My Short Stories: Art + Life
COMING UP NEXT!
WHAT DO MY PAINTINGS EMBODY?
HOW DID SLOWING DOWN AND INTROSPECTION HELP ME OVERCOME MY CREATIVE STRUGGLES? WHAT WERE MY BREAKTHOUGHS? HOW DID IT CHANGE MY MINDSET?
In early 2022, I faced a creative block. I took time off from art shows to find my voice, a voice I knew but didn't trust. I reached out to my coach for guidance and started journaling. It became clear through this process that painting mandalas was my true calling. A few months later, I created a body of work titled Light of Gold for an open studio tour. The meditative process of painting a mandala allowed me to connect with my childhood, find my solace, and create a moment to feel inner peace in the chaos I experienced daily. I realized that the problem was not with the mandalas but my ability to visually express the deeper emotions I experienced on the substrate. I had to figure that out.
Coincidentally, I enrolled in the "Find Your Joy" online art course by the U.K.-based artist Louise Fletcher. Over eight transformative weeks, I dedicated time to working through the course, gaining profound insights into how I want to approach creativity in my own unique way. Throughout the course, I pondered essential questions, such as how to stay curious and inspired, my presence in the studio each day, the manifestation of my ideas, the processes, tools, and methods to bring them to life, and the thoughts to help me avoid judgment and detachment from the results.
As the course neared its end, I dared to step beyond my comfort zone. Sketching and drawing figures that symbolized memories and childhood experiences became my focus. This exploration of creativity resulted in a series of nine mandala paintings, each depicting specific instances from my childhood to motherhood. The process brought a sense of comfort, relief, and freedom.
With my upcoming body of work, Nurture, I delved into the ways I discover inner calm and peace through self-care amidst the chaos of daily life. Experimenting with mixed materials, techniques, color studies, and composition, I found my creative approach shifting. The possibilities of unraveling and discovering new mysteries now seem endless.
Even on busy days, I prioritize spending at least twenty minutes in my studio, taking the word "practice" more seriously than ever. Regardless of inspiration, I see it as my responsibility to work through my feelings because, after all, creativity begins with action.
I document my ideas through sketching and journaling, experimenting with mixed materials, exploring new techniques, and working on color studies. Creating small studies on mini boards helps develop the seed of an idea with no intention or expectations, picking up cues that might manifest into a painting. Viewing mistakes as learning opportunities, I cope with self-doubt, fear, noise, and chit-chatter while staying positive and moving forward.
Always keeping an open mind to encounter wonders and mysteries, what started as a hobby has now evolved into my passion and an integral part of my life. I love the continuous process of creating, learning, exploring, and sharing my stories and experiences through my art.
WHAT WERE THE LIMITING BELIEFS I HAD ABOUT MY WORK, AND HOW DID I OVER COME THEM?
Dr. Deepak Chopra, a renowned physician, author, and consciousness explorer, defines belief as "a thought that we hold true." According to him, we form our beliefs through interpreting past experiences. However, as we age, we tend to distance ourselves from these beliefs as our thoughts become conditioned by the surrounding world.
When I began painting mandalas in 2014-2015, I discovered that the process came naturally. Despite lacking the maturity to fully understand why I was drawn to creating them and how it facilitated the processing of my thoughts and emotions, I recognized a connection. As a child, I had observed my mother engage in the ritualistic practice of creating mandalas at our home's entrance—a tradition deeply rooted in Tamil culture believed to bring wellness, prosperity, and good fortune.
As I started paying attention to artworks at exhibits and engaging with artists, a new belief emerged—that "true art" should evoke emotions and embody a cohesive style, technique, and composition. Unfortunately, this belief began to impede my inspiration to paint mandalas. However, my passion for making art persisted. I explored world culture and ornamentation art, drawing inspiration from Owen Jones's book, "The Grammar of Ornament."While my style remained highly detailed and intricate, a new notion arose, suggesting that true artists paint with a looser approach. Subsequently, I ventured into creating abstract imaginary landscapes using mixed media.
