Painter

artist, Ohio, Painter

Priya Rama

Priya Rama’s work and story really resonated with me. I get migraines and have my whole life. When I was a little girl, I was often torn, because I knew that certain activities would give me headaches. Mine are genetic, my maternal grandmother used to shut herself in her bedroom for days on end. Like Priya, my migraines have changed a lot over the years. Until I was in my 20’s, I didn’t know what I was experiencing were actually migraines. Or that there is medication to help! Now for Priya Rama:

I have had migraines since I was a little girl. They continue to change as I get older. Every migraine is different from the other. I often experience this unbelievable tiredness and I don't know why I'm feeling that tired. I just want to sit and not do anything. That is usually a day before a migraine. I'm not always good at recognizing, "Oh, I'm about to get a migraine." The days I don't have migraines, I overcompensate and I do so much, because my migraines are so frequent. I get two to three a week.

Two to three migraines a week! Wow. Are you on any medication?

Oh yeah. All kinds of meds. We moved to Cincinnati from Texas about 10 years ago. After moving to Cincinnati my migraines worsened. That's when I realized that weather is a big trigger for me which I'd never paid attention to before. The changing weather in Cincinnati, the constant barometric pressure changes, all lead to migraines.

Yeah. This year, this spring has been terrible for me. I get migraines once a month maybe. But early this summer I was getting three a week.

I didn't connect the dots to weather until we moved here. It doesn't always end up in a migraine, it can quite often be just a very tight head. Like it's being squeezed. It’s constant pressure and tightness. Just an overall discomfort, really.

I hear you, I understand.

When I was commuting to Ohio State two, three times a week, I was a full time student and I was teaching. The [combination of the] commute and being a wife and mother, it was all just too much. I was always medicating. I had too many migraines. I always had a list of things to do. I had assignments to grade or assignments to complete. It was just too much really. So I decided to take a year's break and reevaluate and see, “Do I really want to do this?” Continue with this.

Because along with migraines comes this constant guilt, right? Guilt of canceling appointments, or guilt of not being able to do your job. Or not being around for people. I said, “This is not worth it.” So I decided to take a year's break and during that break one particular migraine was really vivid and vibrant, and I decided to paint it. That's where this whole thing started. Painting that felt so very comfortable and so natural.

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Painting these has not necessarily cured the migraines, but what it's done has been to allow me to let go of all the anger and frustration that I was holding onto. I didn't even realize how angry I was! There's a constant canceling of plans or you wake up and you feel this pain, and you're like, again, really?! You're just dealing with this constant anger. So painting has allowed me to be completely at peace with having migraines and accept their presence in my life.

Now a migraine comes, I'm like okay, and I just deal with it. Not that having the pain is enjoyable or anything. Some days it really brings you down. But it is what it is. I don't know any other life, that's just all I've known.

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I've been doing this now for three, three and a half years. The more I paint the more vibrant the images are becoming.

Yes. That's interesting. Something like training a muscle. You only started painting your migraine visions about three years ago?

I've always painted though... I trained to be a graphic designer and typographer. So I was doing that, working in advertising.

When I was in Texas, I was an elementary school teacher. I taught fourth grade. Art and design took a back seat. When we moved here I thought it was a great opportunity to combine teaching and this love for art and design. So I thought I'd do art education. I did my masters here at the University of Cincinnati, and then started my doctoral work at OSU. So that's how that journey kind of happened.

So you've always been artistic, always painted.

I've always painted. But much more traditional subjects. I really didn't think too much about this imagery I was seeing because I've always known it. I didn't think it was something very unusual or that not everybody sees that kind of imagery. I'm a visual learner. I understand the world in visual terms. I thought that's how everybody is.

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So when I started doing this and people were responding to my work...I actually met people who say some of my paintings are exactly like some of the visions they see. That fascinates me. Different bodies, different brains, somewhat similar condition and we see similar things, you know?

Yes! Some of your paintings I can look at and think, “Wow, that's a lot of pain.” In others, I can see maybe that's one where you're doing okay with it that day. Where you found a calm place or just, ‘Okay, this is happening.’ I can definitely see in [the paintings] the type of migraine, which is crazy to me.

For me, that is interesting. A lot of people say, "Oh, that looks like a painful one." I haven't really thought of the images as painful or not. It's just an image for me. Yes the image comes out of this process [or pain] but to me it's amazing that I see this imagery. [The image is] not in my eyes, it's more inside my brain. My vision will get sort of blurry and diffused [with a migraine] but all this imagery is inside my head. It's more like the top of my head. So I close my eyes, kind of look up and then it starts to emerge. Then I can travel through it, sort of float through it, and frame what I'm looking at. It's really interesting. It's almost like a slow motion movie.


