We had the good fortune of connecting with Namita Paul and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Namita, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
My formative years were nomadic; my father’s work took us across India. I grew up in four different states, each with its own cultural identity. I studied a new language with each move, adapted to new foods, clothing, and customs, and learned to celebrate the novelty of the experience, overcome challenges, and feel comfortable being the Other. Such a diverse upbringing prepared me well for the field of fashion, a highly interdisciplinary arena. After graduating from fashion school in India, I joined the apparel design world. My work took me to more places – Thailand, Switzerland, Germany, France, and England – leading to even more social, ethnic, and artistic absorptions, thus enriching my multicultural lens. My move to the United States as a wife and a young mother, and subsequent return to school—first at my local community college and then at the University of Washington, Seattle–helped me articulate my thinking and making processes. I developed my artistic skills through coursework in printmaking and surface design. I was deeply influenced by knowledge of art history specifically the feminist movement and artists of the 70s. My time at the university also helped me examine my own place in the melting pot. Once again, I was coming to terms with my own locatedness, and what Homi K. Bhabha calls “in-betweenness.” Recognizing these in-between spaces and figuring out how diasporic communities navigate these spaces is of great interest to me, and forms the basis of my artistic practice.
For my current body of work, I use everyday objects, textiles, family photographs, and role playing to construct domestic spaces that are familiar and recognizable. My work seeks to bridge chasms, interrogate concepts of ‘home’ and belonging, reflect hybridity and merge landscapes and times. Although interdisciplinary in training, I am currently an oil painter, bridging gaps between the past and present through medium, techniques, and subject matter.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Being an artist has taken a lifetime. In fact, I did my best to avoid becoming one. First, I was a fashion designer. Then, a teacher. It’s only now, and in my third vocation do I really feel like I’ve come home. In this process, I’ve learned that a full-time commitment to life as an artist is really about embracing ambiguity. You don’t know a lot of things…and looking back, I guess I didn’t know the first thing about being an artist! The long hours, the blank canvas, the stillness in the studio at twilight. It can all be overwhelming in these moments as thoughts race by…will there be world enough and time for me to do the work I have committed to, or will this be my Sisyphean tale?
In 2019 and 2020, I signed up for pretty much every workshop, class, and joined every community that I possibly could. It felt like an emergency! I signed up for classes at my community college to improve my drawing techniques and learn oil painting. I attended workshops to help bring discipline into my art practice and develop systems. I applied to every opportunity that I thought would help me develop my work. One such application was to Abrams Claghorn Gallery’s Emerging Artists program in Albany, CA. This opportunity was the perfect way to end a marathon year. It helped me complete my series, The Blue Sari. I am very proud of this series! The Blue Sari is a collection of portraiture and still life paintings that serve as a portal into a well lived life. Using oil paints, an age-old medium from the western canon and combining it with my story as a South Asian immigrant in the United States, the work examines diasporic experience through the lens of memory, relationships, and intimacy.
Going forward, I feel like I have so much to learn; how to wield paint, how to use color, how to make effective compositions and so on. To this end, I am working towards an MFA at the California College of the Arts, and am thrilled to be a part of CCA’s amazing community. I’ve spent half a lifetime skirting the edges of art and now that I’ve immersed myself into it, I want to keep learning and growing as an artist.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
San Francisco is a tourist’s haven. However, most don’t realize that San Francisco is all of 49 square miles! The seven counties surrounding the city make up the greater Bay Area and offer so much more to its local denizens. Here are a few places I go, and things I do.
Menlo Park has a storied history, and one such historic and cultural icon is the Allied Arts Guild, an idyllic setting with gardens, artist studios, and an artisan shop, with a mission to raise funds for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. other community mainstays include Kepler Books and Café Borrone.
Palo Alto, the birthplace of Silicon Valley, is also home to Stanford University’s Cantor Center for Visual Arts and, the Anderson Collection, a remarkable compilation of modern and contemporary art; the Rodin Sculpture Garden, and Deborah Kass’s must see OY/YO sculpture. In addition, the Arizona garden, a botanical garden with astonishing succulents and cacti is just superb. University Avenue is the hub of activity for restaurants and tech celebrity sightings, whereas nearby California Ave is more familial with a charming Sunday Market, eateries such as Zareen’s, Ramen Kowa, Pastis and more.
For rugged west coast beauty, drive to Miramar Beach in Half Moon Bay for miles of sandy beach where surfers, whale spotters, and beach bums coexist. The more artistically inclined may browse and purchase art while in flipflops at the Mirada Art Gallery, grab a bite at Miramar Beach restaurant, or head into the coastal town of Half Moon Bay for a myriad other delights.
Last but not least is beautiful Marin, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in all its splendor – from Sausalito, a tourist hot spot in the banana belt to Tiburon (Spanish for Shark Pointe) with its charming downtown, views of the city and ferry to Angel Island; to Stinson Beach, Muir Woods, Mt Tamalpais and much, much more!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First and foremost: My teachers, mentors, family, and friends who supported and elevated me! A huge shout out to Abrams Claghorn Gallery’s Emerging Artists program and its amazing mentors without whom my Blue Sari series would have not come together: Robert Abrams, Pamela Blotner, Elizabeth Addison, and Natalie Mae Borges. I would also like to recognize The Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art (NCWCA), an inspired networking organization for women artists in the Bay Area and beyond.
Instagram: @artistnpaul @namitapaulstudio