From the Plate to the Canvas - Sarasvathy TK

I thought this was a food blog! Are those photographs? Is it digital art? These are some of the questions fielded by Sarasvathy TK every time someone looks at her work. And they can’t be blamed either. Because the level of realism in her work is so startling, that her subjects on the canvas can set many a stomach growling.

She took a liking to painting after visiting the Louvre in 2007 and a Singapore museum in 2008. Before that she used to slightly dabble in doodling and sketching; but after her visit to these places her curiosity about the art form was fired up. She began teaching herself by watching videos on YouTube, when one day she came across a tutorial for oil painting; she was completely taken in by the medium and she began to paint in it. She tried painting landscapes, still-life and even abstract paintings for a while; before realizing that her heart lay in drawing still life. But to her dismay she was constantly informed that the style was not currently in vogue. But she stuck to her guns and persevered in painting still life subjects, though they bought her little recognition in the art world.

In 2012 while exhibiting at the ‘Affordable Art Fair’ in Singapore, she came across the works of fellow painter Jessica Brown, who is known for her realistic still life painting. “I spent a lot of time studying her paintings to understand the quality and precision with which she approached her subjects” She cites Brown as one of the reasons she was drawn to hyper-realism. At that point she had seen a multitude of tutorials and lessons online and coupled them with hours upon hours of practice, which made her confident enough to exhibit her initial experiments with realism at the New York Art Expo in 2013; but even there she was criticized for not being original enough.

Undeterred, she went back to the drawing board and started honing her skills and scouting for a realistic subject that lined up with her aesthetic. In 2015 she came across another painter of the realistic style, Tjalf Sparnasy, who made realistic renditions of American Cuisine. She was bowled over by the artist’s intricacy and his attention to detail. Spurned by this she made up her mind to paint staple foods from Indian Cuisine as real as she could. “Food is powerful and it plays a vital role in our culture. Everybody is connected to it” Sarasvathy tells me that beauty of her subjects should be accessible to anyone, “Everyone should be able to feel what it is”. True to this her paintings offer experiences that crash upon the viewer like waves, making them feel the texture, color and even the flavor and aroma.

For her first painting she chose the most common food that graces the breakfast table of many South Indian Families; namely the Idli. She paired it with its usual accompaniments, namely Sambhar and Coconut Chutney. She chose this even though she was not overly fond of them as she had been eating them for as long as she could remember. Another challenge was the fact that there were no reference images for the subject. So she creates her own reference images, with food made at home or bought from outside; then she photographs them with a medley of cutlery, garnishing and from a variety of angles. She tells me that sometimes the photo shoots themselves last for six hours, and then she spends almost two weeks observing the details in them, so that she can depict them as they are. The paintings themselves take anywhere between three to six months to complete.    

‘Idli, Sambar and Coconut Chutney’ took her six months to complete but the results were rewarding. It was received well at the Cultural Heritage Show WWAC in New Jersey, she had more reason to be happy when the painting was featured on the invitation to the show. Apart from this she also released 22 customized postage stamps, of the painting on the occasion of World Idli Day which falls on the 30th of March. Following this she depicted another staple South Indian dish, the Dosa. This like the previous painting was also received well. The third painting was ‘Samosa, Tamarind Chutney and Coriander Chutney’ which was featured in the April issue of ‘American Art Collector’. Her fourth painting with a Garlic Naan, won her an Award of Merit from the ‘American Women Artists Association’. 

She credits her husband for constantly motivating her in times of crises. Initially she was skeptical about taking this full time but her husband encouraged her to persevere and in a way that has gotten her to where she is now. From being ignored at art shows, she is now on the verge of organizing a solo exhibition. “If you are truly passionate about something, you must be patient and learn constantly”.

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