There has never been a specific gateway to the realm of imagination and creative world. Only artists know this fact of creativity, as they know it well that any true artist can create a door for himself or herself without actually searching for one and then discovering it. All the artists are blessed with some power and potential to draw a few lines with their talent to compose a door and open it wide to embrace it. Similarly, Natasha Das drops the hues, and places her scissors, threads and vision at that point of pores of a canvas, where she knows that she can paint and stitch life. Yes, you read it right that this New York based Assamese artist paints with colours and palettes in place, as well as does the thread works to make it more meaningful. Considering that life has never maintained any uniformity in a person's life and outside that person's life, i.e. in the world, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Natasha creates canvas of life. Literally! She engineers her imagination to do so. And, the proof is her studio in NYC that is full of art collections, including portraitures (that define a person) with intricate work of complexion (through threads) done on them. This foodie also loves to paint with her two beautiful daughters alongside. Get to know more about her in this interaction.
Tell us about yourself.
I am from Assam and my family is from Guwahati. My Father is a businessman and my Mother owns a very old pastry shop in the city, namely, "Eggs-O-tic". I finished my schooling from the Lawrence School, in Sanawar, Shimla, and after that I went to Florence, Italy to study art. I am now settled in New York and live here. I have two daughters who are energetic, curious, inquisitive, lovable, nature lover, and independent. They are two little explorers. Always eager to know and learn. We adore them and they complete us.
What led you to make a parábola shift to this genre of work?
Working on ideas is not something that happens overnight. It has been a very gradual process with my work.
I continue to focus on observing people, nature and life around me, taking it all in and then carving my inspiration from it.
How did your parents react to your decision of jumping onto a full time career that is mostly considered as a secondary choice and a hobby?
My parents never questioned my choice. It was very simple for them. They saw I was passionate about art and it made me happy. They always encouraged me to follow my heart and they supported my decision in every way, and till today they are my biggest fans.
What sort of insight got added to your knowledge bank, during your training in Florence, Italy?
Well, Italy taught me a lot. It was about learning and focusing on the techniques. I learnt how to observe things for what they are. I learnt how to be more curious about the nature of "why things are the way they are". It led me to a path of self actualization. Holistically, everything added onto my brain bank to power perceptions & envisioning abilities.
Tell us about the "portraiture" work.
This series is about portrait sessions in the studio. I have painted the nude figure, skin and studied the tones from the ateliers around the world. This particular series is about the dialogues we create with each sitter. It is called, "Complexion: Portraits of Skin and Stories Within." A portraiture is an intense engagement - between artist, medium and canvas. There are moments when it becomes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.
In the journey that a portrait makes, I have often found myself wondering whether the model is the subject or the canvas on which I draw my impressions. With oil, paint, thread, brush, palette knife and needles, I explore the complexity of the skin tone - a base that colors our experience of the world.
What led you to specialize in the 19th century academic art?
Academic art is a style of painting, sculpture, and architecture produced under the influence of the European academies of art. The training I got in Florence was very technical, intense and almost scientific. I was drawn to it because I wanted to learn how to translate what I see visually with a brush. Development of the academic style led to a few periods in the art history like Romanticism and Neoclassicism in the European world. Florence as you know is a very romantic city.
My walk from the apartment to the Atelier would be like going through a museum. Artists like William Bouguereau, Alexandre Cabanel, and Jean Leon Gérôme were some significant artists from this training.
In India, I would think Raja Ravi Verma's work would be of the same genre. I was drawn to this Atelier because it was teaching you to sort of see the eternal through the specific. In a nutshell, I was young, and romantic at heart (still I am) and I wanted to learn how to create something that was dreamy.
How did your journey of working and earning begin?
I started working when I was a student. In the Academia, I was learning so much that I also wanted to share my techniques.
I started teaching. Italian children and grown ups were my students. I am still doing that as teaching to me is very gratifying. That's how I first earned my money and from there it went to doing shows and taking up commission works.
Tell us about your latest creations?
My work has obviously changed and evolved from when I was a student and a commissioned painter. In the year 2013, I launched my series called "The Invisible World" with Waqas Wajahat, a well established New York curator. I was exploring and figuring things out to find my own voice and create my story. I still am.
