I am incredibly excited to have interviewed artist Padmaja Madhu. Padmaja is a painter originally from Bangalore, India who began her artist journey by painting scenes from Hindu mythology. Now living in the U.S., her focus has switched to landscapes, which she depicts in impressionist, expressionist, and abstract styles.
As both an artist from India, where women are generally encouraged to take on more traditional professions, and a landscape painter with strong narrative sensibilities, Padmaja’s story made for a very exciting interview. Enjoy!
Q: What is your process when you sit down to create?
A: Painting daily for a few hours is a must for my routine and discipline is the key! I have a fixed time and I stick to it without fail. Very rarely do I escape the routine. Having said that, it just depends on my mood for the day. There is no big planning or anything; I choose a subject depending on the mood I am in and the process begins. There is no pressure to finish the work in one session, so that choice gives me the freedom to enjoy the process. Every new blank canvas is as exciting as my first one and I start with a coat of bright red acrylic paint to cover the canvas. The vibrancy of the red just energizes my thoughts to be put on the canvas. The reference for the work is, most of the time, from my own photographs, but I don’t copy them. The final work is usually not recognizable when compared to the reference! It is all about intuition and the thoughts that take off. The application of thick vibrant paint with a palette knife interests me most during the process.
Q: Land and seascapes make up a large portion of your work. What draws you to this subject matter?
A: Landscapes and seascapes are addictive and very special to me. The main reason I feel that way is my innumerable travels worldwide. Each opportunity to visit a different country has opened so many possibilities to paint. Wherever I have been, the landscapes send me intense emotions that spiritually connect me to the creator instantly. Nature is divine for me and painting nature feels like a prayer with gratitude for what has been bestowed on mankind.
Q: You’ll often incorporate stories with your artwork. What is the most intriguing story/person that has inspired your work so far?
A: The following story happened just out of my window when I was sitting feeling depressed, useless, and totally negative!
All I can see from my window is an empty terrace of the next door restaurant. Nothing interesting to paint I suppose, but an interesting daily activity catches my eye enough to get my paints out! I observe a lot of pigeons, laughing doves, sparrows, the occasional seagull from the nearby beach and some parrots, all coming to this insignificant terrace to drink the dripping water from the air conditioners. One sparrow stands out as it seems to be more adventurous than the rest! While the other birds choose to sit on the walls, this one sits alone on the telephone wire that is hanging between the two walls and starts swinging lightly. A little later he ends up swinging faster. I feel he is thoroughly enjoying what he is doing since this activity repeats ritualistically every day! A simple story, but for me it conveyed a profound truth.
Many choose to think out of the box, take risks, follow their hearts with an adventurous mindset, choose to make a difference, or just enjoy life with a different cup of tea. The adventure is best enjoyed when there is no fear of falling (failing) or of being ridiculed. Swing like this bird I tell myself (I hate to admit it, but I tend to stick to the path of least resistance) to stand out, to make a mark. The swinging bird taught me a little lesson. I love the experience that made me paint “Swing Swing.”
Q: When did you first consider yourself an artist and why?
A: When I was about 10 years old, I used to pester my brother and sister to pose for me and I drew them, much against their wishes! I drew my father secretly when he used to fall asleep on the sofa. I used to draw my mother making a flower garland. Just then I thought art interested me more than anything else. I understood I could convert my emotional thoughts into something visual.
Q: In your painting “Illumination,” you mention the support that your father provided while you were growing up. How did this help to shape you as an artist?
A: My grandfather, who was a musician at the Mysore Maharaja’s (king) palace, put me under the guidance of his artist friend. Obviously he saw some potential in me when I was just thirteen years old. My father took over and encouraged me to continue my art, though my formal science degree was a must and had to be completed. An art career was a taboo in a middle class south Indian household! But later my father always regretted that I was not guided towards an art degree. He introduced me to his friends as a “girl who paints all the time!” The pride and confidence that he showed in me pushed me in the forward direction. Against his financial constraints, he arranged to pay my tuition fee to learn Indian traditional art and my journey into creating started on a more serious note.
Q: If you could have one story from your life turned into a work of art for yourself, which would it be?
A: It would be like Richard Diebenkorn’s “Woman at a Window“! Lost in introspection, some daydreaming and in conversation with myself.