“I am letting my spirit guide me…”
Paul Zimmerman in conversation
Paul Zimmerman: When did you become interested in art?
Neela Pushparaj: I was always fascinated with watercolors. However, I did not attempt to pursue it until around 1987. I was on my way to dinner with one of my residents who had heard some devastating news about her mother. We were walking along the Village in Manhattan and we saw a sidewalk fortune teller. In an effort to distract her, I suggested that we let him read her palm. She then insisted that I should also have my palm read. It was a light hearted attempt to make us relax.The palmist no sooner looked at my palm that he insisted that I had enormous aesthetic ability which I had never tapped into. Upon my return home I was kidding around and telling my husband about it. He listened and a month later gifted me a watercolor class at the local adult education program. Thus began my art journey which was totally different from my career as a pathologist.
PZ: What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
NP: My most challenging aspect is really refraining from painting. I am absolutely addicted to it. I often painted in the early morning hours before going to the hospital and was sometimes late for work because I was so involved with painting and did not notice the time.
PZ: What is your artistic process? How do you create your watercolors?
NP: I am a totally intuitive painter. I am a colorist and fantasy florals are my forte. Most often I wet my surface haphazardly and drop color while leaving some whites. As the colors move and mingle I begin to notice shapes which I choose to emphasize or obscure with layers of negative painting and a plethora of colors. Most are imaginary floral and foliage shapes drawn from memory and my interest in plants. Only about a fifth of my work is done using references and that too is seldom representational.The strategically preserved whites and crucial foci of darks result in interesting compositions which just seem to happen. I paint on paper, canvas and aqua board which is clay board for aquarelle. Rarely, I use some acrylic with my watercolor and sometimes I do paint with acrylics. My use of color is also very intuitive and spontaneous and I will not be able to tell which exact colors I have used in a particular area of the painting. I also like to paint my florals and include a very realistic bird or insect for a push pull effect.
PZ: How would you define yourself as an artist?
NP: As an extremely optimistic human being, I tend to get interested in many things and find pleasure in everything I see and do. My paintings reflect that joy and optimism. I try to create as often as I can. As I am in my eighties, and also involved with on line learning with my five year old grandson, I am currently not able to spend as much time painting as I would like. Once the pandemic is under control and full time in person school starts, I will return to painting more often. As a mostly self taught artist, I am enjoying my success in the art world!
PZ: Do you have any particular goal in mind when you start a new piece?
NP: My goal is to create an attractive piece of art. The subject tends to evolve as I work and I am letting my spirit guide me which is in marked contrast to my specialty of “morbid anatomy” as the British refer to it. My technical skills are well honed and I approach the surface with no preconceived notion most of the time, be it paper, canvas or clay board. I seldom find the need to rework a piece.
PZ: How do you know when the painting is finished?
NP: It is finished when I like the piece, although I do look at it critically and tweak it to my satisfaction. Once in a while I get lost and put away a painting for months before I retrieve it and complete it. The composition has to be attractive for the painting to be appealing.
PZ: How has your practice changed over time?
NP: I go to Artist Residencies two or three times a year and am sometimes challenged by my friends to try something new. That is how I started doing watercolors on canvas. I find myself experimenting a bit more and doing some abstract pieces. My basic preference is my semiabstract, fantasy florals which seem to appear as if by magic with little or no effort.
PZ: Which Artist are you most influenced by?
NP: My technical skills are mostly influenced by Barbara Nechis and also others whose workshops I have attended over the years.I am fond of the works of Kandinsky and am in awe of John Singer Sargent.
PZ: What are you working on now?
NP: I am doing a solo show on Roses at the Monserrat Contemporary Art Gallery in Chelsea in May. I am planning on adding more rose paintings to my collection.
PZ: How does the pandemic influence your work and sensibility?
NP: I did name one of my abstracts for the pandemic and I wish I were younger so that I could help my colleagues in this crisis. On the whole, I am not letting it depress me unduly and am able to manage my usual routine. Actually, being home most of the time lets me paint more.