The world is full of beautiful aspects, especially in the natural world. Usha Shukla tries to capture this through her abstract artwork using creative experiments with colors and air. The Californian-based artist portrays the constant movement and the color harmony that she perceives in nature. Shukla’s work is an intersection of her subconscious landscape and the physical landscape around her.
Shukla’s love for nature goes back to when she was young. While visiting her grandparents in the Indian countryside, Shukla was fascinated with the colorful world she saw around her. When Shukla moved to the United States in 1996, she felt disoriented and out of place, and then she found refuge and a way of remembering her home in nature. This sense of belonging and her interaction with nature would later influence her artwork.
In 2005, Shukla went on a visit to Paris. There, she was inspired to do art after visiting the Louvre Museum and observing the artists by the riverside. The overload of art stirred something in her. After the trip, the experience was in the back of her mind as she took care of her family. When her son started college, she also decided to follow her dream and enrolled in the local community college for art classes, and later went on to get her MFA at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco.
College was hard as she juggled between school and family but nothing stopped her. As Usha started working on her graduate thesis, she decided to combine her love of nature and passion for art. She created a new technique of moving paint with air allowing her to portray the constant movement of shapes and colors in nature.
Today, Shukla has created a large body of work in different series and is an established artist. She is now involved in many artistic ventures, including experimenting with mixed media, collaborating with other organizations, and working on commissions. We have the opportunity to learn more from Shukla herself.
Shukla standing by her Artworks
Why do you paint with air?
“I went to graduate school and was supposed to do my thesis, and I had the freedom of doing any technique and style, but I didn't want to copy anyone. So I developed my own technique. One night, this idea came to me and I said “I feel this breath of fresh air so I am going to use air as a tool.” Now I paint with an electronic air blower and also a leaf blower for big paintings.”
The last series you did during COVID was black and white. Could you tell us the story behind that?
“The black and white series, Silver Lining, was my response to Shelter-in-place during COVID. I couldn’t go outside, and all I could do was live with minimal resources. This experience changed my emotions and I decided to paint with a limited color palette. I learned that we don’t need many resources to fill colors in our lives. I wanted to show how to use a few colors but still create magic.”
Silver Lining: Dance At Midnight, Usha Shukla, 2020
What's your relationship between nature and the materials you use?
“Because I see this constant movement outside in nature, I wanted to make the paint dance. I treat oil paint as watercolor to achieve organic curvy shapes. I use solvents to dilute my oil paints and move them with an air blower.”
How do you come up with your color set?
“My color palette is all derived from nature. When I go outside, I see this harmony of colors. I’m so enchanted and intrigued by how much we can get from nature. I take pictures, and when I go home, I study them and reflect on why the pictures intrigued me. The hues and textures that I observe trigger memories from my childhood interaction with nature. So my childhood also plays a role in my color selection because my work is a balance of my past and present.”
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