Vallery Puri creates paintings in this contemporary period of art even though her work cannot be classified into a particular genre. Drawing from inspirations of European art, her influences stylistically reflect Indian traditions that blend together in a manner unique to the artist. Puri started painting as a young girl and moved on to explore various career options as an adult, before returning to painting dedicatedly in 1996. She was always inclined towards the arts from a young age and while in school and college she focused on drawing caricatures. These traits of a caricaturist often find their way into her current works through animals and figures. She has had several solo and group shows in Pune, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Nairobi, Gurgaon, Delhi and in Hyderabad. Her paintings are in private collections in India and abroad.
What’s your artistic background?
Painting has been my language of expression ever since I can remember. My school years were full of fun drawings and caricatures of friends, family and pets. I did complete a one-year Foundation course at the Sir J.J School of Art which left me a trifle confused about art as a career path. I went on to explore other career options before returning decidedly in January 1996 to follow my childhood passion. I am a self-taught artist and aside from painting I have designed homes, jewellery, clothes and taught art. In a career spanning 25 years, I’ve held several solo shows and participated in numerous group-shows, all the while exploring different issues and painting aspects of life as I see and experience it.
What’s integral to the work of an artist?
Clarity, courage, curiosity, imagination, awareness, integrity, an unfettered spirit, meditative focus and an environment which gives one the freedom to create without constraint. The freedom to follow one’s imagination and express personal perceptions of issues. When I paint, I engage in an unspoken dialogue with my innermost self and embark on a path of self-discovery. I find that I am learning with every painting and it’s a colourful path to finding myself.
What role does an artist have in society?
In capturing thoughts, presenting perspectives and depicting life around as they see it, artists are important chroniclers of history. Art records the footprint of everything around us be it human culture, scientific discoveries and advancements or even the flora and fauna on our planet. The role of an artist is to help people see the everchanging world in new and innovative ways. Art has been the universal language which reaches across borders and connects the world.
What art do you most identify with?
I’m inspired by Post Impressionism, Modernism and traditional Folk Art. I identify with their usage of vivid colours, the freedom to emphasize or exaggerate nature, shapes and figures, and the distinctive personal styles created by painting from imagination, memories and emotions. I am a contemporary artist and while I draw inspiration from European art, my influences stylistically reflect Indian traditions in my artwork.
What themes do you pursue?
Classical dance was my passion and first love growing up followed by music, so it was inevitable that dance, dancers and musicians influenced my themes initially. From there, I went on to choose a wide variety of subjects that impressed and triggered my imagination. For instance, my concern for our disappearing forests resulted in the theme Where have all the forests gone and One billion plus was about our bursting population and over-crowded cities. I’ve also painted several series of Gods and Goddesses like the Ganesha series, Kali series and Devi series. Some of the other series I’ve painted and exhibited are Dreams, Home, Meeting Places, Shringaar, Urbanesque, BuddhAura etc.
What’s your favourite artwork?
After considerable thought I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have a single favourite. Depending on my mood at that moment, I have different favourites. I am a fan of post-impressionism and expressionism in European, Mexican and Indian art and can linger and wonder over this style of art for hours. “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central” and “The Pan American Unity” murals by Diego Rivera, are my current favourites.
Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
Most of my paintings are inspired by real-life events and situations around me. My painting titled Swirling Saree was inspired by my cat Geisha who loved playing with the tassels of my saree pallu whilst I draped it around me. Garden Glorious was inspired by what I wanted my garden to eventually look like. My series Vulnerable was the result of intense feelings of vulnerability during a particularly confusing and difficult period prior to my divorce and so on … .
What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
I took off, literally and figuratively, after completing my graduation on a decade long wanderlust fulfilling career as an air hostess with Air India. This was perfect for me as the travelling widened my horizons and expanded my vision far more than anything else might have in the same time-frame. It was a glorious feeling to immerse myself in spaces of immense beauty be it in art, architecture, music etc from all over the world. It was an opportunity to observe, learn and absorb for future reference and inspiration. Interactions with so many different people made me realize the amazing similarities in behaviour, sentiment, emotions and even in facial features and body types. I’ve designed jewelry, homes, garments, cards, gardens, screens, furniture in between painting different series but my heart lies in painting and that’s where I feel most at home.
It seems like I didn’t choose art, art chose me. I began drawing and painting while I was still in my nappies, certainly even before I learnt to speak. By the age of five, I was painting female dancing figures in full costume and jewellery, and by the time I was eight, I was learning other art forms like Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music. My parents knew that I would be an artist long before I ever thought of it. They admitted me into the Sir J.J. School of Art when I was 15 years old but strangely, that’s where I felt a trifle confused and left after a year with the thought that art was not to be my chosen path. But what you are, you will be. I might have left it for 12 years or more but art never left me. I awoke on 7th Jan 1996 from a vivid early morning dream that guided me right back to what I was born to do and I haven’t stopped since.
What is an artistic outlook in life?
