ArtFactory Blog

Creative spotlighT: TANIA SEN

1) Where were you raised? Can you paint a picture of your childhood?

I was born and raised in Kolkata India for the most part with the exception of a few small towns where I have also lived, where my Father was posted for his job. One’s childhood is intrinsically connected to the caregiver of early ears, in my case my mother. Mothers and Daughters – II is a portrait of my mother done with reference to an old photograph at a costume party that my father took. The single most redeeming quality about my mother was her indomitable spirit, - the reason why I chose it to do her portrait from.

2) Did you always create art as a kid, or did you come to it later in life?

At age 4 I was misdiagnosed with diphtheria in a small town in India. The wrong medication kept me confined to a hospital bed for many days and thereafter affected my mobility for a period of time. It was during this time that I took up making art when my Dad bought me a drawing book and a box of crayons during my stay at the hospital. An engineer by profession, my father himself was a talented sculptor and artist.

3) Which artists have influenced your work? Why and how?

In my teen years, I read a book titled Lust for Life which is a biography of Van Gogh. It was the description of bohemian lifestyle that appealed to me at the time. I have always liked Picasso’s early works, and learned to appreciate his Cubism only later. I have loved the works of many artists since and have been told that some of my early minimalistic drawings bear influence of Picasso. A fan of Indian contemporary artist Souza’s work, who is also known to be heavily influenced by Picasso. It is only recently that I am revisiting the cave paintings of Ajanta and Kalighat influenced art of Jamini Roy. I have incorporated tribal art in my recent work, Depicting Her Essence, which is currently showing at the Haggin Museum, in California.

4) Any other influences (people, places, ideas)?

Even though I have dabbled with art since age 4, and took art classes fairly extensively, it has always been an extracurricular activity. What I enjoyed in my younger days was plein air painting as it offered the opportunity to go someplace with friends. Later when I came to New York City for graduate studies, the bohemian life in the Village, before it became gentrified, was inspiring! My art teacher during my teens, Pradeep Maitra, an expert water colorist was passionate about his craft and instilled a thirst for perfection in rendering and draftsmanship. My recent performance art stills, The Second Skin is a focus on women in India, the social and religious censorship they are subject to, some of which I have known first hand.

5) Tell me about your practice—how do you generate ideas, what medium do you use?

My work addresses the tension between iconic unity and digital fuzziness, between the uncontaminated original and its inevitable decay, between recognizability and facelessness, between personal and depersonalized identity through substitution, mediation and commoditization. Drawing from mythology, politics, pop culture, ads, signage, my works at the base of it, is simply a way to emulate the process of materialization of a thought or imagination. It bears within it clues of transformation and morphing. I like to experiment with acrylic, aluminum, construction cones, found objects and unconventional artistic mediums such as henna. These works however are more intimate and personal where a social commentary is secondary, the focus is mostly on personal narrative.

6) Is your art more concept-driven or image-driven?

A bit of both, these however are clearly figurative. Author Salman Rushdie has a theory about the form of art an artist chooses. He points out, that artists from warm places generally tend to practice figurative art whereas those from cold climate stick to abstract forms.

7) Why do you make the art you make?

Primarily to make a conversation with the viewer. Which is why I have implemented known imagery in many of my works such as the Coca Cola script, or reference to Mona Lisa, in my series of Death of an Icon or Michelangelo’s Creation, (which I rendered with neon and showed at the Art Factory a couple of years ago) that are familiar enough that it makes the observer connect, drawing from his/her own bank of personal experiences, yet the narrative associated with the imagery tells another story – one that I tell. Thus we have Fizzy Dreams in Percentages, telling the story of income inequality in the Coca Cola script. Since my schooling has been in Communication Arts and MBA, for years I have joined the work force with the understanding that art was something I did as a child. As an Art Director in Advertising, my job was “creative”, however, I did not consider myself to be an artist per se. After experiencing a void for many years in my professional experience, there came a time when I had to stay home with the task of raising my child. It was then, that I started making art once again, exhibited locally at first then in bigger cities, such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, then in Europe, India, South Korea, this fall I will attend a residency to the south of Spain, La Postiza.

8) Does your art influence your life, and vice versa?

Mostly it is the life that influences art I would say. Even though when my performance art stills from Primal Colors showed at the Royal Academy in Scotland, it might have been the other way, where had it not been for my art, I might never have set foot in Scotland. I’m so glad I did! Please Don’t Burst My Bubble - a solo show at the Contemporary Art Museum in South Korea addressed absolute power, and now that North and South Korea have proceeded to make peace, it is life again that continue to modify my initial narrative.

9) What do you think about the notion "the lonely artist"?

Solitude is an essential part of art making, art takes time and focus unlike knitting or cooking for instance, it also nurtures spiritual growth. Often times the intensity of the practice or level of involvement can alienate people in our lives – mostly those that are closest.

10) Does your art connect you to the world in some way, or does it help you navigate the world?

It is always about the world, either as a social commentary or a personal one. It has helped navigate the world in that the creative process springs from a void and fills the void at the same time.

11) Do you make art for yourself or other people?

A bit of both. While the narrative is always personal, the execution and the process definitely takes the observer into consideration, I am not an ivory tower artist by any means.

12) What purpose do you think art serves today?

When you look at the history of a civilization, it is mostly the art that you look at over commerce or anything else! Cities are revived by art, one can see examples of it all over Philadelphia. Artists have typically had to depend on a patron who deemed the importance of art. Today, the focus is on commodity. Visual experience is largely digital. While the trend is towards more and more money for less and less art, the rigged art industry in many cases is defeating the purpose of art.

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