A Contemporary Indian Artist
The Interview :Neena Singh
(Rachna Singh, Editor, The Wise Owl is in conversation with Neena Singh, a contemporary Indian Artist)
The Wise Owl talks to Neena Singh, a contemporary Indian artist who has relentlessly pursued her passion for art for more than two decades. Neena holds a doctorate in sociology and had a distinguished career as a civil servant. Art has been her constant companion and source of joy since her childhood. She has produced a significant body of work and has evolved a unique artistic language of her own. She has exhibited in India and abroad and her paintings are a part of a number of prestigious private & corporate collections. She has also participated in many prestigious solo and group shows. Neena’s artwork 'Living on the edge – A face of urban poverty' was announced as the winner of the International Juried Art Competition (2013), 'Depicting Contemporary Life and the Urban Experience' by the Art Quench Gallery. She was selected as a SILVER Award Winner for the GZ-Art Basel Art Fair 2012 in Basel, Switzerland, by Curators with Galeria Zero. Her painting 'Confluence' was selected for the 18th biannual exhibition of the American Juried Art Salon. Another painting of hers 'Interior of false prophecies' was selected for the 19th biannual exhibition of the American Juried Art Salon where an International jury awarded highest score to her artwork. Her paintings have been auctioned by The Arts Trust – Institute of Contemporary Indian Art, Mumbai. She has won critical acclaim, honorable mentions and special recognitions at many National and International Juried Art Competitions. She was included in ART Folio -22, a curated collection of the world’s most exciting contemporary artists.
Thank you so much Neena for taking time out to talk to The Wise Owl.
RS: You are an artist with several solo and group exhibitions under your belt. You have also been awarded for your artwork by different fora. For the benefit of our readers, please tell us a little about what attracted you to art and how art became a passion for you.
NS: There was a time, stretched over decades, when I used to be obsessed with words. My existence was deeply entrenched in words. As I was a student of Literature, words were sacred for me. However, gradually, I understood that words in themselves had no inherent sanctity. They were nothing more than social constructs or codes for communication. The communication through words could be fraught with deceit as words were abstract constructs with no corresponding reality. For a person like me (for whom words were sacred), this posed a serious threat of reification, making it life threatening. I felt as if I was losing my sense of self and the impact of this realization almost froze me. Simultaneously, I also realised that what I was experiencing and struggling to express was beyond the realm of words. I was tired, exhausted and lost. I was struggling, searching and did not want to give up. I wanted to move ahead in life. It was during such times that I picked a brush and painting came to me organically. What surprised me was that it came with an overpowering force. That is how my tryst with the brush began which enabled me, over a period of time, to reclaim my faith in myself and in life.
Painting is not a choice for me. It is an inner compulsion. It enables me ‘to be’ and ‘to become’. The process and act of painting helps me to strip all that is cerebral and pretentious. Art centers me. It helps me to undergo changes deep inside my being and nourish my solitude. Art liberated me and enriched my being, freeing me from the Sisyphus-like existence by giving a purpose to my life. Creating art became a necessity, a compelling act, a passion. Over and above all, painting gives me immense joy and this is one activity which consumes me a hundred percent. Over a period of more than 2 decades, the mystery of art, colour and form has unfolded itself and I am delighted by this infinitely beautiful and joyful world.
RS: Your qualification is that of a sociologist and your career profile is that of a civil servant. Our readers would be curious to know how you kept the artist in you alive when you were pursuing sociology and discharging your duties as a civil servant.
NS: Yes, I did my M.Phil and Doctorate in Sociology and was also a part of Indian Revenue Service for more than 3 decades. In fact, as everyone knows, the job of a civil servant is quite demanding and challenging. I was a civil servant by the day and I was simultaneously pursuing my passion for art. That solitary activity of painting kept me centered and going. There have always been what Virginia Woolf calls ‘two rhythms’ in my life - the harried and busy life of a civil servant dealing with piles of files, phones ringing, endless meetings, targets to be met, people coming for resolution of their problems and so forth but there was also the still life - back in the studio (always a bedroom converted into a studio) where I felt completely detached and distant from all the noise and paraphernalia. Now, nearly more than 3 decades later, finally, this other rhythm of tranquility is growing and expanding.
RS: Your abstract paintings are a beautiful swathe of colours- Transcendence, Another day is rising, where splendour dwells, to name a few. Tell us a little about your creative process- what inspires you to paint, how you pick your colours, their symbolism, what abstract painting means to you et al.
NS: My creative process is largely intuitive and spontaneous. I generally start with some marks-making on a canvas or paper and then build it up layer by layer. Gradually, the form begins to take shape and thereafter, I intentionally build up the relation between shapes, colours etc. Painting for me is not so much about the techniques, it is more about finding a visual language to express the things I value, the life I live…I build up my paintings by a process of addition and subtraction, layer by layer, which gives a kind of depth to my works. Most of my paintings emerge from my readings. My art is like a visual diary bearing witness to the entire spectrum of experiences that I have had. It creates a space to create light and beauty and to solicit them from even the most tragic of circumstances. My choice of colours is again intuitive and depends on my mood. I was reading Kandinsky - he says that each colour has a sound and an inner life…it is the job of an artist to express that inner life through form because the aim of the artist is to express the sublime and move your soul. My endeavour is towards this aim.
RS: What medium is closest to your heart and why?
NS: I generally use acrylic as a medium. I am restless when I paint and acrylic as a medium is in sync with my temperament as an artist.
RS: You have recently held a solo exhibition at Jehangir Art Gallery, a prestigious gallery in Mumbai (India). Tell us a little about your exhibition. Our readers/viewers would also be keen to know if you have another exhibition lined up in the near future.
NS: My 13th solo show ‘Where There is Light’ was held at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai. Most of these paintings were created during the pandemic years. Those were difficult times. Once again, art proved an antidote to all that was depressive, dark and unsettling. Each painting in this series is like a deeply felt prayer ‘tamaso - maa - jyotir - gamaya’. The exhibition was inaugurated by Dr. Pheroza Godrej who has followed and supported my art journey from the beginning. I was represented by her gallery at Mumbai, the iconic Cymroza Art Gallery. This exhibition was extremely well-received by art collectors, media and art lovers. Jehangir Art Gallery provides you a very special and unique experience where footfalls are amazing and holding an exhibition there is always a humbling experience.
In October this year, I will be holding an exhibition at Bikaner House, Delhi. I am presently working on that exhibition.
RS: You are an established artist. What tips would you give budding artists about honing their craft and also about becoming a sought-after saleable artist.
NS: Generally, when young artists are starting their journey, they get confused by the noise around them. Some of them start bothering about, very early in their career, what would sell. I totally understand their concerns. However, I feel that it becomes a hindrance in developing an authentic voice. So, I would say to them, create art which comes from the depth of your being, express it in a way which feels authentic to you. All great artists have their unique voice and identity. One can draw inspiration from master artists. However, one needs to be patient to find and create a unique visual language.
RS: A final question. What does painting mean to you as a creative artist?
NS: While growing up, I always struggled to understand and make sense of my experiences, occurrences and events of my life. Creating art is an assertion of my faith in life. It’s a means to create some meaning for my existence. It’s an enabling tool to transcend any negativity. For me, painting means to preserve the authenticity of my lived experience.
Thank you so much Neena for talking to The Wise Owl. It was indeed a pleasure to talk to you about your creativity and the inspiration behind yours beautiful artworks. We wish you the best in your creative pursuits.