Saturday Features

Muse and Terminus


Aug 4, 2018-

Heartbreak tends to do weird things to people. For Ujala Shrestha, it gave birth to the artist in her. At only sixteen, her first love ended in a horrible heartache and what followed was one month of staying inside the four walls of her room doing absolutely nothing but pouring her feelings into a mural. And once every nook and corner, including the ceiling, was covered in paint, there it was, her first moment of realisation that she could pass as an artist. In high school, she took art as part of her curriculum and by the time she went to college, she had already decided that she wanted to pursue graphic designing. At 22, while she was on a break from her college to travel and work for a while, she came home and worked with Sattya Media Arts Collective for six months. It was at that time that she explored all facets of the artist that she could be. She explored mediums from digital to analog, and from paper to walls. Fast forward to today, at 27, she is one of the best contemporary visual artists and illustrators that Kathmandu has seen. Her art works that range from very intricate drawings of cities to minimal illustrations that speak louder than words are a treat for the eyes. But how much does one’s work define a person? Does an artist perceive herself as her audience does? What wins in the battle between sustainability and creativity? And how ready is Kathmandu to nurture and cultivate modern art? Ujala answers these questions and more in this conversation with the Post’s Abha Dhital. Excerpts:

Would you say your art defines you?

No. I mean, sure art is a big part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am. I make art for a living. But there are other things that keep me alive. I travel a lot. Every year on my birthday I make a point to travel solo. Again, this is a good thing that came out of another breakup. I am a very emotional person and love just tends to pull all these odd strings inside me and heartbreaks tend to become these wonderful turning points in my life. On my twenty-third birthday, I just mustered the courage to get out on my own and see the world without anybody beside me to hold my hands. Solo travel is something you can’t undo. Once you get the taste of it, there’s no looking back. Music is another big part of me. I don’t play anything but I am a massive consumer of music. And photography, of course. I do a lot of analog photography.

You have a very versatile portfolio. If someone were to describe you, say professionally, what kind of artist do you say you are?

You see, that’s difficult to answer. I never really stick to one style or one medium. While I did pursue graphic designing, I don’t really like the idea of working on a computer all the time. I am a firm believer in creating a balance between analog and digital. I have to keep switching between mediums. I keep going back and forth between the computer and walls to paper and pen. In fact, recently I even took up an art direction gig. Sometimes defining yourself as one particular thing also means that you are confining yourself to that definition. I am at an age where I still want to explore and experiment and not just settle into a single box. It’s important to be open to resources at your disposal. It checks you from being too comfortable or stagnant.

It keeps you ticking.

Do you feel you are at a place where you can acknowledge your growth?

Has there been growth? Yes. Has there been enough growth? No. Where I am is not enough. I could still do more, I could still be more. In Kathmandu, my skills might suffice. Keeping it basic can take me a long way. The same formula doesn’t work in the global context. I do sense some sort of limitation in terms of how much I can explore and experiment with my art here. Design education is just finding its place here. I want to strive to be better.

Is it safe to say you are self-critical? Also. How important is criticism for an artist?

I am very self critical. It’s so difficult to be content with what I have created. I can only turn in a work once the deadline draws close and even then it’s a compromise on my end because I am almost always closing it just for the sake of it. I am never entirely happy with it. I often think “really?” when someone says they like what I have made.

Criticism is an important process for all artists. Because, if you don’t open your ears for criticism you won’t know how others are perceiving your art. You won’t know if what you made is what they see, or if what they see is something that you were consciously making. Criticism not only helps you grow it helps you see your art as an outsider; it helps you step out of your bubble. Sometimes it’s not enough that art just speaks to the artist, it’s also important that the audience can resonate with it. But, again, I feel like that’s another thing that Kathmandu is missing—the culture of criticism. People are neither open to giving criticism nor taking it.

What’s your process like? 

For a personal piece of work, I mostly tap into my feelings and start with a reference. It could be anything—music, everyday surrounding, people, another piece of art. And then I work on it. I am not very sorted and I don’t really plan things out because by now I have learnt that organic mistakes almost always act as a blessing and give a twist to my work that I hadn’t really foreseen.

While working for the clients though, I like to pay close attention to what the design is for and what material they are going to use to display the work. It’s very important to know your limitations beforehand. I then pick up on those limitations and make the most out of it.  

While you did work in Bangalore, you have been home for quite some time now. It’s no secret that it’s difficult to sustain as an artist in the city. Is it agonising or have you already worked your way around it?

It’s difficult no doubt. But the trick to surviving is learning to balance between works that are more monetary inclined and those that are more creatively inclined. Sometimes you get lucky and find gigs that are both monetarily sound and creatively satisfying. You learn to survive and sustain. You become rational too. Back in college I always said I would never work for money, but that’s not how life works. You have to pay your bills. You have to get your life going. As long as you find something you can love alongside something that keeps you afloat, you’ll get by as an artist.

Published: 04-08-2018 08:57

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