The Elegant & Peaceful Abstract Art of Chitra Ramanathan (2022)

Vero Beach painter and arts educatorChitra Ramanathan‘s unique body of acrylic and mixed media paintings portray happiness as a visual entity. Her curious blend of intense colors and myriad of textural materials seem to glow in any light and provide a feast for the eyes. Chitra’s work is considered ideal for display in any luxury venue or interior by collectors and designers alike. We recently had the pleasure to sit down and talk with the artist, who is also an esteemed faculty member of the Vero Beach Museum of Art.

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‘Ocean Melodies’, 65 x 43 Inches, Acrylic on Canvas.

Growing up as an award-winning child artist in India, the artist continued her education and pursued a career as an established painter in the United States. Chitra received her Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Painting with honors in 1993, and her M.B.A degree with concentrations in Art Museum Administration and Human Resources in 1997 from theUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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‘Joyful Musings’, 60 x 36 Inches, Acrylic with Mixed Media on Canvas.

Chitra’s distinguished body of work, many of them large-scale, have been acquired in the United States and abroad, and commissioned as site-specific public artworks by educational institutions and organizations such asMGM Resorts.A pair of the artist’s signed paintings are displayed permanently in the Bellagio Conservatory at theBellagio Hotelin Las Vegas since 2004.

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‘Manifestation’, 58.2 x 39.5 Inches, Mixed Media on Canvas.

Q –Can you tell us when and how did you first begin your journey as an artist?

A– I have been involved with art ever since I can remember. I grew up in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) India. Art Galleries were an integral part of the city of Kolkata’s culture. When I turned four years of age, my parents enrolled me in a formal arts school dedicated to teaching different art forms such as music and dance including drawing and painting classes for children. The initial beginnings established thefoundation for my passion for art. I began to enter competitions at every opportunity during following years, attracting attention and encouragement by my art teachers in grade school. My childhood recollections are of drawing and painting whatever I saw around me. I drew faces of random people, or my parents’ friends who used to patiently pose for me as “models”, thrilled when their portraits were done. At the same time, I repeatedly made color pencil drawings and watercolor renderings of a scenic lake with boats near our family home.

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Chitra Ramanthan is an award-winning artist, receiving art awards even as a child artist.

My efforts were well compensated! I won awards on an almost annual basis from local as well as and nationally publicized child art competitions. When I was eleven years old, the Birla Academy of Arts & Culture in Kolkata showcased several of my entries along with the winning watercolor. I received a trophy from an prominent figure in Indian Sculpture, the chief guest on the evening of the reception.Encouraged by rewards such as these, often consisting of a silver trophy or medal, I felt encouraged to create more. So, when it was time for college, I had decided that art was going to be my major. I earned my first Bachelors’ degree in Fine Arts from the University of Madras, (now Chennai) India before moving permanently to the United States.

Q –Where does your inspiration come from?

A–Encouraged by my husband, I enrolled for my second Baccalaureate degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1991. Instruction being refreshingly informal at the School of Art and Design in contrast to my past academic training, I was literally beginning with a blank canvas! Finding a large piece of discarded canvas and oil-based house paints in the students’ studio area, I completed an abstract realistic rendering of an epic moment from Indian mythology as my first endeavor in a US art program. (The painting is featured below).

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During the summer of 1992, I left for France to study art history and studio art in Paris. The Impressionist Movement, particularly Claude Monet’s paintings caught my attention. While living in Paris during that time, I frequented Monet’s Garden in Giverny, and was particularly drawn to his Haystack series with changing light during the day across seasons and weather conditions. The idea of similarly capturing changing moments in time began to take shape in my mind, not as landscapes but as non-objective abstract presentations. I chose the mental state of happiness as my concept, comparing the emotion to ephemeral garden blooms and cyclical seasons as I consider happiness to be both transitory and cyclical. Similar to truth, love, honor, sincerity and other emotions, happiness is an abstract sensation with no recognizable physical form, something one can feel but can it be seen? My goal is to make it available visually. In doing so, A universal pursuit that might be fleeting and impermanent and possessing “a formless form” as I have described and set out to transfer a happy feeling onto a surface and present it in so many colorful ways. The hint of circles in my pieces represents happiness as a cycle in an optimistic sense.

