Self-taught visual artist and curator Piya Samant primarily creates life-like figurative and floral paintings built up through traditional methods of layering oil paints. She deftly renders her subjects using color, light, and texture as her weapons of choice. But executing a final product that is deemed photorealistic by her viewers is not her ultimate aim. Piya’s motivations for making her work stem from an innate desire to capture the beauty of life and convey emotions, such as hope, in the times when we need it most. In this exclusive interview with the artist, we discuss the pivotal moment when she made the life-changing decision to forgo her career in technology to pursue a new path as an artist, how she developed her skills as a painter, and the steps that formulate her creative process.
Thank you for taking the time to share more about your work and the progression of your career as an artist. As you were born and raised in India, I’d first like to ask if there are specific aspects of your upbringing that you believe have influenced you creatively?
I’m grateful to you and Parter Dergi Magazine for extending the invitation and am excited to share my art journey with you! The majority of my work has high chroma and is textured. From an early age, I was exposed to colorful fabrics with layers of colorful embroidery, costume jewelry, and henna designs. That may be a good explanation for why the majority of my work shares these characteristics. Additionally, my parents’ hobby was to rescue and shelter stray animals so I spent my childhood with varied species of animals and birds. This experience resulted in a love of painting flora and fauna.
You spent a decade working in the technology industry before embarking on a new journey as a full-time artist. Was there a specific turning point that led you to make the switch or did you always feel a calling to art that you eventually hoped to return to?
Yes and yes. I felt a calling to art for as far back as I can recall. I chose engineering over art as a career path because that was what was expected of me (by my parents). After having lived and worked in the US for a decade, I realized that every day spent not painting was a wasted day. The feeling never went away and got stronger. Eight years ago, I acted on the urge of becoming a practicing artist. It was supposed to be a two-year sabbatical which has now been extended indefinitely. It was a big change and a risk that seemed almost impossible back then.
The ability to tell a story is one of the best elements of being an artist. To evoke an emotion and see the beauty in everything, even in tragedy, is what makes a great visual artist. It is a lifelong journey of learning, evolving and growing.
Being a self-taught artist, I’d guess that a fair amount of your technical skills came from practice, dedication, and experimentation. What other resources helped guide you along the way?
Daily painting (five to seven days each week) has been the single most effective way to get closer to my art goals. As a self-taught, practicing artist, I borrow art history books from the library and attempt to replicate Masters’ paintings. Watching YouTube videos of accomplished artists has also helped tremendously.
PxP Contemporary has been pivotal in connecting me with new patrons during the pandemic. I’ve also made meaningful connections with fellow artists thanks to Create! Magazine and The Art Queens and am grateful to be part of these wonderful communities of living, working artists.
You tend to primarily work between figures/portraiture, still-lifes, and landscape compositions. How do you decide on each image you want to create? Can you walk us through a bit of your process for each painting?
I spend days, sometimes weeks, deciding on the composition of my upcoming piece. This can involve photographing the subject in different angles under different lights, going through several hundred reference photos and sketching out ideas. Once the composition is solid, I do value studies in three to four keys (high, medium, light) either in pencil and Sharpie or in oil. Next comes the actual painting. Doing an underpainting / Imprimatura helps solve the painting upfront. Values are the secret sauce of any painting. Last but not the least is the actual painting. I try to paint alla prima except if the painting is medium to large size. I create the painting in several layers of oil and add texture in the top few layers. It is easy to spend days in the studio when working on a piece before requiring any social interaction.
In addition to your ongoing Hope and Life series, you’ve recently been creating works for your ‘Saffron Notes’ collection. Walk us through the themes you are exploring through these paintings and how you see this body of work expanding in the months to come.
Here’s the story behind my ‘Saffron Notes’ Collection. For centuries, Western artists have celebrated women by portraying them as beautiful and powerful, sometimes as nobility. Few parallels exist for South Asian women because we often think of them as playing their assigned roles in society. They have been represented as doting mothers, loyal wives, goddesses in temples, and homemakers performing chores. Seldom does the art world see them as a muse and capture their beauty for who they are, independent of their role in society.
This collection portrays South Asian women in their ephemeral moments of solitude and beauty, conveying thoughts of self-worth, free from societal burdens.
The women currently portrayed in the collection are in their 20s and 30s. In the coming months, the collection will expand to incorporate women of a much wider age range. ‘Saffron Notes’ will also feature close up paintings of gestures, emotions, and the adornments of these women.
Piya Samant has been painting and drawing daily for about a decade. Follow along on her website: www.artbypiyali.com or on Instagram @art.by.piyali and Facebook @artbypiyali to see additional paintings, progress videos, art tips, and more!