Due to Covid-19, I lost my job in the tech industry in April 2020. This sudden change sent a shock wave through my world. The ground beneath me shifted and for the first time in my life, I asked what was important to me based on goals and passions that I am prescribing entirely myself. In the past four months following the loss of normalcy and predictability, I felt my conviction building as I continued to prioritize my art. Through this, I decided to change the way I live by abandoning the plan laid ahead of me by others and instead pivoting towards a road with no map, guided purely by my instinct and curiosity. I am taking this moment as an opportunity to focus on my art and settle into my *new* studio (now located in Austin, TX after living in Boston, MA for five years).
With everything happening within the pandemic and other current events, it has been a heavy and slow-burn finding what sticks and what doesn’t when I paint – most days I feel disconnected from my work. Sometimes I get lost in it and become frustrated. But again, this is life and for me, paint is the constant that holds and sometimes molds me back together. During this season of questioning, a light within me has been resurrected through the process of creating and making a new home.
I have been painting for three years and have been fortunate enough to sell originals, complete four residential commissions, and be a part of a variety of showcases and exhibits. As a POC artist, I am still finding my creative voice, and there is still so much for me to know and learn. I have a B.A. in Interpersonal Communication from Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, and I am fully self-taught in art. I believe the best way to learn is through trying and making mistakes without fear.
Hello Sarala! You’ve lost your job, and decided to completely focus on your art. Firstly, did you feel a release because of that decision? And you say you are guided purely by instinct and curiosity, which I admire. How is that going so far?
Sarala: Joining my weekly zoom call with my manager on April 15th, 2020 to soon be told minutes later I was being laid off due to Covid-19 definitely made my mind and headspace spiral. Daily normalcy and predictability was shifting. But knowing this was happening to thousands of other individuals around the world due to the pandemic didn’t make this feel personal. A few weeks after the dust settled, I asked myself what was important to me based on creative goals and passions.
So much of my life I have been told what to do, how to feel, and what to believe — my adolescence was quite linear and one-sided; sheltered, black and white. Growing up in a religious Christian family, a lot of trauma from my childhood is now being unraveled at 27 years old. “No drinking, no drugs, no sex before marriage or you’re going to hell”, my parents would say. Now, as an adult, and for the past 5 years, I have stepped back from my faith and shifted this way of thinking to decide for myself what I believe is right and wrong – not just because someone told me “this is how the world works”. I find myself wrestling with decisions, not performing well in certain work environments, struggling to express my emotions verbally, and most importantly, being vulnerable and letting people in. I see myself in situations that are abnormal to my upbringing, and with that, feeling ashamed to live. This is only touching the surface when it comes to understanding who I am today due to my childhood and how the events that took place have impacted my view of humanity and my inability to connect.
Finding my voice in connection is one of the main things that inspire me to create. For most of my life, I haven’t had one. I’ve been too afraid to speak up and go outside of the bubble I was told not to leave. “You are such a good, sweet girl” others would tell me. This left an imprint on how people saw me and how I was meant to act. Everyone has a narrative they’re creating for themselves. The choices we make within that narrative allow us to live with purpose or in misery. Most of my life, I’ve felt numb. Perhaps I have not fully emerged from the emotional pain that occurred at a young age – watching my parents leave each other when I was 14 years old. I hope my work can help others process the change, pain, and uncertainty that life throws all of us. The process of creating art has provided a huge release and freedom for me over the past 8 months. Allowing myself to use the canvas to express internal growth is an external manifestation in and of itself.
Tell us about your artwork, medium, style, subject matter etc.
Sarala: My art strives to absorb and release a depth I can not express with words. While my current collection mainly contains oil as my medium, acrylic and wax medium can also be found in my work. When I first started painting three years ago, oil paint stole my heart. The patience that oil requires feels like a metaphor for how I see life: a journey with many layers. The ability to paint over oil constantly allows the canvas to flow with the mind’s subconscious The movement the pieces hold within their unique structure act like a river does just before crashing with its meeting peak.
As an emerging abstract artist seeking connection with myself, I’ve found my work registering on an emotional level. Through painting, I’ve begun to find a sense of purpose and self-compassion. Paint is the one constant I hold onto to keep moving forward and connect with external surroundings. I don’t do it to pass the time. When I engage in this process, I pour hours into it, diving into a meditation that comes to a natural resolve when the painting is complete.