This has been fantastic. It's taken me a long time to arrive at this point to find that one thing that truly grabs me. All along I thought I'd been doing things I love and enjoy but this feels completely like home.


As I'm floating through it some things can come forward, some things recede. So for me I don't look at the pain, it's just I'm focusing so much on what's going on inside my head. The textures and the details of the colors. I'm just trying to capture it.

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When you're painting what you're seeing, do you finish a whole painting?

No...I work, as you can see [gestures to many half painted canvases leaning against the wall], I work on multiple things at once. So I'll travel through back and forth. So these are all in progress.

Is it a combination of visions, or are you able to go back?

I'm able to go back because I have a photographic memory of all my visions.

That's really wild!

Going back years. Otherwise my memory is pretty bad. When it comes to these visions I can recall. It's almost like I can go back to that vision, almost that moment. Not necessarily the migraine experience, but just the whole visual symphony that's playing out. It's like a file folder system in my head. I can pull out a drawer and there are slides and I can look at these images and go back to that moment.

I work on different [pieces] because things have to dry. Once I start painting, it's weird. As calming and meditative as it is, it's also a big urgency to capture what I'm seeing. To get it on canvas quickly and to capture the feeling. So I have to work on multiple things and allow things to dry between layers so I can go and add to it.


For me, painting is a quiet process. It's me and my thoughts and ... you know? Just being part of that moment of experiencing it.

You don't realize you're not talking to anybody, you're sort of lost in your thoughts.


This is what the beginning stages of my process look like: I'll start with a blank [canvas], I put a background color on and then I do layers. Quite often I use black for the background because it gives the depth, the shadow that I'm looking for. Once I do that then I layer [sheer washes of color that build the feeling of depth]. Then I start building all the details.

So every little dot and every little thing that you see there has been placed there by me. It's just an ongoing process and I can spend hours and hours just building, building.

….

Because my studio is at home I'm able to work at any hour that I want. And just be comfortable. And I can get in and out of bed and work.

Does that happen a lot?

Oh yeah.

Is that because the migraines are there and you can't sleep?

Yeah. Because I'll come and I'll start to paint but then sometimes it's so painful that I don't want to be here. So at least get the process started and then go back to bed. Then the image continues and I'm just sort of compelled to come back and paint again, to try to capture it. Having the studio at home really allows me the flexibility.

You sell your work mainly at art fairs?

Yes, and I'm in a few galleries. Hayley Gallery in Columbus, Ohio… and I'm in Purple Paisley in Covington, Kentucky.

What was that process like, getting into galleries?

Basically you approach them, show your work, talk about what you do. I include images of my work in emails or I take my work to show them. I've only applied to art fairs and galleries which have a jury process. It's more choosy in who they have in the gallery [or fair]. I want to be amongst good company.

[When I approach galleries with my paintings,] I look at the work they carry already. The artists they have. Because I'm not a traditionalist, you can see, and I don't even do traditional subjects. I have to find galleries that show modern, contemporary and abstract art really.

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Hayley Gallery, the owner saw me in the Greater Columbus Art Festival last year and thought I would be a good fit. She said, "Hey come on over with your work and we'll see." I've been there a year, and she’s very supportive.

Okay. So it’s been a combination. Some people have approached you and you've approached some people.

Yeah. This year my hope is to go to two other galleries outside the tristate area. Maybe Chicago. I'm trying to find the balance between having enough inventory to do art fairs and to have work at home. When you take work to a gallery it stays with them. It's no longer available for you.

Find Priya:

Priya Rama

Instagram

National Headache Foundation Blog

Priya will appear on CBS Sunday Morning With Jane Pauley on November 3rd. Topic of the day is migraines.

artist, Indiana, Painter

Sabrina Zhou

You went to art school in China…

Two art schools in China and one in Canada. All different majors. The first one was Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. I was majoring in watercolor. Then I met my husband and moved to the art school that he was in. That was in Sichuan, the southwest of China. This is where pandas come from. So first I did fine arts [watercolor] and then interior design. Then went to Canada and there I did fine arts…

What made you come to America?