During my experimentation with various subject matters, mixed materials, and techniques from 2015 to 2021, mandalas remained a constant, although not my primary focus. Despite their occasional presence in my work, I faced a challenge—a lack of clarity in the subjects I explored, hindering creativity and scalability. This struggle led to self-doubt and a creative block at the start of 2022. Seeking guidance, I consulted with my coach, and through coaching sessions, I reflected on my beliefs regarding mandalas. Writing down these beliefs played a pivotal role in shifting my misperceptions about my mandala art.
Limiting beliefs that hindered my potential included:
Believing I couldn't be an artist due to being self-taught without a formal art background.
Thinking drawing or painting mandalas didn't require skills, assuming anyone could do it with coloring books or YouTube tutorials.
Believing mandalas were merely decorative designs, lacking the depth to evoke emotions and be classified as fine art.
Specific comments from viewers, like comparing my art to fabric or emphasizing precision, intricacy, and details, reinforced these beliefs.
Concerns about people associating mandalas with culture-specific, religious symbols despite no direct challenges to these beliefs
Recognizing and addressing these limiting beliefs became crucial in unlocking my artistic potential.
Empowering beliefs that expanded my potential include:
Embracing my calling to create, with the knowledge that many people appreciate and cherish my mandalas.
Recognizing that creating mandalas is an innate desire rooted in my childhood experiences, expressing a unique style that comes naturally to me.
Painting a mandala is a deeply emotional experience, bringing calmness and inner peace.
Embracing the belief that there's no hierarchy in art styles or subjects, and comparisons are futile. Art is subjective, and every artist caters to a specific niche.
A mandala is a spiritual sign that symbolizes the universe, our connections, and our journey toward knowledge, wisdom, and enlightenment.
Over time, I have realized that creating art involves more than just belief; it's about knowing. It is a journey of self-discovery, leading to personal transformation and growth in both my art and life.
WHO ARE THE SOURCE AND SOUL OF MY INSPIRATION?
Year 1975: My mom & dad
Year 2023: Me & My mom
It is around 5.30 a.m. I can hear the sound of water sprinkles, followed by the gentle echo of the straw broomstick striking the threshold of my childhood home. She is getting ready for her first morning ritual before the first rays of the sun touch the ground. I walk to the front porch, lean my right bony shoulder blade against the frayed trim of our doorway with my arms crossed beneath my chest, and lean my head over to see her make Kōlam designs. I watch her pinch rice flour deftly between her thumb and index fingers from a stainless-steel bowl, creating intuitive patterns by joining lines, loops, and curves while the flour slips through her poised fingertips. I watch her body sway diagonally, bending her spine and face forward, and her arms stretch out to finesse her design gracefully. The activity of making the Kōlam emanated a charisma that drew my eye to the Kōlam. I admire her creativity, patience, and the beauty of her flawless Kōlam design, drawn with extreme precision and symmetry. She is the artist of our home, my mom.
In 1975, a young, delicate, and beautiful nineteen-year-old woman entered the life of an intelligent, charming, and reserved twenty-seven-year-old man.
He was a man of integrity, while she embodied a kind-hearted soul, dedicating her life to the welfare of others.
Throughout my recollections, she consistently served her husband, children, elderly in-laws, disabled brothers-in-law, unmarried sister-in-law, and every guest or relative who graced our home, receiving her impeccable hospitality.
Her eyes radiated fulfillment and delight, yet I witnessed moments of exhaustion and quiet suppression. Despite her struggles, she always took a step forward to nurture those around her, living a life primarily devoted to others. Her solace lay in the comforting embrace of her husband, who tirelessly toiled as the sole breadwinner, ensuring his family's well-being and saving for their future.
As my grandma tearfully uttered my dad's name, expressing her deep sorrow, she sensed his impending departure during their morning conversation. Her premonition proved accurate. My father succumbed to cerebral hemorrhage two months later at the age of forty-two, leaving my mother, aged thirty-four, to navigate a life forever changed.