How do you keep your ideas fresh?
Sarala: I like to pull colors from past paintings into new ones. Oftentimes they are colors I am not fully connected to yet, or out of my comfort zone. I bring them in patiently, listening to each color, finding the authentic meaning within it. I also allow myself to be free in my painting process and have no boundaries or rules when it comes to the technical aspects. My recent pieces have a mix of acrylic combined with wax and oil textures mounting around the softer movements the acrylic liquid makes in the canvas. Blending mediums this way helps break down my own weakness, regrets, and anxieties – allowing beauty to emerge from pain.
Have you already moved to your new studio in Austin, TX? What is a day of working like in your studio? Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
Sarala: Throughout quarantine, I asked myself what was important to me based on my passions. It became clear I needed a new environment to focus on my art, so I moved from Boston, MA to Austin, TX. I have created a fairly spacious art studio within my one-bedroom apartment, which is absolutely a time and budget saver when it comes to being a painter. Having the ability to come into the main living area, with large windows and lots of natural light, is a huge weight off my shoulders. I often start my studio practice sitting on the floor, looking at a blank gessoed canvas I have prepped the day before, and melt into a soft, slow mediation. A cup of tea will be in hand. A candle burning in the corner. Music playing in the background; often Nils Frahm, This Will Destroy You, or Novo Amor – artists I have become attached to for quite some time now.
Time is relative – this beginning physical process of becoming attuned to my present feelings takes about an hour. I’m an introvert at heart, so to physically comprehend my headspace is a big part of my art process. In between painting a piece, I typically like to let my mind settle by going for a walk around the historic neighborhood of Clarksville in West Austin. I let the cool breezy air, the natural warmth of the sun, and the silky smooth water of the Colorado River soothe my mind of what I have just processed inside onto canvas. I typically come back with a new vision for how I see the piece, and either paint over the whole canvas or sections, leaving imprints of past paint or metaphorically emotional memories of life seen within the piece.
What’s the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
Sarala: Knowing when a piece is finished is never easy. A couple hours into a piece I am either into it or I am not. When I have no connection whatsoever, I often continue painting over it to find or hunt for an honest connection with the piece. Oftentimes, this reflects my personal identity. Knowing this, I force myself to put the paint brush or palette knife down and place the canvas against the wall facing away from me so I do not see it. A few days or weeks have to go by before I can go back to it with a completely fresh set of eyes. Sometimes I am content with how I left it. Other times I can work with it and create new homes or pockets within the fixed piece with fresh paint. Timing is everything – letting it sit with no agenda is crucial to the process.
What is the best way to reach people that are interested in your art?
What’s the coolest art tip you’ve ever received?
Sarala: “Don’t think, feel it.”
What’s the most recent piece you’ve enjoyed working on the most, and why?
Sarala: “Ambient Noise” (2’ x 2.5’) is a piece that reflects both foreign and familiar colors and emotions. Pushing myself to explore new areas of my artistic process with oil, I used only a palette knife to weave the paint into place. To push, pull, and melt together the oil as it touched the canvas, brought a new sense of safety. I felt more connected as I held the palette knife in my hand. Although I love the powerful feeling of the brush in my hand, a different type of layering process exists here. Instead of hiding uncomfortably bright colors, as done with most finished pieces, they are interwoven within the darker shades of safety allowing for new vulnerabilities to emerge. Sparks of red are drizzled in, and pockets of black are blazing outwardly, allowing other stems of paint to feel, breathe, and live.
What advice would you give to upcoming artists, how to think out-of-the-box and grow?
Sarala: There are no mistakes. Go all in and explore what’s either inside you or your surrounding environments to capture something unique. Be true to yourself. Don’t try to replicate someone else’s work. Continue to mix ideas together, make movements with a palette knife, take risks with new mediums that are foreign, and dwell in the feeling of just being.
What’s next on the horizon for Sarala?
Sarala: I currently have two big pieces exhibiting at Art for the People gallery in Austin, TX. I am also connecting with other artists and building the conversation of why we create; when art spoke to them for the first time; and how creating helps others and understanding their creative motivations. My “Past Time Collection” is also available for purchase on my website.