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Lokvani Talks To Poppy Awasthi-Charnalia

Ranjani Saigal

Poppy Charnalia grew up in India deeply delving into various forms of art like painting, music and poetry. Her mother an established artist in India taught her techniques in various mediums.

She is now an artist based in Lexington, MA. She pursues poetry along with visual art. The fusion of the two forms inspires art from woven words and poetry from textured colors.

Poppy's 9 year old son Sohum is on the Autism Spectrum. She had created art since she was a kid but her son's indulgence in textures inspired her to create multidimensional pieces which is her signature now.

Destig Magazine did an article on her art in 2018. The magazine celebrates unique art from across the world. She has a wide clientele in Massachusetts, Illinois, California and New York.

She did a successful fund raiser for Autism Speaks at DeCordova Contemporary Art Museum in Massachusetts in Sept 2018. At this event she launched her first Hindi/Urdu poetry book ‘Yeh Sach Anvarat’ or ‘This Relentless Truth’ . Her art pieces aided the fundraiser further.

She raises money for Autism programs through Art and the sale of her poetry book.

She has upcoming art exhibitions in New York, London, Munich, Vienna , Venice and at the Cannes Festival in 2021-2022

Check out her video interview !

Congratulations on having your paintings being displayed at the Cannes Festival.Could you give us the details of the exhibition? 
Cannes Film Festival is one of the most important events in the art world. I am deeply humbled and honored to participate in this event as an Artist in May 2021. My pieces will be displayed at Palais des Festivals et des Congrès during the festival.
Art is a culmination of an artist’s perspicacious observation/absorption of their passage of time. I am very grateful to Samir , my husband for navigating this journey with me.
The International Contemporary Art Cannes Biennale is attended by visual and performing artists from across the world and receives coverage by 4,500 accredited journalists and television shows.
How did this come about? 
Destig Magazine ran an article on my artwork in 2018. The magazine celebrates unique art from across the world. This article has led to many opportunities to exhibit in New York, London, Munich, Vienna, Venice and at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021-2022.
Can you tell us about your journey as a visual artist? Where  and how did you learn to paint? What medium do you use? How do you choose your subject? 
I grew up in India. My mother was a well-established artist there. She did a series of Poppy Paintings and exhibited those while she was pregnant with me. That’s how I got my name! 
As a family we were deeply involved in Art, Poetry , Literature and Indian Classical Music.
Both my parents wrote poetry in Hindi, Urdu and English. They would often recite at poetry meets and I would tag along. I painted with my mother and experimented with homemade colors extracted from flowers from the Palash Tree (called Tesu in Hindi), herbs like turmeric and Henna leaves. 
I remember once participating in an art competition where we had to make one of the historic buildings in Lucknow called Bhulbhulaiya. I was 11 years old. I sketched the building with pencil colors and my colors broke half way through. I couldn’t sharpen them and still finish in time. I panicked! I started to highlight the details of the building with crayons and then rubbed my finger tips and scratched with my nails. I even used saliva to smudge! The result was marvelous. I learnt an important lesson that day. If you break the rules , the result could be beyond anything seen yet or imagined. 
I use tools from Home Depot , crayons, oil paint, acrylics, wall paint , natural flower and herb colors, items from my pantry to create my vision on canvas. I am always on the hunt for new materials to paint and sculpt with! I usually have an intense feeling from a life experience which I ultimately express on canvas. It could be about love, justice, despair, or hope. Known shapes or objects are not my focal point, they are mere accessories to express a deeper experience.
I came to the US when I was 21 to work for a financial services firm. I was struggling financially and couldn’t afford to buy art materials. I met my husband Samir in 2001, we got married in 2005 and in 2010 my twins Sohum and Preanshi were born. My son was diagnosed with Autism in 2013. 
That was a very challenging year for me as a Mom. I experienced symptoms of severe anxiety and depression. I stopped reaching out to friends. It hurt physically to even get out bed. The abyss was so dark, I didn’t think friends could help me.  My doctor prescribed pills, I kept them but never used them. I was determined to holistically heal myself. 
I started to paint again. I sang to my children. I was running every morning around the Charles with the double stroller. I wrote poetry at dawn. I had to fix my state of mind so I could rationally navigate the State/School system to help my son and care for my daughter. I drew strength from Samir’s optimism and resilience. We make a very robust team not only as parents but in every aspect of life.
I promised myself I will express my grief through music, on the canvas or through my pen. I have since painted over 300 pieces for my clients and for art shows (www.poppyspaintings.com).
My son enjoyed learning through textures like alphabets made out of lentils. This ignited my journey of highly textured art! When I create a piece , he rubs his entire body against it for sensory input. During tge Art Open House events at our home, I encourage children to touch the pieces. My art is not just ‘visual’!
I published a Hindi/Urdu poetry book called - ‘Yeh Sach Anvarat’ or ‘This Relentless Truth’. The launch was in September 2018 at the deCordova Sculpture Art Museum in Concord, MA.  I raise funds for Autism programs through the art and the sale of my poetry book ‘Yeh Sach Anvarat’ (https://www.autismalliance.org , https://www.autismspeaks.org , https://www.buildinghopeforautism.org).
Poetry and Art helped me discover immense light within myself. The hope now is to share that with the world, specially parents who are going through the despair I have felt.
अंदर से बाहर है रौशन
दीवार में उल्टी खिड़की सी
The light now flows from inside out, akin to a reversed window.
मैंने तेरी हक़ीक़त को बाइज़्जत जगह दी है
अब तू भी मेरे ख़्वाबों को कुछ जगह दे मौला

Oh God, I have respectfully made room for your reality; now you make room for my dreams.
You are an IndiArt Ambassador for Ekal Vidyalaya. Can you tell us about this role and why you chose to take this on? 
My son ignited textured art and consequently my art journey. It started with an innocent child , it should help other innocent children. Ekal is such a beautiful initiative to enable underprivileged children to not only achieve their dreams but further become ambassadors of hope for the lives they touch. The domino effect here is simply amazing! It’s my great honor to become a small part of this incredible Domino !
I am grateful to people who further the Ekal cause. I urge everyone to register for the Ekal Art Contest IndiArt 2020 via this link:
Any advice for young artists who may consider a career in art?
My advice to young artists-
Keep painting and experimenting absolutely fearlessly.
Don’t paint to please others or to sell your work.
Break the world’s rules (including your art teacher!). Break your own rules.
Exhibit your work everywhere, in your town, in your home, at a local exhibition/fare and you will grow immensely.

Art unlike the corporate world is not competitive so don’t compare your work with others. Opinions, your’s or other’s are quite meaningless. 
Art is sacred. It should teach you to not be envious and self-serving. If it’s not growing you as a person, pursue something else that will.
कला में न कभी जीती हूँ
न कभी हारी हूँ
कला में, मैं सिर्फ जीती हूँ
I have neither won nor lost in Art,
I simply live in it.
Any special message for our readers?
Art and poetry are by-products of my attempt to live with peaceful joy regardless of external stimuli. I have learnt that hope and happiness are not externally created. Hope is a self-ignited journey, not a destination. May the experience of hope become the very reason for hope.
उम्मीद का अहसास ही उम्मीद की वजह हो जाये...

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