Suchitra Bhosle creates contemplative scenes inspired by her California surroundings and her native India
By Bonnie Gangelhoff
This story was featured in the June 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art June 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
The scene is idyllic: A young couple stretches out on a blanket next to a pale blue river that glistens with flecks of light. They are playing a game of chess. There is a peaceful, contemplative mood emanating from Suchitra Bhosle’s painting, BY THE RIVER. The romantic scene seems contemporary and yet timeless, too. These elements—evocative light patterns, meditative moods, a sense of timelessness—make frequent appearances in many of Bhosle’s paintings, which have been gaining increasing notice in recent years.
The past few years have been rewarding ones for the California painter. Bhosle took home the Grand Prize at the annual RayMar Art Competition in 2015, a contest judged by esteemed painter Dan Gerhartz. She has received an array of other top honors from prestigious organizations, including the Portrait Society of America and the American Impressionist Society.
The first thing you notice about Bhosle is that, unlike the quiet moods of her paintings, she is loquacious, talkative, and enthusiastic in answering a litany of questions about her artwork. In fact, early on in this interview, she describes herself as a “chatterbox.” John Manzari, director of Santa Fe’s Meyer Gallery, which has represented Bhosle for about 10 years, says “exuberant” is the better word to describe Bhosle’s engaging personality and passion for art.
But such descriptions are only half of the story. As Bhosle reveals, although she has a very social side to her personality, she is equally content to bury herself in her studio, painting for days at a time without speaking to anyone but her husband, Madhur, and her Irish setter, Guinness. This isolation, in part, may explain the contemplative moods she portrays so well. Her paintings often beckon viewers into worlds where people pray inside softly lit churches and women in long white gowns lie languidly on vintage settees.
In the past several years, Bhosle has begun meditating regularly, and this mindfulness practice has influenced her work, she says. These days she is more focused, decisive, and intuitive. For example, she says she doesn’t struggle over deciding when a painting is finished. She knows. “The act of meditation is about silencing the myriad thoughts so you can make space for a deeper understanding of the task at hand,” she says. “Meditation has improved the clarity to conceive concepts in my art more vividly and also improved my ability to present the vision I have before I begin a painting.”
On this particular day, Bhosle’s Sacramento-area studio is brimming with works in progress destined for upcoming shows at Gallery 1261 in Denver, CO, and Waterhouse Gallery in Santa Barbara, CA. Over the years, in these works and others, Bhosle has displayed a penchant for blending styles from various art movements. Again, BY THE RIVER provides a good example. There is an impressionistic sensibility at play in the expressive brushwork and the accurate depiction of light. The peaceful, pleasant subject matter was a favorite of French Impressionists like Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who sometimes painted the pleasures of what was referred to then as the “bourgeois leisure class.” In addition, Bhosle employs a cropped style in the painting that was a hallmark of the Impressionists. The young woman’s legs extend outside the picture’s edge, suggesting that more is happening in the scene beyond the frame. “The painting is also a take on the naturalist style of posing figures in the outdoors while capturing the mood of the chess players,” Bhosle adds.
Ever since she visited art museums as a child, Bhosle has been drawn to works portraying the figure in lush outdoor settings, painted in the same tradition as artists who influence her today, like Anders Zorn and Joaquin Sorolla. And if viewers examine Bhosle’s works closely, they are likely to see a nod to contemporary artists as well. The edges of her outdoor scenes may be more loosely painted than the rest of the canvases, and her portraits are often set against abstract backgrounds created with multiple layers of paint. By not painting every detail, Bhosle says she is “simplifying her way of seeing” to convey a bit of mystery and magic.
But above all, Bhosle’s work is about beauty and emotion. “Her works are beautifully painted,” says Meyer Gallery’s Manzari. “Inspired by the old masters and her contemporaries, Suchitra offers the gallery poetry in her figures, still lifes, and landscapes.”
Gary H. Haynes, who represents Bhosle at Haynes Galleries, agrees, adding, “Suchitra’s work has a special feeling in it that separates her from other artists because the emotion is palpable,” Haynes says. “She balances careful observation and quick, gestural strokes to create paintings that sparkle.”
