Weaned on vintage

Old in new: She uses vintage paper as her canvas and adds to it fantasy and touches of whimsy to create a visual narrative.

Bakula Nayak's artwork

She uses vintage paper as her canvas and adds to it fantasy and touches of whimsy to create a visual narrative. That is Bakula Nayak for you, an artist with a difference. 

Bakula has also recently begun installations with found vintage objects. She is one of the directors for Kallam Anji Reddy Art Festival aka KARA festival, an annual event featuring India’s leading artists. Bengaluru-based Bakula has given eight solo shows across India and participated in 14 group shows. 

Bakula loves to lose herself in the world of colours and creativity; she says: “I find reality too mundane. I love immersing myself in the world of imagination. I am more of a dreamer. I believe love is the solution to most of the world’s problems. In fact, you will find that in almost all my paintings, there’s a paper boat with a love flag! It is my message to the world: that we all need to spread more love.”

Basic

Vintage paper of all kinds is her canvas. Postcards and personal letters yellowed with age, newspaper clippings, old bills, legal documents, envelopes, journals, certificates, photographs, report cards etc. Most of them are handwritten. Pirates are pictured in a legal document pertaining to a land-grabbing case from 1930. ‘It’s Always Sundae’ is drawn on a bill of USA from 1949 and features birds and of course, a sundae. The recurring elements in her art are birds, flowers and tea. There are coppersmith barbets on gulmohar trees in the painting ‘Music to My Ears’; a burst of yellow in the tabebuias of ‘Choose Happy’; jasmine bowers and tiger-claw flowers in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’; the pretty birds in ‘In A Jam On a Stamp Paper Dated 1957’.

What explains the fascination with these elements? “I’m fascinated by their shapes, colours and beauty. I was influenced by my mother-in-law’s teatime ritual and it became part of my life, almost an obsession.”

Her art was shaped by some aspects of her personal life. Growing up in the Garden City, she was surrounded by greenery and birds. “We always lived next to a park.” After painting plenty as a child, Bakula stopped dabbling in this art after her teenage years. She got busy acquiring a graduate degree in architecture from Bangalore Institute of Technology, followed by an MS in Communications Design from Pratt Institute, Manhattan, USA. After her initial stint with a fragrance house in New York, she worked in retail package design for several leading brands. “I subsequently relocated to India with my husband and children. Living in Bengaluru and raising my three kids, I resumed painting at the age of 37,” she explains.

How does she use these papers as a canvas when they are likely to be so frayed? Bakula explains: “Only acidic papers get brittle and break. Frequent handling and poor storage conditions can contribute to the deterioration of documents. I mostly start with paper that’s in good condition. Then I use acid-free mounting, protect it with glass, and since they are framed and hung indoors, the paper does not deteriorate.” 

Characters

She elaborates: “Every vintage paper is different in how it reacts to the sketching and colouring. I am gentle when I draw, with minimal drawing and erasing. Then I ink, which most papers handle well, some start to bleed, in which case I use different techniques or change my rendering to make it part of the ‘look’. I start with watercolours but move on to gouache or colour pencils if the vintage papers don’t act favourably with it.”

Bakula reveals that she has been collecting vintage paper since her days in school. Then, “some are papers I found in flea markets and vintage shops in the US, some on my trips to Europe. Also, in raddi shops in Bengaluru and Delhi, in Kolkata’s old bookshops and Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar... “A prized possession is a Kannada newspaper from the 1930s that was found by my mother-in-law in her maternal home, tucked under the rafters,” she says.

Balancing the demands of being a wife, mother, homemaker, and artist can be challenging. How does she manage? “I am grateful for all the support I have. My husband and in-laws are supportive of my work. My children are also very understanding of my love for art and the commitments that come with it."

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