Finding Your Voice: An Interview with Suchitra Bhosle
By Nancy Rowe
During a visit to the Atlantic coast last summer, I noticed how some people get into the ocean, holding their breath and taking slow, cautious steps, letting the cold water move from ankles to thighs to torso until they’re partially submerged. And then there is the other kind – the kind that runs through the sand, splashes through the surf, and then dives right in. Watching from the shore, I wondered at the difference between these two types of people. I suspect that Suchitra Bhosle, a Chicago-based figurative painter, is the latter.
Much has been written about Bhosle in the past couple of years as she has seen an explosion in demand for her time, energy, and of course, her emotive, impressionistic paintings. She’s the “it-girl” of the figurative painting world, from being featured in International Artist Magazine, to holding sessions for the Sentient Academy, to participating in the Portrait Society’s Fall Portrait Academy, to having her work appear at the prestigious Arcadia Gallery’s LA art show in January. In addition, she will be a faculty artist at The Art of the Portrait, April 21-24, 2022, in Atlanta, Georgia.
When I sat down with her, I wanted to find out about the landscape of her artistic journey, the peaks and valleys in her knowledge and technical skills. Who helped her build her foundation? Where did she learn those loose, energetic, yet sensual brush strokes?
Like many artists, Bhosle began as a self-taught painter. In those early years, she gleaned everything she could from reading, watching video demos, and visiting museums. She studied the works of those artists she admired like John Singer Sargent and admitted that she had been “obsessed with him for half a decade.” Over the years, she said, nothing has consistently impressed her as much as his work. And even though she has developed her own very recognizable style, you can see his influence in works like Summer Siesta and Mystic.
While Bhosle admires other artists’ work, she doesn’t believe in doing master copies as a way to learn. She admits this method may be fine for others but feels that the subconscious influence can keep an artist mimicking rather than finding their own artistic voice. This isn’t to say that she didn’t initially look to other artists as a way to learn and grow.
One of her early teachers and mentors was Jeremy Lipking. She signed up for several of his workshops, which she admits taught her “how to see” rather than “how to do.” Lipking, she recalled, was not an explainer. Instead, he let students ask questions as he worked and then taught them by demonstrating his point on paper. This learning-by-watching technique was where she experienced one of her first big breakthroughs as a painter. She began to recognize the importance of shapes and their relationship to the whole. Instead of fixating on one area of a painting, she learned to see the abstract shapes and the way those pieces fit into the larger composition. No more seeing a hand as a literal hand; now she saw them as distinct shapes. And with these new eyes, she also learned to recognize the nuance of shadow and color.
Lipking not only helped her see in a new way, but he opened her eyes to the art world around her. Through him, she made many new connections with other well-known artists. In addition, he provided her with new tools. One of those tools was Richard Schmid’s beloved guide Alla Prima, which she, like many artists, has used as her painting “bible.” This was the book that taught her the fundamentals.
In our interview, she mentioned that she wanted to set the record straight on Schmid; an earlier article said that she studied under him, though, aside from learning from his book, this is not true. She was invited to a Putney Painters event and watched him perform live demos, but she had never been one of his direct students.
While Lipking had helped her develop her technical skills and Schmid’s book provided the basic building blocks, Quang Ho shaped her mentally. According to Bhosle, Ho imparted a philosophy of artistic risk taking, telling her that when it comes to painting, she should “jump off the cliff.” In order to grow, she needed to be willing to push herself further, to not be afraid of making mistakes, to really let go. This idea of letting go has permeated her work, which has shifted toward looser, freer brush strokes and more abstract images.
In recent years, Bhosle has taken this concept even further. She has discovered the undeniable connection between her spiritual life and her painting life. Each day she takes time to practice drawing, which is not unusual for a painter. However, daily drawing is part of a broader ritual and goes hand-in-hand with her meditation practice. These practices help her approach her work empty of the mind’s constant jumping and nagging. And after meditation – painting. The easel is where she hopes to arrive empty but ready to express herself, ready to sprint across the hot sand and dive into the deep unknown waters.