Briefly describe the work you do.
My paintings, drawings and installations center on the general themes of identity and globalization through the tropes of landscape and embroidery. I draw from memory, history, travel, and pop-culture, and employ bright bold colors and patterns to ignite otherwise barren, abstract, and often highly conceptualized landscapes. While these landscapes are unpopulated, their mountains, oceans, plains, and cities often bear the trace of human activity. The embroidered elements allude to the work of the “other,” referencing women and sweatshop workers.
Currently, I am working on a project called “the Intrepid Garden,” in which I investigate the nature of the “garden” as a site of decay and rebirth. The garden, as the cultivated place between the untamed woods and the domestic realm, acts as a space of mediation. It can be nurtured, maintained, and controlled, but has the potential to become over-grown, unruly, and unkempt. As nature bears its force, the garden transforms from a peaceful haven to an inhospitable wilderness. But, historically speaking, the gardener’s effort to manipulate and control our natural world has often, if not always, been accompanied by a tacit recognition of the aesthetic primacy of nature itself. Nature is at once to be mastered and to be mimicked. I am excited to investigate this theme through multiple mediums.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I have had the pleasure of living in and traveling to many places. I am South Asian, but was born in South America and grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada, and all over the East Coast. My travels have brought me to Africa, Asia, South America, Europe, etc. These experiences have led me to make art about the feeling of disorientation associated with living in a global context. I was specifically struck by the industrial waste and detritus within the various landscapes and made a body of work surrounding these spaces.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I cherish the moments I have in my studio, which I consider to be an “inner sanctum” of sorts. But I collect visual data every moment of the day. Taking the time to observe the world leads to moments of fantastic inspiration.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Teaching plays a significant role in my life. I believe in teaching students to understand the integration of art and life. The marriage of a strong mastery over materials and a powerful conceptual framework is our key to making great works of art. My students, in turn, show me how to see the world with fresh perspectives.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I work whenever I can but I am most productive when I have several hours to ruminate and create, but I basically work whenever and wherever I can. Right now I have a residency that gives me the conceptual and physical space to expand my practice, but I maintain a small workspace at home as well because inspiration is unpredictable.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
My work has diversified in terms of materials. I have expanded my practice to include video and sculpture and look forward to what the future will bring. Embroidery and the handmade have also played a major role in my work recently and I look forward to expanding my practice to include animation as well. The conceptual thread and allusions to identity within a global and multi-cultural world have stayed the same.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
I am deeply influenced by discussions with other artists and especially those with my philosopher husband, Adam Graves. Some of my favorite contemporary artists include Peter Doig, Kara Walker, Janine Antoni, Amy Cutler, Marcel Dzama, etc.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I majored in statistics in college and started a PhD program in South Asian contemporary art before I felt the courage to follow my dream of being an artist. Travel is my most passionate hobby. The insight that you gain from seeing and internalizing other cultures and landscapes is overwhelmingly exciting for me.
Suchitra Mattai lives and works in Denver, Colorado. She received an MFA in painting and drawing and an MA in South Asian Art, both from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. She was also awarded fellowships to study at the Royal College of Art, London and at the American Institute of Indian Studies, Udaipur, India. Suchitra has exhibited her work in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Denver, Austin, Berlin, and Wales. Her work has also appeared in New American Paintings and she is currently a resident artist at RedLine Denver. Suchitra teaches studio classes at the University of Denver.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.