Art With an Edge - Surita Tandon

Surita Tandon exudes bold elegance that announces the kind of woman she is: daring and unconventional. The Delhi-based pop artist is influenced by bright colours and the latest cultural trends, which she artfully depicts on her canvas. This month, we met up with her in her stylish home to get some artistic inspiration, and find out more about the fashionista.

Tell us about your evolution as an artist.
I was born in Kolkata and studied at Modern High School, after which I completed my education in Loreto College. Kolkata, long regarded the cultural capital of India, served as my early artistic inspiration. I remember visiting the famous Shantiniketan of Kolkata and admiring the colonial architecture. I dabbled in a bit of painting here and there, but I was more focused on my education. I arrived in New Delhi and completed my master’s in mass communication.  A few years later, I had the opportunity to travel across the world as a British Airways airhostess. I was eager to explore the art galleries and museums in every country I visited. I have been painting for the past 15 years, but I deviated towards the style of pop art only a few years ago. I have held five successful solo shows, and lots of group shows with established art galleries. I also plan to travel to Dubai soon with a new collection.

At first it was difficult for me to project myself as an artist and to have my work accepted in the art community. Let’s just say I wasn’t the stereotypical artist, and pop art was a cultural phenomenon that had not yet been fully explored in India. Nonetheless, to my surprise, my art was appreciated and soon adorned the walls of many homes.  

What inspires you – personally and professionally?
Personally, popular imagery has always excited me – the use of bright colours, famous icons, and trendy consumer brands. Pop art is both different and edgy. Professionally, the works of Andy Warhol, Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton and, most important of all– Roy Lichtenstein inspired me tremendously. I observed their use of mixed media and their comic-style approach to paintings. I have incorporated hints of their styles in my own paintings while adding a personal touch.

Have you always had a flair for art, or is it something that came about circumstantially?
I believe my artistic side has always been innate; I never went to any art school or college. But I always used to sketch and paint in my own way, picking up inspiration from my experiences.

You’ve also dabbled in a bit of interior designing. How similar is that creative process in comparison to when you paint?
The process is very similar. After all, interior design is also a creative process. What I splash on canvas and the characters I bring to life on it can also be reflected in any home or corporate office. A home’s decor is a reflection of one’s personality. It’s simply a question of the right colours and designs meshing together to create ‘your’ home.

What tips would you give someone looking to incorporate art into their homes?
Always buy art that makes you happy and that you personally enjoy. Secondly, be sure that the art goes well with the style and look of your home. Don’t buy art solely as an investment. It should enhance your personal space and make your home unique.

You’re a pop artist who incorporates popular culture into your work. Can you elaborate on this aspect a bit more?
Pop art began in the mid 1950’s, especially in the US and Europe. It was a way for artists to deviate from the status quo. In India, art is usually based on morality, tradition, history – figurative and serious traditional art. Instead, I enjoyed using classic celebrities, films, and brands that are highlighted with bright colours and mixed materials to make my art more interesting.

As India is now more exposed to Western culture in the form of films, movies, music, celebrities etc., through the use of social media, people are now eager to see hints of this culture in their homes, intertwined with popular Indian imagery. For example, while I have painted famous Western celebrities such as Kate Moss and Marilyn Monroe, I also have explored Indian consumer brands such as ‘Amul’ in my paintings. I love using graphic imagery and embellishments to highlight the focus of my paintings, and make the art more pleasing to the eye.  

Your ‘India Shining’ painting has been recognised by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. What was this moment like for you?
The moment was a feeling of pride, honour and respect. It made me more humble and motivated. I was inspired to do more art based on Indian patriotism, but with the personal touch of my pop art techniques.

You are a very stylish woman. Can you describe your personal style.
Style is a reflection of one’s personality and way of life. To me, being simple and elegant is being stylish. One can wear a basic white shirt or a simple string of pearls and yet stand out in a crowd. I am an artist who carries glamour and style in her way of life and on my canvas. I break away from the mould of a traditional artist in India.               – as told to Suneela