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Lokvani Talks To Mridula Satyamurti

Ranjani Saigal

Mridula Satyamurti is a scientist by training and an academician by profession with a lifelong passion for art. "I started drawing before I could write and with the encouragement of my parents spent my childhood constantly drawing and painting. Somehow life came in the way of my art and only two years ago I got back to painting. I have been trying my hand at oil and watercolors and occasionally sculpting. I hope to never stop again" says Mridula. She further describes her passion for art in this interview. 
How did you get interested in becoming a painter?

I have always been interested in painting ever since I was a child. I was drawing before I could write. I was extremely fortunate to have the most encouraging parents. Today when I think back I realize that my father never said no to any amount of paint and supplies I would ask for. It was my mother who taught me to see the beauty in the smallest and seemingly insignificant things. I remember clearly one time when I was walking with her and she asked me to look at that extremely small purple flower in a weed that was growing so close to the ground. She gave me the eye for detail. 

What training have you had as an artist?

I grew up in Allahabad and there was no art school in the city. My father found a gentleman by the name of Mr. Nagar who was a draftsman in my uncle’s printing press and a very good artist. When I was in middle school he used to come home to teach me art. He taught me to draw people. My happiest moment was when he came after a gap and I showed him my drawing and he was not very sure that I had drawn it. I still feel good about that. 

That was my only formal training as a child. After my high school I took a very long sabbatical from painting. I was studying and I would find it very hard to separate the painting and studies and somehow time went by and life came in the way. My art and I really drifted apart. Even though I was not painting myself I was taking a lot of interest in visiting museums and beautiful structures. 

In 2010 I was in a friend's house and she was going to an art class. I asked if her teacher would accept me. The teacher said yes and for six months I went to Marilyn Kahn, an artist in my town Sharon who introduced me the brands of paints and paper and brushes that I could buy. In her class I started painting again. After that for a couple of years I was painting every free minute of the day. A dam broke inside and there was so much in me that wanted to just come out. I still paint a lot but perhaps it is a bit more controlled. I paint in oil and watercolor and I also like to sculpt. For sculpting I took a course at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and at Stonybrook Fine Arts in Jamaica Plain I learned to do bronze sculptures by the lost wax process. 

What is your involvement with Kalakruti?

As for Kalakruti, when I started painting I realized that there was no group for the Indian artists. One Diwali celebration in Sharon my husband Satya and I were standing outside the auditorium with one of my paintings and a notepad waiting for someone to come and ask questions.  Then we could ask them if they painted and were interested in forming a group. Nothing happened that day but the association president at that time gave me the names of a couple of her friends who painted. They brought a few more people and in December of 2011 six of us had our first meeting in my house and we named the group Kalakruti. Since then the group is slowly growing and is strengthening its roots. We now have over twenty members and a branch in Seattle. 

What kinds of themes you like to paint?

I love to paint just about anything. I paint animals and flowers and people and landscapes. Since I paint for my own satisfaction I do not have to worry about having a style. I just paint. I do not care for the rules of painting. I have nothing to prove or show and I can just be myself. I love bright colors. My paintings are colorful. I buy the best brand of paint and I use it generously. I love the feel of oil paints.  I also love to sculpt, but I go slow on that as it is a lot of work and a very expensive process. I do feel that I am better at sculpting than painting. Sculpting just comes to me a lot more naturally and effortlessly. 

Can you share a little about the cow painting?

I love to paint the cow. Maybe it is my Indian roots or it is the fact that my mother loved them. I have painted a few cows by now but somehow they find their way into other people’s homes. They tend to wonder off to people they like. I think the cow is a gentle and harmless animal. It has a very special place in my heart.  If you look into the eyes of a cow, you want to protect the innocent animal that is so exploited. I will keep painting them. You will see more cows grazing in my studio from time to time. 

Can you share a painting experience that has been special to you?

If you ask me a painting experience that is special to me, it is the recent pair I painted and named Shakti. I painted a painting of goddess Durga last summer. In that time Sharon Creative Art Group invited me to exhibit two of my paintings for the upcoming exhibition.  I wanted to paint something new to go with my Durga and I did not want to paint another goddess. I was thinking who can I dare put next to the goddess Durga. Then I thought of Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi who died at a very young age bravely fighting the British soldiers in 1858. The Rani herself was a devotee of goddess Gurga. I have a connection with the Rani as one of my ancestors fought besides her in her army.  I can really say that these two paintings that are the true representation of Shakti. If you walk into my front door, you will see them hanging side by side in my living room. 

Who are your mentors in the art world?

I do not have a mentor in art. I have always painted alone. I am fortunate to have come from a caring family and I have had all the support from them. I am also fortunate to be married to the person who supports me fully now. These are the people who have made me who I am.

Who is the artist you admire the most?

I can easily say that I am in awe with many of the masters like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Raja Ravi Verma, and the list can go on without being able to name one. But the truth is that I admire and am inspired by the everyday artists the most. The people who paint for the joy of painting and probably will never be recognized. Those are the people that I respect and like to idolize and perhaps it is so because I am one of them. I paint without the expectation of recognition. I paint because I like to. I tile my walls with my paintings and hope that when I am gone they too will disappear without leaving a physical trace and only be remembered fondly by people who loved me.

Thank you for your wonderful conversation.


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