Embracing Joy: An Artistic Journey with Chitra Ramanathan

In the vibrant world of art, Chitra Ramanathan stands out as a beacon of creativity and passion. Hailing from a culturally rich background in Kolkata, India, Chitra’s journey into the realm of fine arts and painting started at a young age, nurtured by her family’s encouragement and early successes in national competitions. Through dedication and a thirst for artistic exploration, she honed her skills, ultimately crafting a distinctive style that centers on portraying the essence of happiness through vibrant colors and abstract impressions. With a strong academic foundation and a series of notable achievements in her career, including prestigious exhibitions and commissions, Chitra continues to inspire aspiring artists while navigating the delicate balance between artistic expression and business acumen. Join us as we delve into her inspiring artistic journey and glean insights from her experiences in the captivating world of fine art.

Can you share with us your personal journey and how you discovered your passion for fine art and painting?

My foray into the world of fine arts and painting began as a child growing up in a culturally rich family in Kolkata in North Eastern India. It all began when my parents enrolled me in a pre-school that taught various art forms including dance and music, working with clay and drawing and painting. My mother recognized my love for drawing and painting and began to have me enter child art competitions, encouraged when I received occasional gifts as prizes from family and friends. I continued to draw and paint thereafter. 

When I was ten years old, I was selected as one of the top prize winners in a nationally advertised coloring contest hosted by the Unilever corporation. The competition was judged on an all-India level by an eminent panel of jury members, with the winners announced in the national media of the time. The following year, a group of my drawings and watercolor paintings were exhibited at a Birla Academy of Arts and Culture within the city, where I was awarded a trophy for one of my selected entries during the opening reception.  Early successes such as these led to my deciding to choose Art as my major in college. I graduated with a BA in Fine Arts at Stella Maris College, Chennai, India. Later, I pursued further education as an emigrant in the United States where I have continued to exhibit my work, teach art classes, workshops and public demos of my work processes. 

What inspired you to focus on portraying the emotion of happiness through your artwork?

While I was completing a second Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I went on a summer study abroad trip to Paris, France in 1992. I had begun to move away from representational art at that point. While in Paris, I was influenced by the works of the Abstract Impressionists who focused on portraying mental emotions rather than what was visible and obvious. I began to think of portraying happiness, an emotion of the mind onto two-dimensional surfaces such as canvases, using cheerful colors and glowing textural materials aiming to evoke joy for myself as well my audiences through exhibitions. My work was received well during shows on Broadway, New York City from the mid-1990s, and reviewed in some publications including Manhattan Arts Magazine. Soon my art entered the online realm in 1999, and several of my early works began getting acquired through a newly established gallery of the time period. 

 Could you tell us about a particular challenge or struggle you faced in your artistic journey and how you overcame it?

Artists do have the additional challenge of making a living through financial success, and I am no exception.  As an emigrant woman artist, I was initially hesitant, held no expectations. However, I did believe that in order to face obstacles and challenges, one had to be patient and persistent, and create a unique message and to foster a meaningful exchange. So I chose a universal goal and hope such as happiness for my subject, which led to a series of ongoing thematic paintings on this topic. Although portraying happiness is an abstract concept, I found the challenge to be exciting. 

What lessons have you learned along the way that have had a significant impact on your artistic style and approach?

I have indeed learned that as an artist, one needs to consistently work hard, be creative as well as have a unique direction, while trying to market or sell work. 

I look for inspirations from the constantly evolving four seasons and changing flora and my passion for gardening, the sensory impact and love of music, the colorful costumes and festivals, Hindu philosophy, and significant movies reminiscent of my native India, borrowing from influences of growing up in a different culture and utilizing the experience to develop my individualistic artistic style and approach. Yet as art is basically subjective, meaning that it is difficult to convey an abstract concept, I have sought to put my work in the public realm through which I have received feedback, fortunately positive responses.

Can you share a memorable moment or achievement in your art career that stands out to you?

A memorable and serendipitous moment came via a contact from MGM Resorts International, noticing a couple of my paintings on a website in 2004 with a request to recreate those pieces in large dimensions bearing my signature. The completed acrylic and mixed media paintings in dimensions of 6 ft. X 4 ft each were installed inside the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. My art being featured in a famed location such as the Bellagio brough wide recognition for me and my art and an immense feeling of achievement for me that early in my career. 

The experience resulted in some further site-specific commissions offered by organizations, such as mural I was commissioned to create at Crooked Creek Elementary School in Indianapolis in 2008, a public art installation at Chase Bank Towers in downtown Indianapolis in 2006, and a pair of large paintings installed in the College of Medicine at Urbana, Illinois. Private clients have commissioned work as well into recent years. I feel grateful that my art has been accepted by both art lovers and collectors. However, since such projects and sales are sporadic and do not occur regularly, I keep my focus on studio time to create and teaching what I have learned and experienced to my students. It is very fulfilling for me to see my students’ progress, some of whom retirees from unrelated professions. Such pursuits keeps me busy and happy.

How do you balance the creative aspects of your work with the business side, such as marketing and promoting your art?

It is indeed a challenge to combine creating, teaching, promoting art, and balancing work and family. A supportive family such as mine helps, even as I am the only artist in my immediate and extended family.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists who are just starting on their creative journey?

My advice to aspiring artists is to continue working and follow one’s instincts. Visit exhibitions and frequently enter juried competitions. Art being inherently subjective, it is a tough journey but an exciting one! Do not lose heart. Consider rejections as stepping stones, and direct your focus and energy on the next opportunity. But do not give up. 

Can you talk about the role of art education in shaping your skills and artistic vision?

 As an academically trained artist, I was able to draw on my education regarding major art movements such as Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism. Studio art helped me utilize my knowledge to build on my own experience and create a unique style of work and future direction. In my opinion, even if a work of art is abstract it needs to be able to relate in a meaningful way, and indeed knowledge of art history has helped me shape my creativity and vision in a constructive and acceptable manner.

How do you stay inspired and motivated to create new artwork consistently?

I constantly stay in touch with books and new publications. Being active on social media helps me share my work and receive feedback. I also visit virtual art exhibitions and museum exhibits on a daily basis even when I am not able to physically visit museums as frequently. I also exhibit my work regularly, as incentive to create new work. Recently a new painting that I created for an exhibition was raffled as a donation to the Norcross Gallery and Studios in the Atlanta area, where I also teach classes in painting. 

What are your future goals and aspirations for your art career and business?

I aspire and hope to continue painting and exhibiting both within the US and abroad as long as possible, and share my work to a local and international audience. Since my art has received exposure through the media. 

by Harness Editor

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