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It takes just one look at her canvasses, for you to be transported into a place of radiance and reflection. Naina Maithani Kulkarni’s intense artworks extend to the far reaches of imagination, and bring out a unique portrayal of her life and experiences.
(Left: 'Storm of Beauty', acrylic on canvas. Right: Artist Naina Maithani Kukarni)
Stepping Into the Art World
A self-taught artist, Naina’s career began with the hotel management industry, followed by a stint in the finance sector. The volatile world of the latter however, proved to be life-changing. Left without a job after the 2009 financial crisis, which in hindsight, she calls “a blessing in disguise”, Naina led herself to the world of art.
She began working at the prestigious Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi, where she met clients, interacted with connoisseurs and artists, and caught up on a lot of art reading. Eventually, after getting married, Naina and her husband Nakul, who is a pastry chef, moved to Vietnam, marking the beginning of her journey as an artist.
The Birth of an Artist
Living in the ancient Vietnamese heritage town of Hoi An, Naina’s days were not only spent visiting numerous galleries, but also by putting her talent to use. She acquainted herself with local artist Mr. Tran Viet Son who became her “guru”. A fan of renowned abstract artist Jackson Pollock, he inspired Naina to start painting and introduced her to the world of abstract art.
(Naina's Guru, Mr. Tran Viet Son at his gallery in Hoi An)
Every evening, sipping tea together, the duo discussed her canvasses. “I learned a lot from Mr. Son, and it was not only about art. He passed down life lessons and teachings that will stay with me forever”, says Naina.
It is because of her mentor’s abstracts, that Naina too, found her niche in abstract art. Always attracted to this genre, Naina believes abstract art gave her the freedom to explore herself as an artist. “I dream in abstract” she says. “It is something that never bores me, because it is open to interpretation”.
That her calling lay in art, was evidenced when Naina sold her first artwork in Vietnam to an Australian traveller, who bought it for $150. Though she didn’t want the money, it was Mr. Son who told her to keep it, to remind her of her beginnings, and to do better each day. “I still have the $150!”, she laughingly admits.
(Naina's first painting, sold for $150 in Vietnam in 2011)
Tryst with the Industry
Nakul’s job eventually took the couple to Doha and Langkawi after Vietnam, and these places, along with Dehradun, where Naina grew up, left an indelible mark on her. It is the experience of living in these interesting cities, that is subtly conveyed in her work, turning her art into an exquisite abstract travelogue.
Getting in touch with Namu Kini of Bangalore’s Kynkyny Art Gallery, was another big step in her artistic journey. With her husband’s encouragement and Namu Kini’s support, Naina eventually began selling her luminous and captivating paintings on her return to India.
(Naina with Namu Kini of Kynkyny Art Gallery)
Talking about her art, Naina reveals that her favourite is ‘Plumes’, a gorgeous painting that was sold at an Art Bengaluru auction in 2013. Her first auction sale, ‘Plumes’ began with a starting bid of Rs. 95,000, and was eventually sold at Rs.2,50,000, giving Naina all the encouragement she needed to continue her career as an artist!
(Naina's artwork 'Plumes' at the Art Bengaluru auction)
A Distinct Artistic Style
Naina’s works are a result of her mood and state of mind. “I don’t question myself”, says the artist. Merely trusting her instincts, and going by her emotions, Naina’s stunning artworks reflect her spontaneity and artistic sense.
Has being self-taught given her an advantage? “In a way, yes”, says Naina. “Each painting is a learning experience. Being self-taught has given me a certain sense of freedom, because it means that there is no rule-book to follow”.
(An acrylic on canvas by Naina, titled 'Reminiscence')
Inspired by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and S.H Raza, Naina admits that in the beginning, her art works did emulate the style of these great artists. As time went by, however, Naina became more confident with her art and is proud to say that today she has her own style. “Original Naina!” she laughs.
(Two of Naina's earlier art works)
A unique aspect of Naina’s art work is her signature, which was inspired by her Japanese friend in Vietnam. Using the signature as a symbol of artistic freedom, Naina signs her art work, in Hindi, at the very point on the canvas, from which the painting began. “I sign where I believe the thought process and soul of the painting lies” she says.
(Naina's unique signature on the painting 'Mellow Time', available on Artisera)
Marriage of Art
For Naina, her husband has been an incredible support and inspiration. With a pastry chef and an artist under the same roof, art and creativity does seem to have a special place in their home. “We always say that my husband is the artist on plate, and I am the artist on canvas” says Naina. The couple constantly motivates each other – in fact, her husband even asks for her opinions when it comes to colour combinations on his plate. “He has made a lot of Pollock-inspired desserts!” laughs Naina.
(Left: Naina with her husband Nakul; Right: Desserts created by Nakul)
While Naina’s artistic career has shown no signs of slowing down, the artist does not take anything for granted. Grateful for all the encouragement and support she has received, she says “I am where I am because of two very special people, and I dedicate all my art work to my husband Nakul, and my guru, Mr. Son.”
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