Interview: Artist Remya Kumar on her new collection of paintings, and the importance of spontaneity in art

Artist Remya Kumar's new collection, titled 'Terra Verde', will be on display at the Vasantha Art Gallery in Bengaluru.

ByAnagha Maareesha

Published Nov 03, 2022 | 9:00 AM Updated Nov 03, 2022 | 9:00 AM

Remya Kumar painting

Bengaluru-based painter Remya Kumar’s artistic journey has been one of self-discovery and learning.

“I’ve been interested in art since I was a child, but I used to always copy from photographs or other paintings. I didn’t think I was creative enough to make something original for a very long time, and this was a creative block that I had to consciously overcome,” she tells South First.

The architect-turned artist is showcasing her latest collection of canvas paintings titled ‘Terra Verde’ in a show curated by ArtenBlu at Vasantha Art Gallery. The show kicks off on 5 November.

The 15 evocative pieces in the collection celebrate the lushness and glory of nature, and capture the feel of her homeland, Kerala.

Through rich tones and bold brush strokes, Remya communicates the beauty and power of the natural world. In a candid conversation, she speaks of her intuitive creative process and how the pandemic gave her a new perspective on life.

South First: You were an architect, and then chose to take up art. How did that shift happen?

Remya Kumar artist

Artist Remya Kumar with one of hers works. (Supplied)

Remya Kumar: I studied architecture and went on to study urban planning at The Ohio State University in the US. It was while I was in the US that I took a few art courses on campus. These courses were amazing at pushing me far out of my comfort zone and making me realise my own potential. It was here that I dared to believe that, maybe, I could create on my own, and that the process of self-discovery through art could be exhilarating, and fun, not serious and stressful. I learnt that the more one let go of trying desperately to make a good painting, the better the art became — how paradoxical! It was an amazing discovery that I keep central to my practice even today.

SF: Who all have been your inspirations when it comes to art?

RK: I love art that appears spontaneous and intuitive — when the strokes and marks are created without engaging the mind too much. I feel like I can truly see the soul of the artist then. This kind of art moves me. Abstracts and non-objective art are the kind of art I’m most drawn to by other artists.

My experience with my mentor, the eminent artist AV Ilango, has been a life-altering one. I feel like I got a second lease of life at Ilango’s Artspace in Chennai. Seeing him work, and meeting all the people from the art world, was a complete education that a self-taught artist like myself could only dream of. Having a mentor makes all the difference between being a complete outsider with no bearings in the art world, and having a north star in a sense, pointing you in a meaningful direction.

SF: Tell us more about Terra Verde. Why did you choose this theme?

RK: I draw inspiration from the lush, bountiful, exuberant feeling that the flora of Kerala exhibits, and I try to create that same feeling in my work through my own lens, which is colourful and sometimes other-worldly. The tropical theme came to me at a time when I was looking for a change in direction in my artistic expression. I used to make less descriptive nature-based work using a palette knife predominantly.

At the start of the pandemic, with the slowing down of the world, a lot of artists began looking inward and took this opportunity to reset. I decided to go back to basics and began making detailed sketches of the plants around me in my apartment. I began experimenting and found that I loved where this new theme was taking me. Coincidently, I visited my home in Kerala during the lockdown around this time and ended up staying there for three months. And so I found myself in the heart of inspiration and was able to soak in the feeling of the tropics to carry onto my canvases back home.

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SF: The colour palette of this collection makes it stand out. What was the thought process behind choosing it?

The colour choices are not pre-planned, they happen intuitively and spontaneously. It all starts with laying the background, which is a quick, playful process where paint is very loosely put down to create dynamic marks. The colours chosen at this stage determine what colours will come for the main focal points of the painting. And since the background is made without too much thought or strategy, the subsequent colour choices are also a surprise to me. This is what makes the whole process fun for me — the unpredictability of it all. In the end, it all somehow comes together, one mark at a time.

SF: In this collection you experimented with new tools and media. What were the tools?

RK: When I was looking for a new direction, one goal of mine was to break away from my dependence on the palette knife which had served me well for 10 years. So I began going through all my hoarded art supplies and tried my hand at everything to see what resonated with me — markers, rollers, crayons, pastels, sponges, charcoal, many many different types of brushes, collage, spray bottles, printing and so much more. This was some very fertile creative soil to be working in — so many new discoveries were made, and a lot of them have become a part of my standard approach to making a painting now. I have promised myself that I will keep returning to this kind of playful, joyous experimentation to keep things alive in my art practice.

SF: The show kicks off with a live event. What can we expect from the event?

RK: At the live event on 5 November, I will take audience members through the process of creating one of my popular paintings called Blue Woods. I will be using my trusty palette knife and will show you all the steps to take you from a blank canvas to the finished painting in the span of about half an hour. I will also take questions from the audience as I’m painting, and will talk about my process.

(‘Terra Verde’ will be on display at Vasantha Art Gallery, Bengaluru from 5 November to 5 December.)