Whimsical, ebullient and dreamy, Bakula Nayak’s Illustrations transport one to a fantasy world in a jiffy. The artist brings to life old postcards,documents, letters, bills and receipts through watercolour illustrations of birds, animals, flowers and plants, each artwork having a distinct story of it’s own. Bakula grew up in Bangalore and took to art at a very young age. Her passion was encouraged by her mother who sent her for various art competitions around the city and made her subscribe to Western Children's magazines to broaden her imagination. After pursuing an undergraduate degree in Architecture, Bakula went onto Pratt Institute, Manhattan to pursue a Masters in Communication Design. Art somehow got left behind in this mix. Soon after graduating, she worked for the likes of L'oreal, Mikasa, Ralph Lauren, Kenneth Cole and Karim Rashid. Her intuition of ‘not feeling quite right’ in these jobs coupled with her longing for India made her return to the country, where amidst grieving her parents’ death, battling health issues and family responsibilities, she found an outlet all over again, in art.
Bakula opens up about journeying back into art.
What draws you to vintage paper like postcards, letters, old bills? How does the paper you choose guide your illustration process?
My stories come directly from the papers themselves and surprisingly most of the times they coincide with stories from my own life. Perhaps, it is because I tend to use “everyday” papers..I never draw on ‘collectible” papers that have value..those have their own admirers and collectors. These are papers that are glimpses of history, of a life gone by...and of lives so similar to ours in emotions. For instance, the vintage letterhead from a jewellery store became the canvas to tell my story of how my fiance bought my ring.. Or a ice cream bill from 1934 is an opportunity to draw my love for eating ice creams.. Or a newspaper from 1931 with an article on deforestation gives me the perfect canvas to express my anguish over our apathy towards the cause even today.
We see birds as a recurring subject in your illustrations. What draws you to draw birds?
Several reasons actually. I always thought of myself as a bird in my younger days - “free as a bird” was a phrase I described myself with.
I have always loved birds especially sparrows. Upon my return to India after 15 years, I realised that they are now missing. This saddens me deeply and I do try and make it a point to represent birds and their habitats in my paintings as an ode to these beautiful creatures.
When I make my artworks, the characters in them represent a category - a lover, a mother, a baby.. something that every viewer should be able to relate to. If I draw human figures I feel viewers will project personalities onto the characters even if subconsciously (that looks like that neighbour I don’t like or this looks so much like my sister, etc..) whereas with birds they can’t be anything but just birds...and don’t birds just make everyone happy?
What have been your greatest milestones and setbacks as an artist?
My greatest milestones have been 20 shows in 5 years (something I just realised). Being represented by Vadhera Art Gallery, Delhi. Selling outside of Bangalore for the first time with them was my sense of having started my journey as a professional artist. There aren’t really any setbacks to being an artist especially since there is no career trajectory or anywhere in particular to get to, at least for me. My life is my artistic journey.. Sometimes, I don’t feel like painting but that’s about it. I don’t really have deadlines or grandiose plans - I have even had shows with unfinished paintings. I never plan that I will do a show with 10 paintings or 20. Every show for me is a journey with no end in mind. That is what I showcase..my journey..it is what it is
I read that you have multiple interests other than art such as poetry and embroidery. How do you manage to juggle these multiple passions or hobbies while leading a busy life and having a family of three kids?
My art and my passions just overlap with my everyday and permeate our lives - they are not distinct. I wish I could separate the two. I do feel guilty of sometimes, esp when I am intensely involved in my art and the kids need attention.. But my husband is extremely supportive and will step right in and pick up my slack as a parent without any resentment. He just lets me be me. My oldest is 18 and also very perceptive - she will take over the tantrums of her younger siblings if she sees that I need the help.
You stopped painting at the age of 16 and picked it back up at 40. What made you take up painting again? How has your experience been getting back into it?
When I was younger I painted without care. Trying new things, new mediums ..an openness that existed..It is a different experience now. I want to make use of the limited time in my day, other responsibilities beckon me… I also don’t seem to have the mind space to learn new techniques or mediums. I realise that even with my limited skill set there is a lot to improve and a lot more to achieve. On the other hand though, when I was young..painting was just ONE of the things that made me happy, today it makes me deliriously happy beyond words. It is my healing, my escape from the mundanities of life, my refuge, my happy place. I started painting when I lost both my parents. It was my way of dealing with grief and finding a medium of expression for life’s lessons. My paintings are a reminder to me (and hopefully to the viewers) of life’s little joys, a cue to pause for a second and breathe. To let the wild air fill your lungs, to enjoy the mundanities of life and to find magic in corners nobody has bothered to look.
What’s next from here?
I really wouldn’t know. I feel like I am still discovering myself. Having overdone it last year with 8 shows, I am taking my time this year and haven’t committed to any shows. I want to take all the time in the world to experiment, to dream, to grow… and hopefully create more works that spread even more love and happiness.
Text Supriya Jain