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Q&A with Award Winner Shanthi Chandrasekar

Artist Shanthi Chandrasekar, whose solo show “Red Dots” appeared in The Art League Gallery in September, was awarded Best In Show for her painting Kolam-Shakthi in this month’s “Earth” exhibit. Juror Helen Frederick said of the painting, “This piece is reflective, symbolic, and quietly captures what’s happening ecologically around the world.” We asked Shanthi to tell us more about the painting and her work in general.

Can you share some background about Kolam-Shakthi — your inspiration or source material, and what it means to you? Can you explain what a kolam drawing is, and who Shakthi is and the role she plays in your work? Do you think this cultural knowledge is necessary to “get” your piece?
Shanthi: Kolam is a form of artistic self-expression of the women from Tamil Nadu, India, created everyday at dawn and at dusk on the thresholds of their houses. Kolams reinforce the concept of impermanence through the cycle of creation and dissolution as people walk over them. It is a very earth-friendly art form as it is drawn using rice flour or rock powder on the ground.

The word Shakthi means energy and also represents the goddess of strength.

Kolam-Shakthi by Shanthi Chandrasekar

This painting is about the collective female energy and Mother Earth, a goddess.  Indian mythology is filled with stories about the birth of the goddess Shakthi and other women from ploughed fields. The cracks on the edges of the painting represent the cracks on the surface of the earth as a result of ploughing. The faces of the women, the many forms of Shakthi, are the daughters of Mother Earth who decorate the earth with Kolams in spite of all the ups and downs they face in life. One of the philosophies behind Kolam drawing is that the dots represent the obstacles in life and if a woman can weave her way through these dots with lines and end where she began, she will be able to successfully deal with life. It is a tradition that is handed down from generation to generation.

Continued below:Though the cultural knowledge could help better understand this piece, it is not necessary. The Mother Goddess and Mother Earth images go together in many cultures around the world.

How does this painting relate to the theme of “Earth”? Is there any message you want the viewer to come away with?
According to Indian Philosophy, there are five primary elements in nature, namely, Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space and a balance between them is necessary for well-being.

The painting can be interpreted at various levels. I have used the analogy of the Earth as a woman in the form of Shakthi. Both are giving and resourceful; keeping the cycle of creation running. And yet this awareness is lost. If life can sprout from the cracks on Earth, they can also be destroyed by the same cracks. Earth is constantly sending us these messages and yet we don’t pay heed. Just as a woman draws lines weaving through the dots in a Kolam to create complex intricate patterns, so does the Earth in finding ways to maintain a delicate balance.

I would like my work to be thought provoking and bring in that awareness.

Detail from Kolam-Shakthi by Shanthi Chandrasekar

Is this piece part of a series? If so, how did the series start and how has evolved to where it is now?
This painting is actually a combination of two different series, namely, Kolam and Shakthi. I have been drawing Kolams all my life and about 15 years ago I started the Kolam series of paintings. The Shakthi series began a few years ago when I wanted to paint faces of women who faced life in many different ways. The series began with single image paintings and slowly moved onto multiple images in a painting. A couple of years ago I decided to combine the two series together with images of the women and Kolams on the same painting, as they seemed to belong together.

Now I am working on a large Shakthi painting with 30×24 faces and a Kolam painting with 93×93 dots.

What materials did you use for this piece?
I used acrylic on canvas along with various acrylic gel mediums.

Why did you choose acrylic for this piece, or how do you choose what medium is best for a piece of artwork? What draws you to painting, drawing and sculpture?
I chose acrylic for this piece as I could create various textures to go with the theme. I could get the rough texture of the Earth on the edges while being to create a fine fabric-like texture in the center. I have been working with acrylics for about 15 years now. I work very fast and found oils too slow to dry. I work with various mediums and I choose them based on the concept. I move between drawing, painting, sculpture or any other medium based on what I want to do. I recently participated in an art decathlon show in DC that required artwork in drawing, painting, collage, photography, sculpture, printmaking, audio, video, conceptual and fiber art and enjoyed working on all of them.

What is your artistic process like?
My artistic process varies. Sometimes I have an idea or starting point and no goal. Other times I just play around and find a new direction. Then are times when I know exactly what I am going to do. So I just go with the flow. Also, I work on a number of pieces at the same time.

What technical element is most important in your work — color, composition, line, etc?
Once I have the concept in my mind, color, composition, line and other technical elements become secondary. I tend to use repetitive patterns in my work as it is very meditative and gives me time to explore the concept further.

Where do you see your work going next, or what are you working on now?
My artwork has been an exploration of ideas that fascinate me. I jump from one series to another and sometimes get started on a new one. I am hoping to get back to the science-inspired work and the Akshara series, which is based on scripts from various languages.

Currently I am working on a series called Journeys in ten different media for a solo show next year.

More interviews with this month’s award winners to come!

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