"THE ARTIST OF THE PAINTING SHOULD BE RECOGNIZED WITHOUT HAVING TO LOOK AT HIS SIGNATURE, THAT IS THE TRUE MARK OF AN ARTIST."
Nayanaa Kanodia was born in 1950, and she grew up in Delhi, from an upper middle-class Indian family. A class torn between modern pretensions and revivalist hangover, it was tough for Nayanaa Kanodia to prove not only for others, but also to herself that she wanted to become an artist…a painter. Nayanaa recalls that during her younger years she was constantly painting even when everyone was thinking that she was going to become an economist as she was enrolled as a student of economics at Delhi University. She won the National Scholarship of the Government of India in Economics (Honours). She says that it was always on her mind to work extra hard with her painting as she was not attending art school like other artists. Lack of formal training enabled her to bring patterns of strong individuation in her work. This also helped her to avoid academic obsession for the hierarchy of high and low art and helped her to present the dynamics of social reality in the concrete frames of virtuality. Considered as the foremost artist of the L’Art Naif genre, Nayanaa Kanodia’s colorful images represent the essence of Indian reality through the visual symbols of everyday life. Through her brightly colored paintings with figures looking straight out from the canvas, Kanodia brings a contemplative mirror effect in the viewer’s mind, in which the duality of observer and observed gradually disappears. Another chief element of her work is multiple narrations in one frame, where she presents a picture within a picture to indicate toward the experiential perplexity rooted in the multiplicity of reality. This multiple reality is itself a manifestation of the uniqueness of the Indian situation where, in the words of Nayanaa Kanodia, westernization took place without replacing basic traditional traits of identity which is the root of Indian society. This comes out predominantly in her use of extremely bright colors, with vivacious depiction of signs, symbols and characters of present-day Indian reality.
Nayanaa Kanodia’s art gives us a taste of happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment. A deliberate reminder that life is what it is, and regardless of the situation, there can always be an expectation of realization, achievement and of course, happiness. The richness in colors simply transcends any doubts, any remorse, and unwelcoming thoughts or feelings. She offers a sophisticated perspective of life without taking away that sense of possible attainment, without taking away your own dreams. Quite on the contrary, it’s that subtle push that triggers you to want to live your life to the fullest and as picturesque as what she shows us. Simply put, she demonstrates livelihood at its best.
Q. What was your childhood like?
A. I come from a strict military background, my father being a Brigadier in the Army exposed us to many cultures which influenced my life (his position, often led us to transfer from one place to another). Changing schools every four years is a very challenging situation for any child. Firstly, after adapting to a new city, to adjust to a new school is even more difficult and a daunting task. To get yourself accepted into a coterie of friends is not easy and to get familiar with the teachers who are literally strangers to you and vice versa. However, on hindsight, I now feel that this made me very strong to conquer all challenges which I have faced over the years. Being a brilliant student helped me gradually and I became an example whom all children should copy and soon became the teachers’ ‘blue-eyed child' - a huge morale booster for any child. Life at home was very disciplined. Punctuality was the order of the day. Duty above self. The Army motto, country over self was adhered to at home. Only the word country was replaced by service to others. Your life and your desires were secondary. I sometimes felt that this regimen was too rigid but now it is this very upbringing which has shaped my life today. The discipline, my focus in life and dedicated determination to achieve my goals despite all adversities were an impetus to reach the heights where I am today.
Q. Tell us about some of the highlights of your artistic career, such us memorable shows or publications.
A. There are many jewels in my crown to which I am proud of: In 1998, I was chosen from among artists of all The Commonwealth Countries by The Commonwealth Institute to have a solo show at the inauguration of their newly renovated Complex in London. Looking at the contribution I had made to L’Art Naïve I was then invited by Victoria and Albert Museum, in London (2001) to demonstrate my techniques, and also to exhibit my paintings in their gallery. Not to mention, I am the first Indian whose paintings are in the collection of 'Paintings in Hospitals', UK which was earlier listed as a Museum. Some of my works are permanently displayed at Musee International D’Naif Art in Paris. A consortium of schools in Los Altos, USA, is using my work as a medium of instruction to their students. Erica Jong (American novelist), recently acquired my work. My paintings were feature in a recently published international book WOMEN IN ART by Reinhard Fuchs. Fuchs discovered that within his ten years of meticulous work, only five percent of recorded works of art can be attributed to women. This led him to invest three and a half years of his life to give Women in Art a new platform for leading female artists, and I had the pleasure to be one of these women. I also conducted Art Camps in India and abroad. In addition to this, I often am a judge in many Art Events, Art Fairs, and Art Competitions. My work also features in several auctions of Indian Contemporary Art internationally. And I was honored with an award by Megh Mandal Sansthan, Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India. All acknowledgments that were given for my hard and constant work through the years.
Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it?
