This past June, at Art All Night in Trenton NJ, I was struck, I mean, really struck by the color treatment in a particular painting. I photographed the name and quickly looked it up on my phone. The artist’s name was Sonali Mohanty. I looked at many images of her work and was very taken, no, smitten, with her usage of color and design and texture. Now, I’m looking at this from my background as a graphic designer and I’m seeing all the patterns and bright colors and the interplay of all the elements and I say, “Wow. Must interview”. So, I got in touch and found that Sonali Mohanty is a very accomplished artist whose work has been shown around the world. She hails from India, bringing with her a rich background, a background having a history that exudes powerfully from her work.
STM: Sonali, welcome to Studio Tour Magazine’s artist interviews. It is such a pleasure to have an opportunity to find out more about you and your work.
SM: Thanks, Thomas… the pleasure is all mine! I appreciate your interest in understanding more about me and my work.
STM: Sonali, what is the reason for art? What meaning does art have in your life and how did that meaning develop?
SM: Art for me is an expression of joy and happiness! When I am under stress, the thing that helps me relax is grabbing the easel or my sketchbook and making my hands dirty with paints. It’s almost therapeutic.
It has always been like that for me… I remember, as a child, when we used to go for vacation… the highlight for me was always the drive because I would look at the changing scenery and the beautiful colors of nature. Many of those impressions get translated into my artwork.
STM: What are you intending to communicate with your art?
SM: I feel art of any kind can affect a person deeply and I want people to view my colorful and vibrant artwork and take home the feeling of positivity and happiness. If the colors, subject, story or composition of my paintings makes the viewer pause and take a moment to absorb and introspect, I feel I have achieved my goal.
STM: What ignited your passion for art and when did you discover start creating it?
SM: The part of India that I am from has a rich tradition of creating motifs with rice flour and water during festivals - this art form is called ‘Chittah’. I watched my mom make the most intricate designs on our house floor and it would be magical. I was the self-appointed guard over these designs so that my bratty brother didn’t mess it up. Growing up, I slowly took over this process and, as far as I can remember, this started my love of art and I have been using Indian motifs in most of my paintings.
STM: Tell me about your creative process; what inspires you and then how you sit down and “get to work”.
SM: I am inspired by things around me and my expertise is in the usage of a wide range of colors and textures. I strive to develop artwork that speaks to, both, me and the viewer and is primarily an expression of my Indian roots. India is a place of diverse colors and subjects which has inspired me to use vibrant colors and motifs in most of my paintings.
STM: Your works look neither impressionistic or realist, etc. You could have chosen any other style to work in. Why do you paint in your particular style?
SM: I am a self-taught / trained artist - so I do what comes naturally to me. Abstract is beyond my comprehension and realism is beyond my talent 😊
STM: Many people, sometimes even artists themselves, have the view of the “starving artist” and many believe that all artists must be poor, desolate and dead before their work is appreciated. What do you say to those who hold to that view? What bearing does your view have on your efforts in your artistic career?
SM: I was at one of my painting exhibitions and one of the senior artists came up to me and said, “Your work is great but don’t expect anyone to take you seriously until you are at least 50”. I personally don’t believe that age or gender or contacts should define art…. If something appeals to you and you can afford it, buy it!
I do whatever appeals to me but there are times that I have done that sells….so I have compromised my aesthetics to avoid the “starving artist” tag at times. 😊
STM: How is the art world here in the US different from in India? In addition to moving here in 2016, leaving the IT industry, and adjusting to a new country in general, was it hard to adjust to the artist’s life here as well? How?
SM: Indian culture is steeped in mythology. All our festivals and celebrations have a flavor of it in them. So, what I have seen really works in India is modern/different interpretation of mythology and religion. In the US, I have seen a lot of modern art/abstracts and landscapes. And the colors are cooler while in India it is more shades of earth tones. This is my simple, unqualified observation and I might be completely off in my assessment 😊
We moved here last year and I am really thankful for my sister’s family for making the transition smoother than it would have been otherwise. For the whole of your life you are used to a certain lifestyle, friends, food etc. And then overnight it completely changes. Some things have become easier and some harder but on the whole my journey as an artist did take a backseat for a long time while we were still setting up home and getting the kids used to this change.