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see”- Henry David Thoreau
Finding beauty in everyone and everything where even the mundane every day becomes magnificent! Art reminds us that we have a soul. My personal journey as an artist has taught me to reach within myself and to discover that true beauty lies in the perfectly imperfect.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Amidst all the love and positivity I have received, a few responses stand out and touch me even now. An elderly lady walked in to a show of mine in Gurgaon and demanded to meet the artist. I was then engulfed in a loving embrace and she thanked me profusely for my art work which she said made her feel so joyful. That experience left me tearfully humbled and inspired to create more. A 5-year old took my hand and requested me to walk her around the gallery where my paintings were being exhibited. After we completed viewing them all she looked really perturbed. When I asked if she was alright, she put her tiny hands on her hips and with an ‘Uff oh’ said, ‘ I cannot decide which one of your paintings is my favourite. I love them all’. This memory still brings an instant smile to my whole being. In another instance, I was overwhelmed when a young 19-year-old girl came up to me and told me that viewing my work had gotten her rid of her chronic depression and that she finally felt ready to face whatever challenges lay ahead of her. In yet another, a renowned artist walked in to my exhibition and took the trouble to find and compliment me on my work. He told me that my style was unique and said I had wisely managed to stay true to myself and away from the influences of other artists’ styles.
What food, drink and song inspires you?
I listen to music from all genres particularly Hindustani, carnatic and western classical when I work. Music sets a rhythm to my brush strokes and often I jump off my chair and start dancing when I’m painting. I’m an idealist and one of my all time favourite songs is John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Bursts of colours anywhere, trigger my imagination. So, even the sight of fresh colourful vegetables and fruit gives me a rush and my inner voice of inspiration activates automatically. Water satiates like no other drink but wine makes moments divine.
Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
I’ve always loved my own company and even as a young child I would lose myself in my own world and sit for hours drawing. I enjoy my solitude and my process of painting is meditative. My studio is my haven and is surrounded with colourful flowering plants all cheerfully planted by me. The place is buzzing with bees, birds, butterflies and dragonflies. My cats who are my current muses, accompany me every day and soak in the peace or snooze or chase curious lizards and bugs. It feels magical and my music plays on giving my brush and my life, a free-flowing rhythm.
What do you dislike about the art world?
Peddling nonsense as art; copy cats each surrounded by gushing discourse and pretentiousness; the exploitation of artists in the name of expertise and marketing; over intellectualisation of art; and over commercialization of certain artists leading to loss of originality, are a few of the things that creates negativity in the art world.
What do you dislike about your work?
“Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation at all” – Oscar Wilde. I am quite self-critical but I balance it with faith in my abilities. I have days when I’m plagued with self-doubt and dislike my work and then there are times when my colours speak to me and give me the confidence to continue. I believe this restless self-judgement is the catalyst that pushes me to do better. I like my work but I know I haven’t yet created that ultimate painting, flawless in my eyes that satisfies my soul and spirit so completely that I could die happily knowing my work is done. Until then, I will keep working hard and long hours, learning, growing and hopefully improving with each painting.
What do you like about your work?
When I decided to pursue art seriously, I stayed away from art shows and galleries for almost a decade determined to find my own style and not be influenced by those of other artists. Years later I feel confident enough to call myself an artist with my very own unique style. I find my paintings are watchable and they keep growing on me. I believe they have a certain naïveté and honesty which reveal aspects of my own character.
Should art be funded?
Imagine a world without soul stirring art, music, architecture and landscaped garden spaces – it would be a spiritless joyless one. In addition to the joy and uplifting feelings which it brings, Art helps to promote social skills, enhance awareness and respect for other cultures. Art funding is necessary to provide artists with spaces to learn, encourage risk taking to create diverse work which challenge us to think differently.
What role does art funding have?
Funding the arts has commercial as well as societal rewards. Commercial Art Funds can make investments in artists and their artworks for a profit. Government and NGO funding to encourage the myriad art forms and keep alive cultural practices are imperative to enrich and benefit society.
What’s the best piece of advice?
“Listen to your inner voice, it will guide you to wherever it is you’re meant to go”, my father once said to me. I find it to be the wisest advice I’ve ever been given and I follow it completely. As a result, I don’t paint until I feel the subject in its entirety within me. My inner voice guides me step by step telling me what to draw, which colours to apply, which strokes to use and when the painting is done.
Professionally what’s your goal?
I’m a free-spirited artist. I’ve never set myself by competitions, awards or long-term goals. I’m just grateful for this incredible gift I’ve been given. Mine has been a journey of self-discovery and the happy realization that what I do affects those around me positively. All I want is to be able to continue to create and spread this joy.
My future plans towards my next exhibition have had to change when Covid decided to take over our lives and lock us in. Fortunately though, while we are adjusting to virtual shows and online shopping, not much else has changed in my life as I continue painting in my studio, working on 3 themes simultaneously. “Urbanesque II” – a word I had created in 2011 to describe my series on the cityscapes of Gurgaon – is based on my personal perspective of the changing landscape and skyline of Hyderabad. “Red blooded” is borne from a sadness at the divisiveness in society and an attempt to show that we are all really the same under our skins. “Just another day” is just as its title suggests. It includes my experiences and thoughts during the lock down and is a positive take on the situation.