I recently wrote a small piece for the CMU Dietrich Diaries, sharing my thoughts about how painting elements from nature has helped me through the lockdown.
Two years ago, while writing my grad school applications, I realized how profoundly my passion for painting has shaped me as a person and informed my choices. After moving to the U.S. for a PhD, as I adapted to a new environment, painting took a backseat. During these times of uncertainty and confinement, I again found myself gravitating towards painting. In addition to documenting my surroundings, I have been reliving memories with my brush through the lockdown.
I grew up in a constantly evolving landscape and, in my mind, I have a thriving visual repository of dramatic skies, flowering meadows, glistening peaks and crashing waves. Moving to Pittsburgh added another chapter in this repository of memories. It was my first time witnessing fall and seeing trees blossom after a long winter. This spring, I paid particular attention to when different plants in my neighborhood bloomed. On my walks, I would observe the contours of magnolia petals and wonder what color flowers would the rhododendron bushes bear. During days spent in isolation, as the sun set and I could no longer look outside my window, I escaped the confines of my room through my brush.
Painting in watercolors has been a meditative pursuit for me. Building up paintings, stroke by stroke fills me with the memory of the subject and how it made me feel. I perceive paintings as having a will of their own, with my role being merely to guide them a little with my brush. The interplay of colors and water always finds a way to surprise me. During moments spent holding a brush, I feel engaged and calm, and grateful for this trusty companion, who is by my side through these unsettling times.
I wanted to share a note on my painting philosophy. It stems from a line in the book 'A Gentleman in Moscow'. I had a relatively busy week and made relatively simple paintings. The white column in this painting was unplanned, I was simply trying to squeeze in more paintings per paper. It ended up looking like the view through the window, a happy coincidence (well, at least to me).
Here’s a line from the book- A Gentleman in Moscow which has inspired my painting philosophy. The book traces the life of a man (Rostov) under house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. When asked whether he wrote a poem, Rostov replies-
“It demanded to be written. I simply happened to be at the particular desk on the particular morning when it chose to make its demands.”
That’s how I like to see my paintings, as entities with their own will who demand to be painted.
"The painting demanded to be made. I just happened to be at the particular desk when it chose to make its demands."
I feel that a painting is an interaction between four entities- the painter, the brush, the paints and the paper. I don’t like controlling paintings too much, I rather think of paintings as having a will of their own and all I do is merely guide them a little. I try to not feel bad when my paintings don't end up as I had planned. Especially, in a fluid medium like watercolor, there is always some uncertainty. With practice, I do understand the interactions of colors and water better, yet these interactions always find a way to surprise me. I feel this medium is very dynamic, and this fluidity keeps me excited. I feel that I sometimes enjoy looking at paintings under construction, rather than the final piece. This is one of the reasons which drew me towards making process videos a few days back. Pausing for a while and revisiting paintings later, actually makes me both appreciate and critique them better. This makes the process of painting more fulfilling for me. I mainly pursue painting as a hobby and I don't wish to burden it with ambitions and/or expectations.
Would love to hear your thoughts. My art philosophy is not set in stone, I keep making updates once in a while, the last major one being this winter when I read parts of the book A Gentleman in Moscow.
Hope you have been well. Take care! :)