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Stirred Not Shaken

Harshita Nandwani says the lockdown proved to be the best period to create as the pandemic slowed down the world and gave us the opportunity to observe.
Text: Team Art Soul Life

We all know that building a sustainable career in the creative field is not easy. But here is Mumbaikar Harshita Nandwani, who embraced the freedom of being self-taught and did incredible things with her artistic career. She is among those untrained artmakers who’ve succeeded in making their mark with little or no art school guidance. Nandwani, who feels art cannot be taught, is an MBA and working with Credit Suisse when she decided to put it all behind to take up the paintbrush full time. “One can learn skills and techniques, but art comes from your own experience…the way one looks at things and perceives life. Art is you, and no one can express yourself better than you,” she gets candid. Nandwani says nothing was part of the plan. “Being born in a middle-class family, I always wanted to make my parents proud, just like every other child,” she says. “After completing my graduation in Surat, I moved to Mumbai to pursue higher studies. I reached a level where I was doing great working with an MNC with one of the best work cultures. In my perfect world, however, I still craved for something.” She secretly envied people with passion in their lives as “those are the ones who are headstrong and not affected by external events as they have their own world,” she says. “In December 2016, my friend gave me a box of colours and canvas on my birthday. Since then, my urge to create never stopped.” She quit her cushy job as she wasn’t able to tilt the balance. “I found painting as an outlet to my artistic expression. Art is a way of life now. I never intend to become an artist, but I guess life made me one,” she says. “While growing up, art was never considered as a career option back then (or even now), so I never had a thought about it.” But did it ever occurs to her as to how she was going to survive as an artist? “My initial struggle years in Mumbai made me confident that I’ll be able to survive even without a job,” she says. “I could have followed my passion along with my job, but I would not have done justice to art.” Nandwani says there was a fear indeed, but she had few savings and strong support from her family, especially her brother. “And your expenses are directly proportional to your income, so when your income goes down, expenses are reduced automatically,” she explains. After quitting her job, she moved to Surat to stay with her family. “From the very first day, there was an in-built pressure to do big via my art. To quit after achieving everything and start again from the scratch was a risky decision. No matter, it was my own decision, but I wanted to prove myself that it was the right one,” she says. Of course, there were other major hurdles to tackle: self-doubt (lot of it), logistic issues, no sales, learning new techniques, building a brand, trust issues, creating a network, etc. So what did she do? “Art cannot be created in pressure. One has to free oneself from fears,” she says. “To overcome these hindrances, I decided to undertake the Chadar trek, a frozen river trek in Ladakh. My 10 days at the trek freed me from my fear.” Nandwani faced death, extreme climate, pain, and basic necessities which we take for granted. “I could never have valued what I had, if I had not gone on the trek. The only thing important there was to breathe. I was grateful for my life after coming back from there. Mountains gave me courage and freedom during that visit,” she says. The artist, who has a lot of takers of her art abroad, says she’s never had any shows outside the country. “People in this generation have an advantage to show their work with just one click. World today is very much connected, thanks to the digital world.” she says. “I’m grateful that I’m able to connect with people across the world via my art. The only problem with the digital world is “trust” and to build trust, takes time which cannot be quantified.”

Talking about the various mediums she’s worked with, Nandwani says she uses a combination of oil/acrylic and sometimes ink. “More than the medium, I have experimented with the tools. I use anything or everything around me to create the desired texture,” she says. “Sometimes I use my fingers, palm) etc., for painting when I have very strong emotions and I don’t want even the tools to come in between me and the canvas. Also, I have experimented with the size of the paintings. I create large size paintings of about 5-6 ft when I want to create a space to enter rather than the painting.” And why only abstracts? “There are few things in life which you don’t know you know. It’s inbuilt in you. When I started my venture, I didn’t even know the term abstract in art,” she informs. “I started with landscapes and moved to abstracts even without knowing it. Art is an expression of myriad emotions; art connects with the soul and I reflected it on canvas.” Currently, she’s working on a series called “Emotional Flow” focusing not on any particular emotion, but on the change of emotion. “As we get into a sad state from the happy one, I’m trying to reflect that change in this series,” she informs. Nandwani says for her as an artist, the lockdown was the best period to create. “The pandemic slowed down the world and gave us the opportunity to observe,” she says. “We don’t see things clearly when everything around us is moving fast, just like photographs get blurred when the subject is in motion. I feel I created few of the best artworks during this lockdown.” Also, she had a collaboration with a startup called Gyftbook, based in Singapore, where her artworks will be put for auction in the coming months. She says being a full-time artist, the boundaries have broadened. “From office walls to infinity, I don’t have any place or time constraints,” she says. “I listen to myself. I have more experiences as I’m able to see the world closely and not by sitting in a room.” Though there is no fixed salary or routine, that’s the trade-off. “I’m happy that I took that decision to quit my job as I’m creating every day and creation is like power. No one can take that away from you. And you get better, with every work. Art is something that makes me happy,” she adds.

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