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It’s not easy to tear your eyes away from Bakula Nayak’s art. It’s even harder not to fall in love with the artist’s radiant personality and infectious energy. A self-confessed dreamer, Bakula Nayak’s creations are reminiscent of the illustrations one finds in Beatrix Potter’s children’s books. Painting on different kinds of vintage paper ranging from old bills to postcards to stamp paper, she creates magical artworks filled with birds, animals, food and mundane day to day objects, that make you smile and sigh all at once, while transporting you to a fantasy land…
The Love for Vintage
Why vintage paper, we ask Bakula. “I’ve always loved old things, and have been collecting vintage paper for as long as I can remember. There is a story in each of these papers - whether it’s the country it’s from, the writing on it, or what it was used for – and I try to incorporate that individual character into my final work of art,” she explains.
(A few pieces from Bakula's massive collection of vintage paper)
Quiz her on where she finds her fascinating horde of old papers, postcards, and letters, and Bakula admits she doesn’t really go looking for them. “Somehow, they find a way to me. I’ve chanced upon these treasures in flea markets, village shops, on my travels abroad. And my loved ones know about my love for them, so they keep give me anything they find, especially when they’re cleaning out their clutter!”, she tells us with a smile.
Memories from Childhood
Growing up in the old Rajajinagar neighborhood in Bangalore, Bakula realized her talent for art at a very young age. Recently, while cleaning out her parents’ old home, she discovered an old cardboard file filled with artworks she had made as a child! With twinkling eyes, she exclaims, “Can you believe my mother kept all of these? She was the one who insisted on sending me to art classes, and made me participate in all the annual art competitions in Bangalore. She even subscribed to western children’s magazines to broaden my thoughts and spur my creativity.” A closer look at Bakula’s older creations reveal many elements from her childhood creations that continue to feature in her current artworks, such as frangipanis, gulmohars, and birds.
An Artist is Born at 37
For someone who spent much of her childhood immersed in art, Bakula stopped painting in her teens. Parental pressure made her take up Architecture at a local college for her bachelors, but later, she went to the U.S. to pursue a Master’s degree in Design, which is what she wanted to do.
After completing her studies, Bakula spent many years working for the likes of Ralph Lauren, L’Oreal, Kenneth Cole and Karim Rashid. “I didn’t like what I was becoming at these jobs. Something didn’t feel right” says Bakula. “Plus, I was constantly yearning for family life in India.” And so, Bakula moved back to India in 2010 with her husband and son, while pregnant with her second. Once back in Bangalore, taking care of her children, running a design studio, suffering from health issues, while at the same time having to deal with her father’s death, left her emotionally spent. And that’s when she started painting again, at the age of 37. It was my emotional outlet,” she says.
It’s All Personal
Bakula may have started painting when she was grieving, but her artworks wouldn’t make you think so. There is love and happiness exuding from every inch of her canvas. “Love, poetry and seduction in the mundane is an absolute necessity for me to survive. I transport myself to my utopian bubble with music and stories of love and romance to be able to paint,” she says.
(An artwork by Bakula inspired by the romantic Hindi film, Bajirao Mastani)
Birds are an omnipresent character in Bakula Nayak’s art. Ask her why, and her self-effacing response is, “Birds fascinate me and I like to draw with the skills I have; drawing birds comes easily to me. Plus, I’ve found that people really connect with my birds and their stories.”
Every piece of art made by Bakula, carries a piece of her. One of her creations that tugs at our heartstrings is a sketch of a Mama bird leaning on a Papa bird, on a letter yellowed with age, which was written by Bakula’s mother to her father. “My parents were not romantic; I don’t remember them being expressive at all,” recalls Bakula. “But years later, after they both passed away, I found a collection of the most romantic letters exchanged between them in the times they were apart. I was so surprised, because the only time I ever saw any tenderness between them, was when I was leaving for the U.S., and my mother leaned against my father’s shoulder at the airport.” It is this beautiful memory, that Bakula has poignantly captured in one of her early creations.
(Bakula's artwork inspired by her parents hug at the airport)
With every artwork, we understand more about the artist, what she holds dear and what she thinks. There is the artwork with Bakula ‘stuck in a perpetual jam’, another which shows the complications of love in today’s world and even one with Tara – Bakula’s alter ego, depicting the diva that Bakula would have liked to be, instead of the ‘klutz’ she claims she really is!
But while her delightful creations may recall moments from her own life, they connect to the viewer as easily, inviting them to a space of contemplation, while eliciting a smile.
(In a Jam, by Bakula Nayak)
Filled with a restless energy, Bakula works on multiple pieces at the same time, finishing all the sketching before she starts applying paint to paper. Because she works with different kinds of vintage paper, it’s impossible to know in advance, how the paper will react to the paint. “Sometimes the paper blots, or the paint may end up being too watery for that paper, or the colour looks completely different from what I had imagined…but that’s how the character of the paper comes alive, and I love that,” says Bakula.
Closing our conversation, we ask Bakula about how she comes up with her ideas, and not surprisingly, here’s what she says, “The vintage paper I use dictates the main story. I like living vicariously in the bygone times while I imagine the context in which the paper was used. At the same time, my obsession with love and all things tea make their appearance everywhere. I never have an idea of what my finished piece will be. My hand just moves, and I don’t really know what I’m going to do next. I don’t think of myself as an artist; I’m just a storyteller who uses art as her medium.”
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