How New York and India inspired this artist’s illustrations
Namrata Vansadia grew up in India and is now based in New York, two vastly different places that affected the way she sees the world. She tells writer Alex Kahl about the plethora of places she pulls inspiration from for her illustrations.
“I grew up in Ahmedabad, India, in a nurturing and loving environment. My parents encouraged me and my siblings to observe our surroundings and express how we felt while doing so. We would travel for days in the trains and buses across the hot, dusty plains of India longingly waiting for the first whiff of pine floating on crisp cool mountain air to hit our noses, ending up mostly in tiny hill stations in the Himalayas.”
This is how Namrata Vansadia describes her childhood. She tells me all these formative experiences ended up on paper in the form of drawings. This carried on throughout her time at M.S.U. art school in Baroda, India, where she was required to make 100 observational sketches every day. Some time after her graduation from Pratt Institute in New York, though, she stopped drawing. “I got busy trying to survive and figure out my life,” she says. She missed working with her hands and she missed having a way to funnel her thoughts and ideas, so she’s taken up drawing again, and plans to continue.
Her latest illustrations are desaturated, with colors limited to muted tones. Indian markets and paradise gardens which you would expect to be bursting with vibrant color in real life are depicted in hushed pastel colors. “I want viewers to experience the composition, the scene, the scale, as a whole before focusing on details. So I pull back the color of prominent elements and use it judiciously on tiny details,” she says.
For Namrata, drawing is cathartic, as her approach is generally to draw what she sees around her, like a visual journal. This is probably partly informed by the stunning imagery surrounding her as a child, and maybe by the days she spent sitting at train stations sketching passengers while at school in Baroda. Despite being Brooklyn-based now, many of her illustrations are related to India in some way, such as her depiction of the Bhadra Fort, built in 1411 in her hometown of Ahmedabad.
“India is home. It’s where my family resides. I look at the world through that lens,” she says. “I feel like being away from it brings a certain clarity and fresh perspective when depicting it. It helps sort through complexities. The process keeps me connected to my land and reassures me of my identity.” Despite her deep-set roots in India, she’s starting to feel almost as great a connection to Brooklyn. “I tell my sister that decades-old Brooklyn Brownstones in my neighborhood are like grandparents, keeping an eye on me,” she says.
Within her illustrations, Namrata has an interesting ability to turn abstract concepts into physical forms. One piece explores in three dimensions Josef Albers’ Homage to Squares, while one of her more abstract pieces conceptually explores the real, physical work of the architect Louis Kahn. “I grew up close to the I.I.M. building designed by Louis Kahn and B.V. Doshi,” she says. “The brutalist features and geometric shapes of the building are exciting to me. The vast open spaces within are inviting. I wanted to draw deliberate attention to those features in that piece.” Meanwhile, discussing her piece based on Albers’ paintings, she says “he explores the perception of depth through the arrangement of squares and changes in tone. I didn't stray away from the color of the original squares but explored another angle by putting each square on a different plane and creating a structure out of it.”
Namrata’s pieces are varied in their subject matter, but a line connecting all of them is that they contain something that means a huge amount to her, in some way or another. And this is only helped by the fact that two wildly different places she’s lived in her life feel like home to her. “Often I feel there is a little bit of Brooklyn in my illustrations of India and vice versa,” she says.