A vibrant solitary endeavourThe Post spent a day with Erina Tamrakar, filling a blank gessoed canvas with more than just colours.
“I let the marks be—the voids my brush strokes naturally create in an otherwise coloured canvas.”
“... let the marks be.” I repeat and zoom in on her palette knife plastering crimson red on a rectangular life-size canvas, the base layer for her work. Erina Tamrakar stands on a medium-sized decade-old square mat. “I draw stability from this mat; it’s got my footprints stressed on it reminding me of all the times I’ve stood in the exact same spot conjuring up images in my head,” she says.
The studio, as I see it, is robust with life and colours. Bottles and bottles of Camel’s artist-grade acrylics on shelves and tables, her many awards, and the walls layered with a collection of her own paintings.
She deftly begins to draw contour lines on the canvas with the pointy end of her paintbrush. The decided work for the day is a continuation of Erina’s Third Eye series that draws on subjects of femininity expressed in deep red, both eyes cast downward, and the third eye, wide and conscious. Swift and natural, she contours her signature downcast eyes with the stark pupil drawn vertically. Between them is a soft long nose, full lips and then curls on either side of the face and flowers at the bottom of the canvas.
As overlaying paints without drying can have lousy results, the canvas is left to dry on the roof.
On another fresh canvas, I’m replicating her moves. On the square cotton surface, I paint the first layer in azure blue with a palette knife. I follow her instructions to the T to achieve the third eye. “Let the marks be if you wish,” she goes on, “They separate the central artwork from the background surface.” With the tip of the paintbrush, I contour a vertical eye adding line after line to create form, and circle after circle for the pupil. To not mess up the brushwork, I put the canvas in the sun to dry.
“Acrylics are relatively easier to paint with since they are water-based and also dry quickly,” Erina says, “ When I started out, I used oil mediums and was determined to avoid acrylics but seeing the convenient benefit acrylics give, I switched. They also dry more vibrant compared to oil paints that tend to dry duller.” As we put her canvas back onto the wooden easel, she starts creating movement and depth with her brushwork. Erina prefers taking colour directly out of the bottle to putting them on a palette without thinning the paint with a medium. She continues adding layers of crimson red to define her work as I add layers of ultramarine blue to create shadows and dimension to the work. We paint in silence, focussing on the details with the utmost care and attention so the images may come to life.
In between pauses, Erina tells me about herself. She has been painting since 1989. “When the Kashtamandap team and I started out, it was difficult for female artists to break in to the artists’ circle. At home, staying out late was prohibited but we would spend hours and hours practising which meant we would be out late,” she says, “my family soon pressured me to get married. I didn’t give in because I was afraid my artistic endeavour would suffer if I got married.” Every time her family nudged her away from her art towards a conventional lifestyle, she would pick up her brush or immerse herself in literature and music, her favourite escapes.
“Just the thought of giving up on arts profoundly disheartened me. But I soon met a person who complimented me in every way. We got married and I continued pursuing arts.”
Erina as an artist was flowering despite the challenges. But she held her ground. “When I’d just begun, I faced numerous hurdles that artists still do. We didn’t start off keeping success in mind. Persistence and patience are what kept us going. If you’re going to pursue arts, you have no other choice but to keep going.”
By now, I’ve concluded much of her Third Eye series and the style characterised in it stems from her starting years in art. The eyes are cast downward as if to portray submission but the third eye is open and assertive. Her choice of colour—red—immediately taps into the subconscious of viewers with a powerful portrayal of a real-life observation, as Erina puts it “Gods do not need power or strength. It’s women who do. Red signifies feminine strength for me.”
With her use of gold as a colour highlight for the face and cadmium orange for hair, she introduces depth as her painting gradually its reveals symbolic intent. I gaze at her work in awe; ask her how I can overcome the mental block “I can’t do art” or “I’m not ready for this yet”. She empathises with me, “Practice. That is the ultimate way out,” unsatisfied at being hit with “just practice” yet again I’m still looking for answers. “You have already painted this grand picture in your head. But the reason you cannot put that on the surface is that, although your mind may be used to the imagery, your hands are not habituated to the process,” I nod in agreement, “So start with something small but be consistent with your practice. Pick a simple leaf first, then advance to leafy branches. Only then will the picture on your mind come to life on canvas.”
Erina guides me till the very end—adding titanium white for the highlight in the pupil and midnight black for eyelids then blending the colours of the sclera to match with the iris. I beat myself up every time I think of how close I was to giving the third eye some long eyelashes until I didn’t, thankfully.
We keep our works next to each other, open for interpretation. I ask her if this is how she spends her days, in serenity and tranquillity. “If you look at my life from the outside, it appears to be the same day in and day out. But zoom into the details, it’s a different visual you’re working on, stimulating a different emotion for the story of the piece,” she tells me as we sit by a low window. “If you’re asking if this is routine, then yes, you’ll find me putting the images in my mind onto the canvas every day.”
Watching an artist up close in their creative pursuit makes one see the hard work that goes into every stroke; it might look effortless but the process of creating art demands effort. And, that’s why art is expensive. Buyers pay for the effort an artist puts in her work. “When you pay; you not only pay for what’s on the canvas, but also for the time it took an artist to break into the creative process,” she says. “Artists are observant. We take in even the minutest detail and end up with so much that it leads to frustration.” But Erina does not let the frustration build-up, she’s already found a medium through which to release, reobserve and recreate what’s in her mind.