The "Invisible World" was about portraits of the people in repose. They were painted over Indian textiles or textiles were used to frame the artwork. Indian textiles because I was exploring patterns and prints and somehow wanted that to be included in my work.
"Complexion 2018" is now my series. It is again to do with people. This time, I have introduced thread - a medium I am thoroughly engrossed in. There is a tactility to thread, both in process and result, and that is intrinsic to the sense of skin: to touch. As I get to know my sitters during the studio sessions, I layer of thread on thread like pigment on pigment, each movement considered, to evolve not just the complexion of their skin tone, but of their being. Shorn of figurative elements, this portrait series explores skin and the stories within.
Apart from oil painting, what other types of paintings you like to do or the mediums you enjoy working with?
I don't enjoy the newer mediums like acrylic, or anything synthetic. I do love gouache a lot. Other than that a pencil is my favorite. Sketch sketch sketch!
Give us a hint of your work with Indian textile and thread?
I answered that above - so hope that works I will send pics in my next email with the invisible world works.
How long have you been in this field of work?
I would say 12 years
In your opinion, what is the biggest struggle or dilemma in artists' life?
It is important to keep the momentum going. I think it's hard for artists because our efforts do not necessarily materialize into something substantial that can help us in the real world. We tend to get caught up in our own bubble and escape reality, which is a good thing, but you have to keep it real if you need to sell and make it work.
We've heard you have a beautiful studio in New York? Take us on a virtual tour.
I have a fabulous space in the New York City. My studio is on the west side and we are in a creative art building.
It used to be an old shoe factory back in the day, but now it has transformed into big lofts that artists share. We are five artists on our floor and we have a very big gallery space where we show our work. It is definitely a cool spot!
Who is your inspiration and why?
Ha ha.. that's not easy. My inspiration keeps changing. For now it's my kids . Why ? Because I want them to see the world in a creative way and I want them to be proud of me, that keeps me going.
Any upcoming events or shows?
Yes, during the end of November, I have a show in the gallery. I’m launching the series - Complexion. From there, I will have to see where it goes.
In your opinion, what measures the education system of our country should uptake to encourage students of fine arts or performing arts and in giving all of them a permanent revenue model apart from the conventional opportunities?
I do believe India has come a long way when it comes to recognizing talent and appreciating it. In my time it was not encouraged so much. The only thing I can say is that a person can earn and be successful in any field if they truly believe in it. Art should be introduced at a very young level not because you have to be an artist and earn, but for the simple fact that it is important to have a free spirit to be successful in life.
We've heard that you are also keen to make your presence in India? What are your plans about it.
All work in progress. I am going with the flow and seeing where this goes. I did visit the top Indian art galleries over this summer and have had a few discussions.
Ultimately, I want my work to be placed in the right platform. That takes time, but am very much looking forward to having an Indian audience.
Define yourself apart from being a full time visual artist?
Very much a mom and a wife. There is so much to do always and I am always on the run. With the kids, school, activities with them. I am a teacher. I give lessons in my studio. I love to cook. Something I picked up when I was in Europe. So our evenings are food, wine, home and we always have people over for company.
Your favorite piece of your own creation: a still life painting I did a long time back when I was in Florence. It was done in tenebrist style. The painting has a little glass bottle with a message painted for my husband.
Your favorite holiday destination: Assam
Your favorite food: Hard to answer.. I am a foodie
One or two things of each place you really adore..
- Italy: people and food
- New York: High energy, Galleries
- Assam: family and Assamese food.
Your motto of life: Believe in yourself
What would you do with a magical wand if I give it to you at least for a day?
Honestly, nothing!! I would rather give it to my daughters.
3 things you can't live without: Phone (to keep a track of my loved ones), Pencil and a sketchbook
Three tips for the people aspiring to make a career in this field.
Not sure about this one as we all work differently. However, I would say for as an artist few things that have helped me:
- Believe in yourself and find your voice
- Be curious and always experiment.
- Plan and work hard, set your goals....everything is possible if you are persistent.
What is your next year's resolution?
I never have one. Like to think of it as celebrating a year gone with its fun and struggles and look ahead to more learning and happiness.
You may get to know more about Natasha's work through her Instagram page: @natashadassahni, where you can also catch a glimpse of her two gorgeous princesses. We’re sure you’ll adore them all.