CONTEMPORARY INDIAN ARTIST VINITA KARIM TALKS ABOUT MINERAL PIGMENT PAINTINGS
The name of contemporary Indian artist Vinita Karim brings a certain image to mind: intricate cityscapes with turquoise blues, vibrant reds and radiant metallic suns. From boats in crowded harbors to fluttering flags on temple roofs, every detail of her imagined metropolises are finely rendered. But as an artist focused on the physicality of her paintings, Vinita is always searching for new mediums and techniques, which in the past has led to the use of embroidery and now has launched a new phase of her artistic journey.
Over the past year, Vinita has begun exploring mineral pigments and a more abstracted style. This new material spreads organically across the canvas, creating unpredictable and uncontrollable effects — a challenge that has deeply inspired the artist. The mineral pigments also give an incredible sense of depth and texture to her paintings.
Recently, Vinita answered our questions on mineral pigments and how they have contributed to her stunning new series.
Your paintings have traditionally involved embroidery and acrylic on canvas. What inspired you to work with mineral pigments?
I love my materials — whether they are fine acrylic or oil paints, or gold, copper and silver leaf. I use the finest of canvases that I can source from different parts of the world. I also often incorporate embroidery in my work. For me, materials are a source of joy and creativity. I am always on the search for new materials.
Earth pigments have been used by humans dating back to prehistoric times, when cavemen created frescoes made out of raw materials which Mother Nature provided, such as black from burnt wood, yellow and red from soil, and white from chalk. Given this rich history, when I came across a shop in New York specializing in Earth Pigments, I was delighted. Trying out new mediums and techniques has always fascinated me, because by experimenting, I find myself in a new territory, outside my comfort zone, which in itself is challenging and exciting.
And what type of colors or materials are considered mineral pigments?
I discovered that there is a whole new range of colors to explore, such as cadmium, cobalt and organic pigments. Organic pigments exist both as natural pigments produced from plants and animals or as synthetic modern pigments from modern carbon chemistry. For example, Prussian Blue was discovered in Berlin in 1704 by Johann Jacob Diesbach. And in earlier days, the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli was used to create ultramarine blue, but now there are synthetic variants available.
I find it very exciting to use these pigments which are made out of different soils, oxides and metal powders. It is as if a whole new world has opened for me to explore!
What is your process when working with this medium?
Working with these pigments has been a trial and error procedure for me. By mixing them with acrylic mediums, I tried to manage them. I use various gels and mediums as well as binding agents to coax these pigments into adhering to my canvas. I work flat on the floor. It is a very hands-on process which involves a lot of spontaneity.
I usually paint the base with various acrylic hues and then build up the canvas by pouring the liquid mineral pigments. I often tilt the canvas one way or the other to propel the pigments into a certain direction. There is almost no intervention with a brush. The pigments have a life of their own and develop textures and fusions as they dry. This process is also slow since each layer needs a few days to dry.
In comparison, what is the process when you work with embroidery and paint?
My work process does not involve any sketching because I create the painting as it develops. It is again an entirely intuitive process, where I try to balance the composition to create new and surprising results. My brush is an extension of my hand and my mind.
When I work on a canvas with embroidery, the embroidery is the only piece which is sketched beforehand. The sketch is then given to local artisans who convert it into tapestry. Once the embroidery is first stitched on the canvas, then slowly, I build up the image, so that the painting and embroidery merge into each other seamlessly. Very often, people notice the embroidery only after it is pointed out to them.
Can you talk to us about a couple of your works with mineral pigments?
“Elsewhere” is a large square canvas with bursts of Alizarin pinks, cobalt blues and greens, milky whites and yellow Moroccan ochres. While working on this canvas, I was transported to an entirely new realm, one of infinite space. In this new series of mine, using mineral pigments, it feels as if I have left behind my little world, full of its cities and ports and taken a journey to somewhere unknown. In “Elsewhere,” this unknown is somewhere in between the waves of oceans with their milky, frothy waves as well as somewhere very far away, deep into space where celestial bodies exist. This new space is both physical with its textures and colors, as well as metaphysical in its very essence, pondering on the nature of the world and what it means for humans to inhabit it.
Looking at it, I feel that it inhabits a meditative space where we can dwell on our insignificant existence in this spectacular universe.
Are there any other mediums you are looking to explore?
I also love working in the three dimensional mode: sculpture. I enjoy working with wood and clay, because the materials used are so different. Each material has its own properties and possibilities as well as challenges. I believe that by trying out new mediums, one can find new and interesting avenues of creativity.
Thank you, Vinita, and congratulations on this gorgeous new series!
It’s always fascinating to hear how artists develop and evolve their styles from one series to the next, so I hope you have enjoyed peeking ‘behind-the-scenes’ at Vinita’s process. To browse our curated collection of contemporary paintings by Indian artist Vinita Karim, visit https://laasyaart.com/vinita-karim/. If you would like to make an appointment to see these works in person at our Indian art gallery in Palo Alto, please reach out at email@example.com or +1 650-770-9088.
— Sonia Nayyar Patwardhan