I knew I was going to leave Calgary, it’s just too cold there. It’s like half a year in winter. We have to walk in tunnels and all of that. I didn’t think I would come to America until I visited a friend here. [We went to school together in Canada.] He was a New York street artist [at the time.]
…He was good and he inspired me. I just followed his steps…

So you started off on the east coast in Connecticut…

For seven years. Long time.…There was an old storage place they turned into artist lofts and rented them only to artists. So the rent was much cheaper than the market. You got to live with all sorts of artists; painters, singers, poets, writers, etc.  And then parties and talks... It was fun.
…I had a booth at the mall in Connecticut for Christmas and I was doing about 10 portraits a day… I came here to Indiana and had a booth at the mall for one year, in 2013.  I was playing video games on the computer the day before Christmas. People were not interested…

I focused solely on portraits for years and eventually hated it. Mostly I worked from photographs. People had all kinds of photographs. [laughter] Some of them where really hard to work with! And they asked funny questions; you can do this? You can do that? Can you put this head on that body? All sorts of questions…

When you do still lives. Do you set them all up and draw from life?

Yes…That’s part of the fun.

Setting everything up?

Yes. I rarely did oil in college because it’s so different than watercolor. With oils, you can mix all the colors together. You can be a pastel artist and oil painter, but watercolor and oil are so different. Different procedures.

[Pastels are] a smaller medium but once you get the hang of it, it’s so much fun. I could just sit here for hours doing my little feathering. It’s very controllable and the colors are so vivid. It is the pure pigment here. Paints can change color over time, but pastels stay there. …  [Pastels do fade in the sun a little bit,] especially the cheap ones. But that’s it. It can be very expensive. This tiny little stick cost $3 and you need so many different colors. Since you are working with the straight color you can’t blend it like you do with paint to get the color you need.
At this stage I don’t blend the pastels but the first few stages I do.

How do you blend pastels?

My finger. Someone told me you can rub the oil in your hand into the painting. So far I haven’t seen any problems with that. I use paper towels for the background because it is a big area. It is very different than when you rub with your finger. You can get a much smoother result with your finger.

When I do landscapes. People keep asking me where is this…where is that? It’s here, [points to head and laughs] it’s not real.

 

This landscape is all made up from your head?

Well this one I got the inspiration from Cool Creek Park. We walk over there with our dog. There is an area of birch trees. I added this mountain behind it. For the color variation. Indianapolis is so flat! I like that deep blue-purple color in the back and the trees against it. I like the effect. I can also show a little bit of pink, reddish color here and there. To compliment the green. So that part is coming out of my mind wherever I feel it’s necessary.
...
A good thing to do when you finish a painting is to put it aside for a few months. When you come back to it you find a lot of problems you want to fix. When you are just staring at it you are like, “[groans] Okay. I think it’s done.”
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All those things that we learned in China, I don’t know any different until after years of being here. We learned the Russian system of art, called social realism. It’s more realistic. That’s why I was going so tight. All these details! I was considered to have a bad sense of color when I was in school. And I grew with that because when you get really into details you forget the fresh thing you had when you first looked at those still lives. You get into shape and volumes more than colors. So I thought, “Ok, I can’t see colors, I am so bad.” It’s a good thing I switched to oil because I work faster with a wider brush…I want to be John Singer Sargent. And I like that style better. I start to say “Oh, now I see more colors!” You can really relax and get loose. I see more colors and I like that. So when I go back to my pastel, I feel I work the color better. Even when I am doing detailed work like this, I see more colors. I benefit from that.  

John Singer Sargent, he’s a great portrait artist. I saw a painting of his with two ladies sitting in a garden with a table. The lady’s hand was painted really thick but loose brush work.  When you get close it’s just piles of paint up there, but when you step back, it’s a perfectly done hand. He is that awesome…
If you take the time and get into details, I can make it. But he was madly good, his strokes look so impatient, [whoosh of air and wide hand gesture] but everything is already there. So good.

It's interesting that you would admire Sargent, a more impressionistic painter, because your pastel work is very tight. You can get really up close to them and really appreciate them. But, your oil paintings are looser, more impressionistic.

Right. I’m trying to hide my tiny little brushes away from myself. So I just grab the bigger ones. All the tiny ones are there where I can’t reach them. So I am trying to use this bigger brush to get into the little detail and it’s become more vivid that way. It’s not as tight. With pastels I can’t [get bigger], they are already this shape.

HD_SabrinaZhou_0102_.jpg

Last year, I was in a show in Columbus, Ohio. I sold a painting that was not done. It was still wet! I didn’t have enough paintings to fill out the booth. This guy came in and said, “I just love that.”
I said, “You can order that. Once I am done with it I can ship it to you.”
He said, “No. I want it just like that.”

That’s pretty incredible. Did you sell it to him?

Yes! He took it. It needed to be varnished, but it was still wet…  He is not interested in me finishing the painting. That’s nice sometimes, the work doesn’t have to be really completed as you want. Some of the looseness in the first few stages appeal to people.

artist, Ohio, Painter

Mandi Caskey

12.29.2015 conversation

How long do you expect this mural to take?

