“While eating Idli, I never realized it had so many details and hundreds of tiny holes.”
Artist Tk Sarasvathy is known for her hyper-realistic portraits of south Indian food. Settled in the US, she talks to Mallik Thatipalli about her art, her deep connect with India and how she creates art which is good enough to eat!
Tell us a little bit about yourself…
I was born in Puducherry and spent my initial years in Chennai and then moved back to Puducherry where I did my Engineering in Computer Science. After my graduation, I moved to UAE where I worked till my marriage. We then moved to Singapore until the last quarter of 2017 and it’s where I have done my arangetram into art.
On one of my trips to the Louvre museum in Paris and a visit to an art gallery, the thought of painting struck my mind and I started working on it. That small spark has transformed into today’s passion has carried me for more than 12 years now. There are lots of ups and downs in this journey like rejections and transformation from one genre to another. Around 2015-2016, I started dabbling only in hyper-realistic art and depicted still life.
When did you move to the US and can you tell us what you do there?
I moved to the US in late 2017 when my husband was transferred there. I am proud of this move as it has been an excellent platform for my artwork. People in the US are very welcoming of new art forms. Within a short span of time, I was able to participate in various art competitions and my artwork was selected for prestigious galleries such as Monmouth Museum, Salmagundi, International Guild of Realism, American Women Artists Association, Indo-American Art Council & West Windsor Art Council, amongst others.
Why art? What is about it that attracted it to you?
It’s a good question. I don’t have a straight answer, and I haven’t thought in-depth about it before. I think it’s my passion and gives me immense satisfaction of achieving something. It’s an inspiration looking at great hyper-realistic artworks like photography, and depicting a real-life image on canvas by filling colours and giving life to an object. We all have a reflection of the outside world within our eyes and I love to have the same image over a canvas for a longer time.
I started loving painting which couldn’t stop at any cause. After I started hyperrealism the thirst to achieve the accuracy/realism of the objects around me keeps me motivated to improve and paint every day.
What is the inspiration for your work?
Renowned artists within the hyperrealism world, Tjalf Sparnasy and Mary Ellen Johnson are my inspiration. I love their creations which have influenced me a lot. This is due to the minutely detailed work depicting the colour and texture of food over oil.
What items or dishes form your oeuvre? I’ve seen chutneys and idlis that you created but how do you choose which dishes to paint? Is there a checklist?
Yes, I do have a checklist and I started with ‘Idli, sambar and coconut chutney’. Till now, I completed Samosa, Naan, Dosa, Gulab Jamun, Mango Lassi and Chola Bathura.
Since you dabble in hyper-realism, how easy or difficult is it for you?
It’s not an easy one for sure but, as the saying goes, “no pain no gain”. The amount of time you spend and the intricacies you take into consideration to paint do pay off when you view what you create. For example, the “Papad” painting that I am currently working on has almost 1400 big circles and smaller ones are numerous. I have to make all these circles look like a puffed portion, it is very time-consuming, but it gives me immense pleasure to create artworks intricately hand-painted and capturing every detail. It’s like you have achieved a massive victory and this feeling is what makes me move forward with each painting. More than anything, the satisfaction of achievement and the peace during every stage of that painting is the crown to an artist.
What is the challenge in painting food? Tell us about the most challenging works?
This is an excellent question. Every single painting is a challenge. This challenge is not with the dimensions of the food or dish or even colour, the challenge lies in bringing those intricacies of details at every centimetre of the canvas. For example, it took me close to six months to paint ‘Idli, Sambar and Chutney’ and this was due to complexity of Idli texture with tiny holes around and being the first painting to be painted in this genre. While eating idli all my life, I never realized it has so many details and hundreds of tiny holes. Now, I cherish eating idli more, knowing its value, on a lighter note. Dosa had 5000+ circles and with Gulab Jamun, I had to paint 1000+ tiny circles on 7 Gulab Jamuns which took maximum time. Every painting takes 2 1/2 to 3 months. To conclude, yes, it’s indeed very challenging painting food as we must give a very detailed output covering colour, texture, shape of the dish, condiments, magnitude and depth of vegetables.
As a young mother, how do you balance work and life?
It is indeed a difficult task with kids at home, and especially during the pandemic, creating a balance between home and kids was challenging. Having said that, I must admit that my kids are very cooperative and encouraging. I used to paint with my kid on my lap most of the times along with educating and entertaining her. Most days of my studio are filled with their homework, toys and artworks but it brings me joy to include them in the process for a good balance between a mother and an artist. Occasionally much painting can’t be done, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not easy but not impossible as well.
I am currently working on a project Bhojan, a limited-edition hyperreal artwork capturing the mystical flavours of India. It comprises 12 Indian food’s hyper-realistic artworks intricately hand-painted. Most of the work for the exhibit is done and it is completed, I’m planning a solo exhibition in New York this year. It’s a one-of-its-kind show as there aren’t any Indian food paintings in a hyperrealism form presented on such a platform before.
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