Studio and New Work

After eight years of living as a working artist, I am embarrassed to tell you that I have never had my own studio – a separate, dedicated space solely for the creation of art. I’ve managed to make plenty of work, of course, but it has all been done at home, working at a small desk or while sitting on my bed. Sad, but true….

With that said, I am happy to report that I now have my very own studio, and it is absolutely lovely – the fact that my first ‘official’ studio is in Nepal makes it even better! I am currently working as the first Visiting Artist at the Kasthamandap Art Studio in Kupondole (a neighborhood in Patan, about a 25 minute walk away from where I am living in Jhamsikel). There are five other artists working there as well, all who co-founded this studio collective in 1994: Asha Dangol, Erina Tamrakar, Binod Prahdan, Bhairaj Maharjan, and Pramila Bajracharya are all amazing painters and extremely friendly and welcoming people. I feel lucky and honored to take some small part in their incredible organization, a cornerstone of the Kathmandu art scene. Their online gallery is here: www.eartsnepal.com ………. I encourage you to take a look at their beautiful work!

I’ve been in the space for about two weeks and am settling in nicely. I very much enjoy my walk here every day (especially since Asha showed me a shortcut that consists of small residential roads that are relatively calm). I start by walking past the small shops around the corner from my street, and chuckle at the Beauty Parlor sign…

Jessica Simpson

Yes, that is Jessica Simpson…hilarious.

 

I make my way very carefully through the busy intersection, which of course has no stop signs or lights, and walk past the Hindu temple that, if I am lucky, is filled with worshippers making beautiful music.

I continue on, past walls of “kudzu” (morning glory?) and lantana, then past one of my most favorite walls of graffiti in the neighborhood…

Bom B!

Bom B!

…and then past one of my favorite houses as well…

Green house

I pass the British School, a large gated boarding school that has this incredible tree within its walls (I love its peeling bark)….

Peeling bark tree

The British School

(I enjoy watching the students play soccer here on my way home in the early evening as well… The older boys are always playing inside a fenced-in area, while the younger boys either watch or play their own game just outside the fence…)

soccer

I continue on through some windy turns and take a right at a small intersection where a cobbler always works by the side of the road and there a few small stores…

Intersection

Corner store bottles

From there I continue on down the road and, oddly enough, pass the North Korean embassy…

Korean Embassy

A few doors down, I then pass the Norwegian embassy. Funny to think of them as neighbors, no?

Norwegian Embassy

I take a left turn at an even smaller street and pass some extremely nice houses…

Home of the wealthy

Home of the wealthy 2

(I notice that these houses, like most in Kathmandu, are behind gates and walls. The difference, though, is that these houses of the wealthy also seem to have guards manning their gates at just about all times. It makes me feel a bit strange for some reason).

Then I head down the hill…

down the hill

…past the plant with the strange drooping blossoms that I adore…

Drooping blossoms

…and past the house with the chicken coop where baby chicks recently hatched….

Chicken coop

Then I pass the construction site where many young men are building a modern multi-story building that I’m told will be some sort of college…

 

construction site

(The structure seems a bit out of place in this residential area, but so it goes, I guess. I’ve enjoyed watching some of the social dynamics play out with this construction crew as I pass every day, especially when groups of giggling school girls show up to visit the young men working there. It’s pretty cute, I must say).

I take a right turn onto the small street where the Kasthamandap Art Studio is located…

KAS street

…and walk through the gate to our building…

KAS building

I am often greeted by my new friends, the pets of the landlord who lives on one side of our building…

Happy and Khusi

 

(The mother’s name is “Happy” and the puppy’s name is “Khusi,” the Nepali word for ‘happy.’ As intended, these furry friends make me… HAPPY!)…

Happy

Khusi

I make my way up the stairs where the light makes patterns on the floor and handmade Nepali paper covers parts of the walls…

 

Light

nepali paper on walls

I reach the second floor, take off my shoes, and greet whomever is working in the office (these five artists keep their organization afloat by teaching art classes -more on that later- and by running a graphic design business out of the studio building). I sit and chat with whomever is around for a few moments, usually Asha, Binod, and Bhairaj, and then head up to the third floor, where my studio is located. It is spacious and bright, and I love the windows that open to a wall of green…

wall of green

Countertop by window

Shelves

Table corner

I spend most of my time working at the small table, sitting on the floor, but I also work at the counter by the windows from time to time as well. The sounds of crows and pigeons almost always fill the studio, and I like to take small breaks from working to watch them….

Crow

Pigeon visit

I am treated to delicious smells from the kitchen of the house next door throughout the day. This is a blessing and a curse, as it keeps me feeling hungry just about all day! If I’m lucky, the woman of the house will sing while she cooks – she has a beautiful voice, and I love to hear her.

Rainy days are lovely – cool breezes blow through the windows and the sound of the rain amongst the leaves outside is sublime.

rainy day window

There’s a rooftop patio where I sometimes eat my lunch. The view is lovely…

rooftop view

rooftop view 2

When I first arrived, there was a stack of handmade Nepali paper scraps in my studio that I was given permission to use…

handmade nepali paper

This paper, made from the lokta tree, is gorgeous and strong, and I took to its textured surface right away. After a few experiments, I began working on a new piece for the entire first week. It began as a visual response to the textured patterns of the paper’s surface, but I quickly realized that it was also a metaphor for my own personal response to my experience of Kathmandu as well. As reflected in the piece, I approach Kathmandu by attempting to find places where I fit, or can at least understand, in this new and different culture. I work my way into these spaces and impose (insert? integrate?) my own sense of order and organization within this new environment – at least in my own mind, anyway. The working title is “Response”….

full view "Response"

even closer view "Response"

close up "Response"

The black lines are made with ink, the brown lines are small pieces of hair (of course).

