Giving in to Abstraction

Amrita Chowdhury

Managing editor Erin Post recently had this exchange with Issue #45 featured artist Amrita Chowdhury. Here’s what Amrita had to say about how her training as an architect influences her art, navigating the art world without formal training, her role as editor of the new FAKE Art Magazine, and more.


We were struck by the use of color and pattern in your work. It’s at once finely detailed while hinting at broader themes. We’d love to know more about the evolution of your style. Have you always created abstract art? What about acrylic and ink – what drives this choice?

I like to think that I started out with abstracts and make it sound like I was destined to do this. But I actually started with portraits. And of course, landscapes. We had to do scale, anatomy and  studies as part of our curriculum in college and that’s what I became good at. Abstract came along a little later. Conceptual sketches, the use of bright colors, ink detailing — all of it developed over the years of being in architecture school. My style has become more complicated in its understanding and form now. The larger swatches of paint and the bold brushstrokes are indicative of the theme and subject of the painting, whereas the ink detailing and scribbles denote my personal mental state at that point of time.

As far as use of media goes, I find acrylic and ink to be challenging. Both can be unforgiving and yes, while you can always paint over all of it, their versatility and quick drying times help me keep up with my own changing ideas and moods. I kind of think its a phase for me because I equally love working with oils and watercolors and I’m already thinking up pieces in those media.


Your bio says: “At its core, her work celebrates the existence and randomness of extraordinary human lives around us. It is inspired by the daily mundane, the occasional adventure, people and the built environment.” This is an intriguing statement  – could you talk more about how these factors influence your work?

I used to a lot of landscapes and nature-inspired pieces for other people, but I found myself constantly going back to abstract expressions of things that I would do or see or experience on a daily basis. So I gave in to it. I travel a lot and in the process I’m constantly meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, food and places and architecture. It’s hard to not be inspired, or sometimes be overwhelmed and completely awed by all that around me!


You are an architect by training. How does this inform your art?

My background as an architect has vast effects on my work. My study and work in the industry has enabled me to develop observational skills. Besides it also has a direct effect on the forms that I play with and the ink work that I do. My ink work always ends up resembling the hand-rendered drawings I used to make as a student of architecture.


You are also self-taught as an artist. What does this look like for you? How has it influenced your career and your art?

It has been very different from what I usually see professionally trained artists go through. Both paths are difficult; they’re just different. It hasn’t affected my art, but it does affect the pace at which my art career is growing. To be honest, I didn’t exactly expect it to be a smooth road. I don’t come with a BFA or an MFA, so I can easily be considered an “outsider” artist. Very few galleries pay attention to outsider artists unless you’ve really worked at building a powerful body of work, collecting contacts, building a brand and a following.

The struggles can range from finding shows and juried exhibits that will consider your work worthy of inclusion, to finding patrons and collectors who are willing to invest in your work. It’s a painstakingly slow process, or at least, it has been slow for me. You have to stay atop of exhibition calls, magazine submissions; you have to network with interior designers and gallery owners and you have to build your brand on online platforms organically. And you have to be sincere and consistent about all of it, without getting bitter.


Walk us through your artistic process. How do you conceive a piece? How does it come together? How long will you work on a piece?
I try and capture anything I find inspirational on my travels and daily life. An old photo, cars caught in traffic, a funny moment, fabric on fabric, a ticket, a piece of writing, a recipe, a piece of art. I take photos or jot something down on my notes app (this, and GPS, are the only reasons I’m thankful for smartphones!). And my pieces are heavily derived from these bits and pieces.I’ll sometimes start sketching in my sketchbook to wrap my head around an idea and then blow up that sketch into a bigger piece, but more often than not I’ll start working directly on the canvas or paper. If I’m lucky, I can finish a large painting in a day. I’ll know exactly what layers will go on after what and which exact colors I’d want to put on my palette. With other pieces it can take more than a week. There have been times when I’ve let the pieces hang for weeks and have decided to either change something or paint over them completely. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that none of the paintings I’ve made ever seem complete to me!


Let’s talk about FAKE Art Magazine, where you serve as editor. When did it launch? What is its mission? What are the goals moving forward?

I’ve been on both sides of the fence when it comes to art magazines. I’ve worked behind-the-scenes of a few magazines before and as an emerging artist I have applied for my work to be in them. It’s a constant struggle for emerging artists and posh art magazines don’t talk about the realities of navigating the art industry — an industry that’s notoriously opaque, subjective and thrives on exclusivity. FAKE Art was founded on the principles of being a real voice in that industry. It’s very new and we’re still building a platform and reputation for it, but the magazine is committed to focus on emerging artists and their hustle. So far we’ve had an issue called “What Would You Sell for $30?” which focuses on how art is priced and how random or structured pricing can be based on an artist’s career and medium. The second issue focuses on the artists’ first and last professional works, in an attempt to capture their skill development over the years in two images. We’re trying to keep the themes fresh and relevant to emerging artists, so they don’t feel like they’re the only ones struggling to survive in the industry.


In addition to your art, you also write fiction and nonfiction. How do these different creative pursuits complement each other? What drives you to pursue both writing and painting?

Art and writing were always parts of my life when I was growing up, through school and college and now. I just never thought I’d be doing both of those professionally at any point of time. I try and keep the two apart as much as possible, but more often than not a piece of art and a piece of fiction might just end up being inspired by the same thing. Currently my focus is to build my art career and to finish writing a novel I’ve been working one for four years now (yikes)!


What artists and writers inspire you?

When it comes to art Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler and Willem de Kooning are constant sources of inspiration! I follow some brilliant artists on social media and their work forces me to push myself to produce good work every time I’m at the drawing board. Tina Berning, Monica Perez, Sarah Hickey and Yuan-wen Wang are part of that. I follow their work closely and I love how their distinctiveness inspires completely different emotions in me. In writing, I’ve been a fan of Salman Rushdie and Kurt Vonnegut since I was very young. I also find Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s voice and Yuval Noah Harari’s work to be extremely powerful and right on the mark.


What do you hope viewers take away from your work?

I’m happy with any kind of response they have to my work. My work can be easy on the eyes and difficult to understand at the same time. The colors may sometimes clash or be pretty and the forms may be uncomfortable or easy to perceive, but it will always remain true to my personality. And I’m happy if it evokes any kind of emotion in anyone, good or bad. In fact, I’d be concerned if viewers were indifferent to my work.

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Amrita Chowdhury is an architect by training and a self-taught contemporary artist. She has worked and exhibited in London, Mumbai, Kolkata and Dallas. She is also the current editor of FAKE Art magazine. At its core, her work celebrates the existence and randomness of extraordinary human lives around us. It is inspired by the daily mundane, the occasional adventure, people and the built environment. Her abstract style merges mark-making and shapes with ink detailing, that is reminiscent of architectural renderings.

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