Thursday, September 29, 2016

Star Collecting: An Interview with Sheila Arora

Me at Sunday’s “What Matters” panel: “[…] I’m an awkward weirdo.”
Paul Klein, moderator/art critic: “You hide it well! You’re not awkward at all. You’re just weird.”

Thank you so much to those who attended, to Paul and Startup Art Fair for inviting me to be a part of it, and to all the amazing artists I met for being you!

Sheila Arora, Flower Healer, acrylic on paper, 18x24 in.

On the subject of amazing artists, I interviewed painter Sheila Arora, whom I represent! Here are her own words, unfiltered and free-flowing like her art:

Jenny Lam: Introduce yourself!

Sheila Arora: Hi Jenny, thanks for talking with me! I’m an artist living in Chicago. I have always been drawing and painting. I used to do traditional work including figure, still life, and portrait. I started the abstract acrylic painting a few years ago, and I found it was a great fit with my style. I love using color and exploring marks. My current work is expressive, free, and a total explosion of joy on the canvas.

Sheila Arora, May I have a piece of cake please,
acrylic on paper, 18x24 in.

JL: Could you describe your work (both your abstract paintings as well as your portraits) and the process that goes into it?

SA: My paintings are bold. I use a lot of color and marks to keep the pieces active. I have a busy mind, and that is reflected in my work. I’m also a risk-taker when I paint, so I’ll go for anything and everything. I’m always pushing my work in new directions.

Sheila Arora, I tried to say thank you in a million ways,
acrylic on paper, 18x24 in.

My process is very intuitive. I lean into the intuition and trust that what I’m feeling is where the painting wants to go. I generally work on a series of pieces that will consist of 15-30 paintings. The overall series is an idea of what I want to capture. For example, I am currently working on a series of paintings called Expressions. These pieces are all about exploring freedom of the line, being looser with the paint, and letting go.

Sheila Arora, My room is messy but you're still invited,
acrylic on paper, 18x24 in.

The portraits are a really fun combination of the abstract and realistic work. I used to do lots of figure drawing from the model, so I have a really good grasp of the face. I start with a reference photo to understand placement of features and lighting, and then I add the abstract component to make the piece totally crazy. I have two portrait series: Crazy Portraits and Princess Warriors. I started adding some writing to the Princess Warrior series to bring the characters to life.

Sheila Arora, Fallen Angel, acrylic on paper, 9x12 in.
[Update: SOLD!]

Sheila Arora, Story Weaver, acrylic on paper, 9x12 in.
[Update: SOLD!]

JL: As someone who’s also both an artist and a writer, I love that some of your paintings are accompanied by your writing. What a wonderful way to combine two art forms. Could you also explain your process for that? Do you come up with the painting or story/poem first? Also, how did you get into creative writing?

SA: I love to write. I have a crazy imagination, so creative writing has always been a natural fit for me. I recently started combining the two art forms. I started writing a set of stories based on my small abstract painting series. I would pick a painting and use that as a starting point for the story. I let the painting give me the ideas, and then I would write a short piece from my imagination. I wrote about everything from a rainbow tornado to a buffalo cave! I wrote 30 of these short stories, and each one was totally different and fun.

[Continue reading more after the jump.]

The Worm Hole, acrylic on paper, 9x12 in.
One day I decided to pick flowers from the garden. I collected only the pink ones that I had five petals and put them in my hair. I got slightly greedy and tried to pull out this tall pink punk rock flower with this avant-garde haircut that was growing totally out of control. I reached over to grab the stem and slipped and fell backwards down this magenta worm hole. I had never been down a worm hole before, but the flowers in my hair bloomed into the most lovely, over-sized parachute above my head. I floated down safely towards the empty seat next to the Queen Worm who introduced herself as Katherine.

I then started experimenting with combining poetry with the paintings. I did the same thing by letting the paintings lead me to the poem. I would look at the painting and then the poem would flow from there.

acrylic on paper, 9x12 in.
[Update: SOLD!]

The orange hug
swallowed me
like a whale
and wouldn’t let go.

My latest set of written pieces included writing a crazy fun sentence based on one of the paintings from my Imaginary Spaces series.

acrylic on paper, 12x12 in.
A giant flower with feather wings grew out of the chimney of the pink house.

JL: At one point you created a painting a day. A lot of people wish they could be a fraction as prolific! How do you stay motivated and inspired? How do you come up with all those ideas?

SA: Yes! I love painting. I have so many ideas that I want to explore on the canvas. I stay motivated and inspired by trying new things. I’m constantly challenging myself to push my work in different ways. I follow what I’m drawn to at the time.

This is the first painting that inspired my new series Expressions. It’s titled I’m so excited about this new direction that I can’t stop smiling.

Sheila Arora, acrylic on paper, 18x24 in.

JL: You attended Princeton for undergrad and the University of Chicago for grad school, and you have a corporate job. How have academia and the corporate world affected your artistic process, if at all? (Perhaps being immersed in un-artsy environments allows you to use your art as a sort of creative release or catharsis?)

SA: I was an Economics major at Princeton, and I concentrated in Marketing and Strategy for my MBA at Chicago Booth. I love learning. I think this curiosity and desire to explore translates into my artistic process. I am always learning from other artists and trying new things. In my paintings, I’m not afraid to put a color down and see what will happen. I might mess it up, but I also might love it. Painting is another way of exploring through a different set of tools.

Photo by Sheila Arora.

I have a corporate job. I work in Finance so I’m working with numbers all day long. In contrast to my colorful paintings, my office at work is white and plain. I prefer this type of day job that uses a different side of the brain, so after work I still have all my creative energy. I look forward to painting in the evenings when I get home to my studio space!

Sheila Arora, Circle Tribe, acrylic on canvas, 36x36 in.

JL: How does living in Chicago affect your creative process and art?

SA: I like to go for walks outside and collect fragments of colors and spaces. I take those vibrant pieces of life and let them fill my imagination. My work is influenced by my busy and active surroundings. I think you can see the city-life influence in some of my paintings. I also live just a few blocks from the Art Institute of Chicago, which is a great place for being inspired by an amazing art collection!

Sheila Arora, Pick Me, acrylic on canvas, 24x24 in.

JL: In addition to the city, what/who inspires you?

SA: I’m inspired by lots of artists and writers. I’m drawn to abstract intuitive painters, and I admire artists who are also entrepreneurs. I’m currently listening to the podcast “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, which is based on her new book about living a creative life beyond fear. In each episode, she helps people—writers, dancers, musicians, artists—overcome their creative blocks. It’s so inspiring to see people pursue their creative dreams. It reminds me that creative pursuits are important and should not be pushed aside!

JL: Tell the readers a fun fact about yourself!

SA: My last name is a palindrome.

JL: Mind. Blown. And anything else you’d like to add!

SA: Thanks, Jenny! You can follow my work on Facebook and Instagram!

Photo courtesy of Sheila Arora.

Thank you, Sheila!

Art collectors, if you would like to purchase any pieces, and art galleries, if you would like to showcase Sheila’s work, let me know!

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