A. I am a self-taught artist. I was always interested in art and kept drawing and painting all the time. Due to circumstances and peer pressure, I could not attend art schools. I was always a brilliant student and eventually graduated in Economics Honours, from Lady Shiram College, New Delhi. In College I kept painting, it was my passion and I painted as diligently as I studied. I read books on the great masters and their techniques, practicing their strokes and brushwork, etc. till I developed my own style. I can safely say that I worked harder than any student from a College of Art so that I could make up for that lack of knowledge which I did not get by not attending an art school. My focus and sheer determination paid rich dividends in honing my creative ability and talent. It was like studying for two diverse streams of education at the same time. Even after following this strict regimen I won the National Scholarship of the Govt .of India. In Economics Honours.
Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. Rousseau, Matisse, Modigliani, and Picasso, have influenced me. In fact, in one of my exhibitions, The Distinguished Company I delved into their psychological experiences and socio-economic conditions which prompted them to paint what they did. Taking valuable inputs from their paintings I incorporated them into my signature style. Apart from being inspired by them, it was also a big learning experience for me.
Q. What does your art aim to express?
A. The Masters inspire me as there is so much to learn and take inspiration from. A simple fact, in this case, is that one has to teach a child the alphabets and only then can they develop their own handwriting. Same happens with artists. They cannot develop their own style and carve a niche for themselves unless their basics are under control. I studied the painting techniques of the Masters to hone my skills. The artist of the painting should be recognized without having to look at his signature. That is the true mark of an artist. The various themes for my paintings is a vast repertoire starting from horses, buildings, and legacy of the British Raj, wayside vendors, ancient sports, weddings, vehicles –in short, lifestyles of the past and present. The themes are decided as to the cultural scenario or issues to be addressed in a visual language. In this context, I would like to add that it is more difficult to show mirth and satire than it is to portray a sordid or tragic scene.
My work typifies the best characteristics of this genre of Naïve Art, the air of whimsy, the flat bright polished surfaces, vibrant and dynamic colours and the extraordinary plethora of intricately worked detail and patterns. The freshness and charm of the images I create give a crystalline utopian appearance to the mundane everyday life being depicted. I reflect on the charming idiosyncrasies of my subjects with a fine degree of wit and gentle satire. My paintings depict the various faces of India- Lifestyles Past and Present-– weddings, bazaar (market) scenes, vehicles, ancient sports, beach compositions, many of which with economic growth, will eventually disappear. Many pieces reflect an unkempt maelstrom that has engulfed our transitioning society, providing fuel to a raging dichotomy where on the one hand we have people tenaciously clinging to their roots, fearing the extinction of their cultural identities, and on the other hand, we have the birth of a new generation dependent upon progressive conveniences.
My paintings intend to make you feel that you are watching a snapshot of life at maximum preposterousness, exuberant and bursting with energy, idiosyncrasy, and absurdity. The conversation I hope to create in my work is a certain truth of life and on a deeper level, a well thought philosophy. Individuals may interpret my paintings in vastly disparate ways and each view will be equally logical and plausible, thought-provoking and intriguing. A picture of the moment is built up in which whole histories and relationships are made visible. My paintings are all about time and time in paintings is movement stilled. I now focus on the current social issues facing India, such as conserving our cities, our environment, women empowerment, etc. My paintings delight the viewer with their whimsy, yet contain the most important social messages of our lives.
Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing?
A. I firmly believe that it is my duty as a human being to help those who are less privileged. One feels so rewarded to see a smile on their faces. I work closely with Indian Cancer Society which is the oldest cancer society in India affiliated with Tata Memorial Hospital, and also curate their Art Shows for them on their Annual Founder’s Day. I am also closely associated with other NGOs- Concern India, Khushi, People for Animals, Wildlife SOS, CPAA, and Nargis Dutt Foundation.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. If we accept that art is a metacognitive activity than we could say that creative expression ensures one thing, it helps to transform the world around you by using significant traits of your own self-perceived identity and interpretation of reality through artistic creation, which exists as a representational reality. In this creative endeavor, artists struggle against their socially imposed identity and most often this whole creative process turns out as a medium of self-realization of one’s own intrinsic self.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. My advice is that there are no shortcuts to success. Apart from your talent, you have to work hard and achieve artistic excellence. You have to hone your skills. An artist should never say that they have reached the highest pinnacle because that will be the end of all their creativity. For me, even today I attempt each painting as a challenge and strive to better myself.
Secondly, no matter how famous you are as an artist, be a good human being. When one dies one is remembered first as to how good a person you were and secondly, as to how good an artist you were. Being a famous artist is better, but does not take precedence over being an exceptionally virtuous human being with proper values of truth, compassion, sincerity, honesty, and passion for all.
Thirdly, have the courage and strength to do what you want to do. Later on, in life, do not have any regrets that you did not do what you could have done. Have the courage of your convictions and the courage to stand and live by them.