It makes me think of birds, which is appropriate seeing that crows and pigeons are an ever present component of the ‘soundtrack’ in my studio and in Kathmandu generally.

I’ve also just finished another new piece, inspired by (and in response to) this beautiful card, also made on handmade Nepali paper, that I bought in a craft store in Patan…

braid card

braid card detail

I believe the word for braid is “chulto bateko,” and many women wear their hair this way here. I was told that married women wear one single braid down their backs, while unmarried women wear one on either side of their heads (two total, like ‘pig tails’). But then I was also told by another person that is not true – so who knows? Perhaps it is a tradition that is fading? Perhaps it only applies within certain ethnic groups or castes? I cannot say. But I loved the image regardless, and was driven to respond to it, again on handmade Nepali paper from the lokta tree…

braid, side by side

braid, stacked

I am trying to decide if I like the panels side-by-side or vertically.  Thoughts, opinions?

braid detail

braid tail

It feels good to be making work that is fresh and without agenda. Back home, I am so often caught up in making a “cohesive body of work” and am always thinking about the logistical concerns of presentation, exhibition and (in the event of some miracle) sales. Of course, all of this comes with being a professional artist – it has its pros and cons – and I will certainly be working on more career-minded pieces this year, namely the “House 27” series of large-scale hair embroideries. And although I am absolutely thrilled to begin making that work, it does feel good to ‘warm up’ with these small pieces that are entirely inspired by my experiences here in Kathmandu, regardless of whether or not they ‘fit’ into the larger framework of my portfolio.

So I spend my days mostly working in the studio, making these new works. I have also had some wonderful opportunities to meet with other artists and members of the wider Kathmandu arts community, thanks to the lovely folks here at Kasthamandap. My first visit was with Lok Chitrakar, a friendly and incredibly talented painter of traditional pauva paintings. Sometimes confused with thankga paintings from Tibet, these paintings are of Nepali origin and combine religious imagery from both Buddhism and Hinduism. They are meticulously detailed and are simply stunning. I was honored to have met Mr. Chitrakar and was very thankful to him for taking time to answer my questions about the content and processes of these amazing works. You can learn more about him and see his work here: www.artsofnepal.com/artist/3/lok-chitrakar.html

Here are some pictures from my visit with him…

Lok Chitrakar's "best" painting

Mr. Chitrakar considers this one of his best paintings… It’s incredible!

Lok Chitrakar studio 1

The tools of the trade…

assistant working

One of Mr. Chitrakar’s assistants applying gold – a final touch to an almost completed work.

Gold pigment

The gold pigment, made from 100% real gold…

large work

A large painting, just begun… Mr. Chitrakar explained to me that he makes his pigments the traditional way – grinding various stones into powder, then adding a natural adhesive element and water.  You can see evidence of this in those small white bowls in the photo…

I’ve also had the pleasure of observing Erina’s art class for kids that takes place in a separate building that the Kasthamandap Art Studio manages just a few “blocks” away (I put that in quotes, because… well… blocks as we know them in American cities don’t really exist here). After some initial instruction at the beginning of the term, the class operates on an ‘open studio’ format so the kids come in each day, find a spot, and begin working on projects of their choosing. Erina is there to help them work through problems and answer questions (other members of the studio teach classes to children and adults as well)…

KAS school classroom

 Student work

Student work…

Erina instructing

Erina helping a student …

Kumari painting

For the observant among you – YES, that is a painting of the Patan Kumari that Drew and I received tika from on my first full day in Kathmandu (see “First Impressions” blog post).  This young artist is very talented and has been working on this painting for many weeks…

student work 2

More student work, cityscape with mountains beyond…

student work 3

And more student work… get that tree, elephant!

After seeing the students’ lovely art and finding a tiny drawing of a house in an abandoned sketch pad in my studio, I created my own little fun piece of ‘kid art’ as well. Not a bad way to spend 20 minutes!

My 'kid art'

My 'kid art' detail

The piece of student work that was my inspiration… I love it so much!

Student work - inspiration

I have also been introduced to Ashmina Ranjid, an accomplished artist here in Nepal who is recognized internationally as well (her website is here, although unfortunately there aren’t any images of her work: www.ashminaranjit.com.np). She works with an organization called, Lasanaa (www.lasanaa.org.np/article-aboutus) that, from what I can tell, seems to be a major hub of the art scene here in Kathmandu. Here are a few shots of their beautiful performance space…

Lasanaa performance space

wall detail

At the end of my first week at the studio, I attended a lecture at Lasanaa given by two American ex-pats now living in Qatar and working for the Qatar Museum Authority. I met many interesting artists there, and enjoyed the discussion…

Lasanaa lecture

(I will be giving my own lecture, or “art talk,” about my work at Lasanaa on July 31st – I am very excited and honored to be given this opportunity. EEEK – I need to prepare!)

I also met a group of students from Virginia Commonwealth University at the museum lecture, and was happy to see that they came to visit the studio at Kasthamandap a few days later….

VCU student visit

The art community here appears to be relatively small for a city this size – it seems that everybody knows just about everybody else in the scene. I am so grateful to my hosts at Kasthamandap for setting up introductions and helping me navigate this vibrant new community. I am excited to meet more Nepali artists and art professionals as my residency continues …

That’s it for now… check back soon for many new pictures and posts! Namaste!

2 thoughts on “Studio and New Work

  1. So glad that you get to do this year-long sabbatical! Being able to focus on making art and living in different places must be very exciting. I’m so happy for you!

  2. brenna, i LOVE your hairy braided hair, both in hair and ink; and i love the one based on the kid’s painting and all that you are sharing on your blog – thank you! bravo and so proud of and happy for you! love, elin p.s. and love your “response” pieces

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