Natasha Kumar has India stamped in her genes

NKumarIn front of a painting by her grandfather, Peter Todd

Growing up in Derbyshire, in the North of England, Natasha Kumar knew that she would become an artist. With the artistic gene running through the English side of her family with the exception of her mother, it was difficult to think otherwise. So she decided very early on that she would become an artist. That was the easy part. Her grandfather, Peter Todd, was head of The Grimsby School of Art; her uncle, Pip Todd-Warmoth, and two aunts are respected painters. So she chose a different medium than painting in order to distance herself.

watercolour

Thus, Natasha opted for an Art Foundation in printmaking from Stockport College followed by a BA at Manchester Metropolitan University. Nevertheless, from an early age, her grandfather had made sure that she had the skills necessary to tackle any medium she set her mind to. He was the one who looked over her shoulder and taught her again and again to look at her subjects before drawing them. This turned out to be a very useful skill to have.

While a student at Manchester Metropolitan University in the late 90s, Natasha had to fight for the litho press to be fixed and to get access to life model drawing classes which were offered as part of the textile curriculum but not part of printmaking! Natasha deplores the trend in art schools that favours ideas over practical skills. This approach has been going on for over twenty years and seems to be the norm in recruiting art students. The Italians, on the other hand, have a great breath of knowledge regarding figurative and life drawing. Academically and technically, they are way ahead of the English. However, stylistically speaking, they seem stuck in the 1970s. At least, that was what Natasha experienced first hand as an Erasmus exchange student at l’Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia in 1997.

Windows Triptych

Natasha wanted to pursue her studies in London but she had to fund her own studies. So, she had a first solo show in Sheffield in a 1920’s Rolls Royce showroom – the first of many non gallery spaces she learned to adapt. The show enabled her to earn money to pay for her MA in printmaking at Camberwell College of Art, only to learn that since she had obtained a first class degree it would be funded. So, in 2000, she used the money she had earned to buy an etching press that she uses to this very day and she set up a printmaking studio in Camberwell. Immediately, she started drawing, painting with oil, watercolours and pastels, taking pictures and sketches of people and places. For the first five years or so, she also took temporary jobs to support herself while she was experimenting with her art. She never stopped being productive throughout. She also gained an invaluable understanding of the art world and of what potential clients were looking for by working in galleries.

1827More than one fledging artist would have found the idea of marketing one’s self or being thrown into the art world daunting to say the least. But Natasha was undeterred by the prospect of making it in the real world. Answering an ad, she met with Will Ramsey who was launching the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea in 1999. Will was setting up this brilliant concept of selling artworks from relatively unknown artists to people who don’t usually buy art  because they find it too intimidating to go to regular galleries. Natasha quickly realised that she was on the wrong side of the fence and that instead of helping out, she should be exhibiting her work there which in turn led her to hook up with ARTSHOUSE gallery since at the time artists could not represent themselves. She now owns the gallery and represents other artists as well as her own work. Household names such as Paul Vanstone and up and coming artist Priya Darshini Gopal trust her with their works.

So getting her place in the art world was not the difficult part. No. What was difficult was to find her true identity and to seek a more rounded sense of herself. Being Indian on her father’s side, she had to learn how to incorporate that Indian heritage in herself and eventually in her art.

821 natasha kumar

Natasha’s father was seven years old when the partition between India and Pakistan took place in 1947. At the time, his entire family lived in Kashmir. The end result was that his adult relations were murdered. Subsequently, his mother, originally from Afghanistan took the decision to raise their son in central India instead. And as an adult, her father moved to Manchester to further his education. That is where he met Natasha’s mother.

The Armillary Sphere

Natasha was brought up as an English girl in the North of England. She was never allowed to learn Hindi but there was a strong Indian community in the vicinity and she would take part in Indian occasions and functions such as Divali and Puja’s. And once a year, the whole family would take the ritual journey back to India. So, she was somewhat familiar with Indian customs and traditions even if only superficially. One of her earliest memories, that left a vivid impression on her to this day, was associated with India. Entering a blue room as a two year old, Natasha was greeted by a figure of God, probably Krishna, on a calendar. This image frightened her and made her cry at the time but left her eager to know more. India with its sense of smell, colour and movement was definitely imprinted in her genes as a child. The curiosity for India has, in Nathasha’s own words, never quite left her and is what, as an adult, she tried to fully embrace.

As an artist, Natasha had torn feelings about her Indian heritage. On one hand, she felt that it was too easy and too contrived to talk about India in her paintings. On the other hand, she felt she did not know enough about her origins to talk about it and express it in her artworks. Her knowledge at best felt very superficial. Yet through all her years drawing, painting with oil and pastel, sketching and taking pictures of people and places in France and elsewhere, India was on her mind. Her travels and watercolours in Egypt and Morocco were just another way to question the oriental within herself. This conundrum, as she puts it, to express her Indian side, while retaining her true Britishness, was what took her ten years to explore and develop.

The Royal ChhatrisIn Rajasthan, the Bundi palace and down the road from there, the Royal Chhatris and the armillary spheres in Kota are architectural designs (from the Mughal period) that she has always found appealing. With the Rasa triptychs and particularly the Rasa Lila, Natasha has finally managed to blend the ancestral British tradition of figurative drawing with a sense of colour and movement that is inherent to India. The Govardhan series, the Carved Jali series and particularly the Rasa Lila are series of paintings where Natasha develops a story that enables the viewer to get in communion with what India is about but with a very contemporary approach.

Rasa Lila Series
In her holy cow series, Natasha tackles a different aspect of contemporary India. The sacred bovine, always drawn and etched, is set against a very abstract background referring to a brazen advertisement painted on a wall in jarring colours. The sharp contrast between the placid cow ambling past the wall and the vivid colour makes the painting pulsate with life and emotion. The India Natasha talks about is firmly grounded in the Twenty First century, far far away from the romantic landscapes that the British used to paint.

Holy cow seriesSo, it took Natasha a good 15 years in the end to find out how to express her complex and mixed background through her work. But now, she is at the summum of her art and the well of inspiration is nowhere near being dry. Indian traditions echo in her with images; sound and colour. She has a million ideas a day and thirty paintings or so waiting to be completed. She is busy preparing the launch of 4 new limited edition of scarfs as part of Design Wallah, Alchemy’s new showcase of South Asian contemporary design for SouthBank Centre. And she will be sure to exhibit at the Affordable Art Fair, the one art fair that cannot be overlooked in her mind and that she has attended for the last 16 years. She is also excited about the India Tour that she will lead next February in Rajasthan at the request of Wexas Travel.

sacred cow

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