I reminisce about the moments:
When she walked miles, carrying me to the doctor's office, she bought me a pack of white chalk to see me smile.
Tirelessly braiding my thick, long black hair, preparing the crisp school uniform, ensuring my lunch box was safely stowed, and waving goodbye as I headed to school.
Helping my disabled uncle with kindness and patience.
Sitting long hours beside my sick dad, her eyes filled with affection.
Tending to my bedridden grandpa after his stroke following my father's sudden demise.
Caring for both paternal and maternal grandmas in their old age.
She was the unwavering support for everyone in their times of need.
Stepping into my studio involves a ritual before picking up my paintbrush. I close my eyes, feeling the spiritual atmosphere of the Ganesh temple in my hometown. I pay respects and gratitude to my departed loved souls. Lastly, I imagine my palms touching my dad's feet immersed in pristine water with a lotus and lily floating by.
My mom represents the source of my voice, while my dad embodies the soul of my voice.
WHEN DID I START PAINTING MANDALAS?
When I was a child, I used to watch my mother create beautiful mandalas. It wasn't until I was in my mid-thirties that I realized her art had inspired me unconsciously. One day, I decided to try sketching patterns similar to the ones in my mom's mandalas, and I found that I loved doing it.
In 2014-2015, I took a chance and submitted some of my mandala artwork to the Member Show at the local art center. I was nervous about how people would react to my paintings, but on opening day, I was thrilled to see a red dot placed next to my work.
Even though I never had an interest in art when I was younger, my journey took an unexpected turn when I became a mother to two children. Creating art has become a source of joy and beauty in my life.
HOW DID I GET STARTED AS AN ARTIST?
My art journey began on a chilly winter evening in February 2013. My husband, our two daughters (aged eight and three), and my mother-in-law had just moved into our first newly built townhome. I had been a stay-at-home mom for over eight years, but I was seriously considering returning to a nine-to-five job in the business industry. However, the universe had other plans for me.
My older daughter attended a summer camp at the local art center the previous summer. Drawn by my passion for organizing and decorating, I volunteered to organize and rearrange the space at the art center. A few months later, I signed up for a decoupage class after being inspired by a friend's DIY decoupaged dresser. It was a six-week class scheduled for three hours once a week. Despite being the sole student enrolled, the instructor, new to the area, generously took on the challenge.
This marked a turning point in my life. My teacher offered me the freedom to experiment and explore various substrates, smearing goops of glue and working with paper and acrylic paint on ceramics, plastic, metal, wood, and glass. The experience ignited a creative burst unlike anything I had felt before. Recognizing my new talent, the art center manager invited me to participate in the upcoming Southeast Asian Group Art Show.
Night after night, after my girls went to bed, I eagerly embraced the art-making process. I delved into crafting decoupaged work inspired by my hometown and motifs of Ganesh (a Hindu deity with an elephant head and a human body known as an obstacle remover) on 6"x 6" ceramic tiles. The surreal moment arrived when I showcased my work alongside accomplished artists on the opening day of the show.
Subsequently, I took on a part-time role as an administrative assistant at the art center. In this new environment, I observed the curation of art shows and witnessed how artists engaged their viewers. It was then that I began to truly pay attention to art. Participating in the artists' monthly Coffee Talk became an inspiration, fostering my continued engagement with the arts and enriching my creative journey.
WHERE DID I GROW UP?
I grew up in South India, in a coastal state called Kerala, known for its lush greenery, backwaters, rustic temples, ancient art & handicrafts, wildlife, and exquisite spices and seafood. Due to its proximity to the border with Tamil Nadu, the influence of Malayalam and Tamil dialects and the interplay of cultural nuances from my Tamil family's ancestral roots in Kerala built a unique layer to my upbringing.
The emergence of luxury resorts has added a new dimension to Kerala's allure, providing tourists with immersive experiences to appreciate the local culture, cuisine, surroundings, and its centuries-old traditional wellness practice, Ayurveda that focuses on bodily balance, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing.