With an undergraduate degree in architecture, artist Bakula Nayak moved to Manhattan to do a Masters in communication design at Pratt Institute. After 15 years in retail packaging design for L’oreal, Ralph Lauren and Mikasa she made the leap into painting and hasn’t looked back ever since.
What’s integral to the work of an artist?
I can’t say what is integral to the work of an artist in the general sense because every artist has a different journey. But I can speak for myself. My feelings are absolutely integral to my work – I need my passion, I need for something to move me enough that I want to express it. Sometimes my feelings overwhelm me. But once I have expressed these feelings through my paintings, I am able to process them. So my work in a way enables me to make sense of the world around me.
What role does the artist have in society?
Artists I think bring a lot of awareness. I think our most important role is to be honest – to be true to ourselves. Artists also express their truth about our current political or social systems, hence pushing communities to engage thoughtfully with the world and find their own voices. They provide us with interaction, engagement and joy. They also serve sometimes as documentation of our times and of universal emotions.
What art do you most identify with?
Sometimes art is relatable, sometimes it is not – this is driven by our own life experiences. Sometimes, when I experience art in which I see parts of myself, or my experiences, these tend to move me more than others. Other than that, there is no style, era or artist that I particularly identify with – the world of art is too vast and I embrace it all.
What’s your favourite art work?
My most recent favorite is Big Sue by Lucian Freud.
Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
My health took a turn for the worse 4 years ago. It then came to a point where I was bed ridden and I was depressed. Not only was I in pain, I just did not have the energy to carry on with daily simple tasks. It was at this point that I read Frida Kahlo’s dairy. Having read that I was deeply inspired by how she took to expressing her pain through her art. Here was a woman who was so much worse than me in health but she had found the courage and strength to still continue with her passion and live an inspired life. It was then that I began getting back to my art, one step at a time.
What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
Architect, Landscape architect, package designer
That’s where you can be truly yourself. Your creative expressions are an extension of you, unencumbered by clients, budgets and the world around you.
What is an artistic outlook on life?
Finding inspiration in the littlest of things, sometimes even things that are considered mundane – is having an artistic outlook on life.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I draw my life experiences but sometimes I have people connecting so deeply with it and finding themselves in it. This gives me inexplicable joy – to know that we are all in this together.
What food, drink, song inspires you?
Tea has to be my greatest inspiration – it is my pause in life, my little moment to day dream. It is a recurring theme in my works too. I am a huge Bollywood junkie. When I paint, I get attached to one song and then I will paint an entire series listening to just that one song. These days Billie Eillish is making an appearance in my studio – it’s a new found connect.
Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
It is and not. I in fact like being lonely when I am in the throes of work – it is that quiet and that isolated bubble that inspires me. I leave my daily life and its nitty gritties far behind and I am an artist – just an artist, not a mother, wife or friend at that point. This zoning out brings my artist self to the foreground. So the loneliness is something I embrace. On the other hand – I do have a community of artist friends to reach out to when I feel the need for interaction, critique or just plain camaraderie.
What do you dislike about the art world?
Sometimes the art world can be difficult to navigate for someone who is totally new and has no connections. It’s nothing to dislike really, this would be true of any new world you are trying to enter I guess. But there are enough people that are warm, generous and inclusive so that makes it worth it’s while.
What do you dislike about your work?
I love my work as long as I am in the process of doing it. The moment I am finished with a piece, I have no interest in it. My journey with it is over and I sometimes can’t bear to even have it in the studio. I need it gone! It’s not dislike so much as disinterest.
What do you like about your work?
The joy it gives me.
Should art be funded?
I often want to be born several centuries ago where you were under royal patronage and were paid a remuneration just to practice art. It would be great to not worry about your daily living and focus on your art. To have someone believe in your thoughts and ideas and actually encourage it with monetary support.
What role does art funding have?
Art funding helps the artists focus on their work – bringing new perspectives to light without worrying about the expenses involved. Also when the arts are funded by government organizations, the hope is that it helps correct the biases that exist. It also helps foster access of art to sections of society where it might not be a priority.
Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.
I don’t think I would like to be compared to anyone at all. Being distinctive in my style and thought is something I strive for – to be a fresh perspective.
Favourite or most inspirational place?
Anywhere in nature is inspiring for me – I love feeling the sunshine and the wind, the rain inspires me to dream, looking at nature’s beauty – so layered and complex and simple at the same time brings me endless joy. It moves me and is truly inspiring.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Thota Vaikuntam is my idol since I was little. So when I met him at an art camp for the first time, I was so excited and I asked him to take a look at my work. I asked him “Do you like it?” He looked at me and said gently and so humbly “It does not matter what I think about it, what matters is whether you love it” – That’s something I try to stick to – not worry about others opinion of my work – it is liberating to feel that way.
Future plans? I honestly don’t plan much with respect to my art. It is very instinctive and I go with what feels right at the moment.