STM: How have you fared in the fact that you are a female artist, where many times male artists get the most attention? Has that slowed you down or has it not been an issue?
SM: I always thought that wasn’t the case because all of the exhibitions that I have taken part in or attended have predominantly had female artists. But now that you point it out, the more famous ones have always been of the opposite gender …umm! 😊 So, I guess till date, it hasn’t been really an issue at all.
STM: How have you struggled to get to where you are now? How have your struggles affected your work? What have been your greatest obstacles?
SM: The struggle has been considerable. The amount of rejections that I have got would make for a big collage art 😊. Initially, it used to put me down and sometimes it still does and there have been times where I have tried to change my style to see if I can fit into the type of art that sells. I have always come back to my own style, eventually, but all these experiments have helped me learn better. The biggest obstacle that I still face is the fact that I do not have an art degree to show … also the kids are young and I get only couple of hours to get to do what I love.
STM: What was your biggest setback or failure? Where did it take you?
SM: Rejections from popular galleries in India…Initially, it used to put me down and sometimes it still does and there have been times where I have tried to change my style to see if I can fit into the type of art that sells. I have always come back to my own style, eventually, but all these experiments have helped me learn better and get the nuances of different kind of art.
STM: Your art is sold and collected and you’ve had shows around the world. Considering money, fame, and notoriety, what do you want now? Do you consider yourself to be succeeding in getting this and why?
SM: I guess, like any artist… I would love for more people to appreciate my art. So, I want the fame and I guess with fame comes the money😊. I am doing my best, with my personal constraints, and I feel I am inching towards my goal….
STM: As a self-taught artist, coming from the world of IT and technology. How was an art education treated in India as compared to your education in engineering? Were you (and girls in general) encouraged at any time in artistic inclinations?
SM: Art education is considered as NO education. If you are born in India, irrespective of the gender, you have two choices in life… be a Doctor or Engineer. I remember trying to convince my parents to allow me to get a degree in fashion designing and a family friend came up to me and said that “I can’t believe that your ambition in life is to become a tailor”…. It was echoed so often by everyone I knew that I stopped trying. So, the answer to the last question would be a big fat NO!
STM: What’s working well for you in your artistic endeavors? What things have you found don’t work so well?
SM: I feel I have a natural flair for colors and textures and I guess that is working for me. I am not so good at watercolors as it requires a light hand and mistakes can’t be rectified easily…. But I will master it eventually!!
STM: To what other activities have your creative abilities taken you?
SM: I have designed logos for a few small companies and I make jewelry when I get the time.
STM: On occasion, people who are not artists may ask questions which artists sometimes feel are not appropriate, like “Do you make a living from your art? How much?” or questions not easily answered, like “How long did that take you to make”. How do you feel about those types of questions? How do you answer them?
SM :I answer these questions all the time especially when I have to get a commission art done. I feel these are genuine questions and it would be difficult for someone who doesn’t know much about art to actually know. I don’t get annoyed with these questions and I answer them as honestly as I can. The thing that annoys me is when they start bargaining after all these information have been provided. They start negotiating based on the effort put for creating the art than its value. They don’t realize that it is a creative process and it is much more than just “getting it done”. Thankfully, I have had very few people like that.
STM: Looking back on everything you’ve done, is there anything you’re most proud of?
SM: Every sale and gallery representation makes me feel proud because for a self-taught artist that is a big deal. But I guess the proudest I have been when I had my first exhibition in a little coffee shop and sold two paintings.
STM: What do you want people to know about artists?
SM: Artists spend hours experimenting and learning from their errors. They go through years of frustration and agony just to make people appreciate their vision enough to buy it. It is not a piece of cloth with color on it but piece of their life and feelings that they are offering.
STM: Who is “Sonali Mohanty”? What is one thing you want people to know about you?
SM: Sonali Mohanty is an engineer by education, IT professional by occupation but an artist by choice. I am a non-conformist to any typical form of art and my primary mode of expression is through vibrancy of colors.
STM: Where can people find you and your work?
SM: For more details pls mail at : firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com