist. I tried a lot of things and kept coming back to abstraction. In 2007 , I worked on a set of ink paintings — a series of organic forms that came to me spontaneously. I was beginning to understand what I wanted in my work. In 2008, I went to Igatpuri for a 10-day Vipassana meditation course. The experience set in motion a different approach to work: an approach which also resonated with the ink paintings.
In 2010, I moved to Tucson after I got married. By this time, I thought I knew what I wanted from my work, but the way to do it still eluded to me. I approached The Drawing Studio looking for volunteering opportunities. I felt at home with the community of fellow artists and started spending a lot of time there. Eventually I signed up for Josh Goldberg’s class hoping to find answers to my questions. And I did. In Josh’s class I set subject matter aside and trusted that the expression on the canvas would reveal my inner truth. Josh set the stage for self-discovery and experimentation. He sometimes asked questions in reply to questions, creating a space for introspection and discussion. He encouraged going deeper into the work and cutting the dichotomy between art and life.
My husband Sandeep and I moved to Columbia, Maryland, in the summer of 2013. I turned our second bedroom into a studio and got working on a new set of paintings. Once I settled in, I began volunteering a couple of days a week at an art center close to home. I also started working with ceramics, focusing on the potter’s wheel. In 2015, I was selected as the Fall Studio Intern at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, an organisation that focuses on printmaking, papermaking and the book arts. After the internship, I stayed on as a volunteer. I am now the Special Projects Manager there, an Associate position (work for studio access). I am at Pyramid Atlantic twice a week, and work in my studio the rest of the week.
NC: As an art maker, how do you structure your day?
I paint three to four days a week. On those days my day starts after breakfast. The first thing I do is turn on the Pandora Classical station, and clean my brushes and long glass palette. As a practice, I leave my studio the previous day with brushes in jars of water. I also leave the palette as is after storing leftover paint. The ritual of cleaning my tools gets me into a rhythm and removes me from the picture. It removes thoughts about failing. While setting up I start looking at the many in-progress paintings. By this point, I’m just responding to what feels right. I choose a piece and set it on the easel or up on the wall, and then just look at the painting. It’s at this point that I start painting. I usually work from 10 AM until 5 PM or so.
About twice a week I work at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center. Some of the things I work on as Special Projects Manager include the monthly newsletter, special events and helping the Artistic Director with tasks relating to the management of the art center.
NC: Do you ever feel stuck? What do you do (or not do) when that happens?
Yes. Sometimes I feel stuck with a specific piece. But sometimes I feel stuck in a larger sense. On those days there is a reluctance to begin working. I deal with this impasse in a number of ways.
Sometimes I’ll just change gears. If an artwork is not going anywhere, I will go to another painting. If going nowhere seems to be the theme of the day, I’ll read or write – look for inspiration in writers and artists I love, or write to delve into whatever is troubling me. Sometimes I’ll potter around the studio – cleaning a table, or organising canvases or moving things around always helps me remove myself from the picture (usually the cause of feeling stuck). Then there are days when I embrace the discomfort of being stuck. I stay with that discomfort without reacting (mentally or by action). I sit in front of the painting, waiting for the answer to come. Just looking at a work in progress can be the best solution. You suddenly see something you missed, opening up possibilities.