Bhosle was born in 1975 in Kolhapur, India. When her parents chose her first name, they had no way of knowing how perfectly it described her future destiny—Suchitra means “a beautiful picture” in Hindi. Both her grandmother and father were watercolor artists; her father, a police officer, painted in his free time. As a youngster Bhosle frequently watched them, and she herself enjoyed sketching and doodling. When she was 9 years old, she won a UNESCO-sponsored international painting competition for children under 14—a thrill, she says, that is hard to top in spite of the many accolades she has since received as a professional artist. Bhosle represented India in the competition and then went on to win the top honor over her competitors from around the globe. The visual assignment was to create a painting on the theme “telephones of tomorrow.” The prescient young Bhosle painted a hand and wrist that featured a huge watch with the tiny head of a television news anchorwoman on the face. The device was also a telephone.
Throughout her school years Bhosle maintained an interest in painting. But when she didn’t gain acceptance into her art college of choice, she decided on a career in hospitality management instead, first earning an undergraduate degree in that field and then a post-graduate degree in marketing. It was while working in Bangalore, India, for a travel technology company that she met her future husband. The couple married in 2001, and Bhosle packed her bags for Seattle, where her husband held a position as a management consultant. At the time, Bhosle recalls, the dot-com collapse was still unfolding, and she had difficulty landing a job. She was already feeling unsettled when, several months after her arrival, she received word that her father had passed away.
Back in India for her father’s cremation, she began sifting through his treasure trove of art, most of which was figurative. She discovered that her father had saved issues of The Artist’s Magazine dating back some 20 years. He also had kept numerous files on artists he admired, including one devoted to American painter Richard Schmid. Bhosle, too, found herself captivated by Schmid’s paintings.
When she returned to her new home in Washington, she continued to ruminate about her father’s legacy of files, magazines, and paintings. She couldn’t ignore the sense that he was reaching out to her, offering a signpost that seemed to lead her back to art. Bhosle says the feeling was strong enough that she decided to take a risk, forego searching for a job, and dedicate the next two years to developing her artistic talent. If it didn’t work out, she and her husband agreed that she would return to job hunting.
In the ensuing years, Bhosle spent hours alone painting in her studio. After some dedicated research, in 2004 she enrolled in the first of several workshops with California painter Jeremy Lipking, whom she considers a mentor today. There were also workshops with respected painters Scott Christensen and Sherrie McGraw, as well as a three-day demonstration session with Richard Schmid. In 2007 she joined Meyer Gallery, her first gallery representation.
For more than a decade, California has offered Bhosle much in terms of subject matter, including historic mission churches, a rich bounty of natural wonders, and many intriguing models from different cultures. Recently Bhosle is also turning to her native India for inspiration. “After living here for 15 years, I have started to look to my reservoir of memories from my childhood days,” she says. “These influences of growing up in India are part of my DNA and are invariably finding their way onto the canvas.”
Bhosle’s Aum series offers examples of her new direction—works that express the idea that all human beings house the divine within themselves, which is a concept from Hindi scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. In several new pieces she portrays an Indian woman holding an alabaster plate with a candle’s flame lighting her face. “The glow that I painted on her face is not only about the glow from the flame but an interpretation of the inner glow that is within us all,” Bhosle says. “The inner glow is a result of being content, happy, and the nurturing ability to treat all as equals.”
These days she is also paying more attention to her dreams as subject matter, including a recent one in which she was dressed in a bright red sari and floated through the air. In another dream Bhosle had visions of Lakshmi, a Hindi goddess, and she is now contemplating a series depicting various goddesses, portraying the power, beauty, and grace of women. Bhosle says that while working in her studio, she often thinks of her father and is reminded of a passage he wrote in the margins of one of his diaries: “Privileged are those who get to do what they want for a living.”
Meyer Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Haynes Galleries, Nashville, TN, and Thomaston, ME; Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA; Jones & Terwilliger Galleries, Palm Desert and Carmel, CA; Gallery 1261, Denver, CO.
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