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‘Exuberance’, 10′ x 12′, Acrylic on Canvas. Private Collection, New York.

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‘Exuberance’ at top right, Private Collection, New York City.

Q –Who or what period influences you the most when it comes to art history?

A–The Impressionist period and later Abstract Expressionism are my basic influences. Aside from those major movements in art history, my focus has remained with concentrating on contemporary art through mixed media that is unique in concept and treatment.

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‘Emanation’, 58 x 63 Inches, Acrylic on Canvas. Private Collection, Bakersfield, California.

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‘The Effusion’, 55 x 57.5 Inches, Acrylic on Canvas. Private Collection, San Francisco, California.

Q –What is the process like in creating your abstract paintings, how do you work?

A–When inspiration strikes, I record my feelings immediately which is ideal if I am close to my studio. If elsewhere, I make mental notes or verbalize those momentary flashes as and when they manifest themselves. By the time I get down to make those impressions a reality, I have an initial idea that takes shape as the work progresses. I don’t generally make corrections, retaining the freshness of thoughts on the physical reality which is my finished painting. But prior to arriving at this stage, my initial entry to the artworld in the United States, I delved into my roots and experience of growing up in India, resplendent with dance, theater, philosophy, spirituality, colorful festivals, textile designs and a prominent movie industry, each woven in varied measures into the fabric of daily Indian life. I became deeply fascinated with process and began drawing and painting on large, unprimed and unframed canvases, putting them through wash and dry cycles in my washing machine at home. Repeatedly processing layer after layer of permanent and water-soluble materials such as acrylic, tempera, crayon and charcoal painting during each wash revealed faded as well as unchanged areas. Smudges, creases and “happy” accidents combined together as refreshing possibilities as in the image below.

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‘Revelry in Paint’, 62” X 58”, Mixed Media Washed and Repainted on Unprimed Canvas. Private Collection, Champaign, Illinois. Acquired via Auction in 2002.

Process apart, my professors likened my mark- making technique to the work of Cy Twombly as the mid-sized example below titled “Melody”.

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Gaining insight into the printmaking processes during the undergraduate years at the University of Illinois helped to me to become cognizant of systematic processes as well.Gradually, the gestural marks morphed into traces of faintly identifiable circles and ethnic motifs. Examples are “Manifestation” inspired by cave paintings of India and “A Purple Dream” hinting at traditional Indian floor motifs both dealt with using a limited color palette.

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‘Manifestation’, 57 x 107 Inches, Mixed Media on Canvas.

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‘A Purple Dream’, 53.5 x 45 Inches, Mixed Media on Canvas.

Q –Your paintings are so vivid and serene, has this always been your style?

A–I have always been fascinated by the outdoors and natural elements, observing textures and intense colors be it bodies of water or undulated greenery. Extended visits to Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France in 1992 and in 2010 added renewed inspirations. My initial mark-making style changed when I returned from France in 1992. On my later abstract mixed-media paintings, the processes transformed into loosely painted surfaces treated with rapid brushstrokes of translucent colors. Often, semi-transparent paint applications in some areas of the surface contrasted with heavy doses of colors on others.By 1995 during which time I had graduated and begun exhibiting on Broadway’s SoHo art galleries in New York City, my style of painting became colorful abstract compositions on primed canvases, Painting on large surfaces provided me with the freedom to explore. Following are examples from that period.My current style is an amalgamation of intense colors and a wide variety of textural materials incorporated into the paint as opposed to their being independently adhered as superficial collage. I vary pieces of fabric, thread, enamel, paper as carefully chosen found materials that would not disintegrate over time. Deeply interested in luminous surfaces to evoke happy responses, I often choose vivid metallic colors or interference/iridescent acrylic paint so the finished pieces glow under all lighting situations.

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‘Cosmic’, 24 x 36 Inches, Acrylic on Canvas. Private Collection, Illinois.

Q –Can you tell us about your large-scale public artworks at the Bellagio in Las Vegas?