I’m hoping until the end of January. But that’s if everything goes smoothly and if nothing else jumps on my plate. I’ve been up here since the day after Christmas, everyday. Only a few hours at a time. I’ve been taking my time. Playing nice music. Just enjoying it rather than, “Gotta get done!” Which is how I usually am. As I see it, [this mural] is going to be up here for 40 plus years. Might as well take my time on it.

How did you get this gig?

One of my really good friends’ mom works up here. I met his parents one day and his mom says, “There’s this opportunity, I don’t know if you want it.” Then she explained it to me. “Yea I want to do that! Are you joking?” Then there was this whole process. It took months to get to [the painting] point. We talked about it. [Went through] all the legalities. We’re finally here!

Is this the first mural that you’ve had to deal with legal issues?

Yes. Did you see the football players that I did? laughter My friend and I did really old school football players on [the Landgrant Brewing Co Building] in Franklinton. We hopped on that and just talked to the owner of the building. That’s usually how its been. For this, since it is a public space and in a government building, it took months to get approvals after approvals. [It had to be explained] why this was needed, etc. It was cool to learn how to go through those things. [To learn the difference between work that goes up] in a government building compared to abandoned spaces. 

Most of the stuff that you do is larger scale? Or do you work on smaller canvases too?

There’s a pretty drastic difference between my street art and the things I do at home. I find that smaller works that people can actually hold and really be intimate with it is more impactful in a gallery space. On the street, it [should be] something big and more eye-catching. The “wow how’d they do that?!” I guess is more impressive that way. I’m actually starting this new series, bringing my gallery work outside. I’ll be doing bricks, single bricks, all over the city… I’ve kind-of already started the series. I actually built my own brick walls.

Finished cabin and sky on the left. Underpainting on trees to the right.

"Blocking in" or "underpainting".

I saw those! I’ve wondered, “What’s going on with this?”

I’m really excited about it. A lot of people are stoked about it. Brioso, Landgrant. They both have said “We want a brick! Paint one of our bricks!” I want to do a location kind of thing. If you find one, you could do a hashtag, you know what I mean? Something like a hide-and-seek game. Where’s Waldo… I’m stoked about it. No one’s really doing that right now. No one is taking street art and doing it really small and delicate. Everything is in-your-face and large. I feel like it’s really important to bring it back down to earth. Have a conversation with it, rather than it engulfing you. 

A conversation instead of a statement.

Yea, I’m really excited about it. It gives me goosebumps every time I talk about it. To have 20 to 30 bricks and to see those in a series. And have people taking photos with them and interacting with them. I’m excited for all those moments people will have. They’ll look, then do a double take, and go up to it and say, “Whaat?!” You know what I mean? That’s so special. I live for those moments. 

Did you grow up making art?

Yes I did. There were two things I wanted to be when I grew up. It was either an archeologist or an artist. And here I am. I have a huge love for history. I base a lot of my work on the way the masters did it. Very traditional style. Very emotional. I watch a lot of documentaries while I work.


Your plants, like what you did for Brioso. And also your birds. I loved all of those. They’re very enlightenment and turn of the century text book style.

Yea that’s what I really love to do. Institutional. That look where you’ve been schooled. You know. I only went to college for two years. 

So you quit art school. Did you feel like it just wasn’t helping you?

I was in the fine arts program and I didn’t feel like it was really carrying me anywhere. I was spending 30 grand a year just learning the same stuff over and over again… I also just couldn’t afford it. I was paying for it myself and at some point you just have to say “I’m going to be more in debt than it’s even worth.” I feel that to be an artist you don’t need to go to school. If you have enough drive and are determined and obviously a little bit of talent thrown in there. You’re going to do something.

 

I was seeing all the other fine artists doing a lot of contemporary, abstract work. And then here’s me, really focusing on a very traditional look. It was really frustrating. Seeing other people get praised for something….I understand conceptually there’s something there. I respect it for it’s conceptual side. But do I value it as much as I do the master’s and more traditional work? No. I don’t. 

You have to have that strong foundation before you can jump into the more contemporary stuff.

Yes. And that was always my argument. With everything. At a point I got frustrated. The whole fine arts program is this when I’m trying to do this. I’m not going to try please a different crowd. I know what I’m supposed to do. That’s the little rebel in me I guess.

 

01.13.2017 Update

Are you excited to finally finish this mural?

Yes! It’s going to be bittersweet. I love coming up here, it’s relaxing. But I’m ready to be done with it, you know? I’ve got 6 ladybugs, some buckeyes, two bumble bees and these carnations to finish. I’m going to be done at 9 tonight. I’m ready to move on to other things.