A–I received a telephone call from MGM Resorts International in late 2003, stating that the acquisition department had noticed a 24” x 18” mixed media work and a 36” x 24” acrylic painting of mine on a website, enquiring as to whether I would be willing to recreate those individual pieces on larger scales. The Café Bellagio located in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas was about to be refurbished, and the dominant colors on my originals would be used to paint the wall space on which the newly created paintings would be installed. I agreed. Sample color swatches exchanged during each stage of construction. The completed pieces, each measuring 6 feet high and 4 feet wide were installed in October 2004. Housed inside the Bellagio Conservatory Indoor Botanical Garden, they continue to receive attention and brought name recognition. In 2016, following a commission request resulting from exposure to my installations in the Bellagio, I created a triptych, an abstract landscape featuring the flowers in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny for a business owner in Bloomington, Illinois.

Q –Which celebrity or well-known figure would you like to see owning one of your pieces?

A–The thought would have been just a dream but for many of my originals having been procured through the internet, including being approached to create work for MGM Resorts, who can tell! I have heard that Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Brad Pitt Sofia Coppola, Jay-Z and Beyonce are names known to have frequented Art Basel Miami Beach.

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‘Lyrical Profusion’, 67 x 48 Inches, Acrylic on Canvas.

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Q –What current art world trends are you following?

A–I am a member of the College Art Association. Attending art conferences keeps me abreast with current trends and information on cutting edge techniques and newly released art products in the market. But at the end of the day, it’s really the aesthetic appeal of a painting or print displayed in a home, public lobby of a hotel, educational institution or hospital that attracts me. Those are venues I would like to offer my art as a relaxing, even therapeutic outlet. Two of my large paintings are displayed under Plexiglas cases at the college of Medicine at the University of Illinois acquired in 1996, and a large-sized mural that I was commissioned to create in an elementary school in Indianapolis.

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‘Coruscation’ 24 x 18 Inches, Mixed Media on Canvas. Private Collection, West Virginia.

I feel that such art is both functional and timeless, including creating smaller scales to fit a particular case as in the case of the following acquisitions.An art educator since 2004, I find involvements and experience from academic sources allows me to impart cutting-edge information to students. Teaching art has also helped in furthering my knowledge and experience through in-class as well as pubic demonstrations of my painting techniques in the Art School at the Vero Beach Museum of Art, Florida. With regard to my own studio practices, I follow contemporary art institutions and artists on social media platforms including Instagram stories. Besides keeping up with trends at home and a regular exhibition schedule, completing professional artist residencies abroad at Camac Centre d’Art in Marnay, France and the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, Italy were rewarding both as work experience in foreign locales as well as exhibiting work created during the allotted period concluding with an exhibition at the end of the residency periods with feedback from an international audience.

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‘Symphony’, 67 x 71 Inches, Acrylic on Canvas.

Q – What tips do you have for aspiring artists and painters?

A–When I began my career, all I had was abundant enthusiasm and excitement in meeting fellow artists and eagerness to learn from my teachers. Developing an original style and concept during my education, continued dedication to my practice, and willingness to experiment have been my collective recipes for progress. Attending art galleries and museum exhibits are great for inspirations! Over the years, I have learned that a successful art career takes time, patience and a self-determination to succeed. As an art educator who has taught classes and workshops in the painting mediums for over ten years, I have shared these often thoughts with my students. Being in touch with art galleries and museum shows does help.

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‘Exultation’, 36 x 24 Inches, Mixed Media on Canvas. Sold via Auction to the Madam C.J. Walker Theatre, Indianapolis.

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Q – Can you tell us what you have planned on the horizon?

A–In the immediate horizon, a large painting has been selected by the Public Art Review Board of the Orange County Board of Committee Commissions of Central Florida to open at Orlando in October and conclude in February 2019. After the approaching Art Basel Miami, I plan to concentrate on corporate commission invitations, while also seeking assignments that best provide opportunities for working individually or with a team of artists. A recently concluded invitational solo exhibition of my sixteen pieces featured at the Indian River County Courthouse in Vero Beach, Florida from April 19th through August 2nd, 2018. It was sponsored by the Cultural Council of Indian River County as the organization’s Art in Public Places initiative and was received well. Corporate sources are welcome to contract work via my website www.chitrafineart.com

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