Media; Visual Arts: Constructions/Collage, Film, Media and Visual Communications, Mixed Media, Murals, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, Visual Arts Instructor, Works on paper; term
Growing up in Kolkata, India, in a large extended family, painter Chitra Ramanathan (FAA ’93, BUS ’97) remembers an art-filled childhood. At her preschool, she learned the music and dance of this culturally vibrant region, as well as drawing, painting, and working with clay. “I must have developed an early aptitude for art, constantly drawing everything I noticed around me,” she says.
She went on to earn a BFA from Stella Maris College at the University of Madras in Chennai, southern India. After moving to the United States, she enrolled in a second Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the School of Art and Design at Illinois, where she transitioned from portrait and landscape painting into more large-dimension work with abstract subject matter.
Photo: Chitra Ramanathan, Acrylics on canvas, 52″ × 68″
Private collection, San Francisco, California, USA
Ramanathan became interested in process and engaged in experiments, such as cycling large, unprimed canvases in her home washing machine after using temporary materials like tempera, charcoal, and chalk, along with permanent acrylic paints. “These ‘happy accidents’ emerged as partially faded areas from previous layers of the water-soluble mediums and presented me with exciting possibilities, renewed interpretations, and fresh imagery for the next step,” she explains. She compares the saturated details in these experiments with Indian Batik painting and rangoli, temporary floor patterns made with brightly colored powder.
While a student at Illinois, she participated in a study abroad program in Paris, where she was drawn to Monet’s impressionist “haystack” series, as well as works of the expressionism movement. She sees the marriage of these two movements as the backbone of her current work: capturing the fleeting moments of impressionism with happiness as her subject.
There has been no looking back for contemporary visual artist Chitra Ramanathan since 1995 when the artist’s career debuted with solo and group exhibitions of her paintings at different venues including Agora Gallery on Broadway, New York City. Noticed by art critics for her concept and originality, her name was featured in different publications including Manhattan Arts Magazine.
Ramanathan’s unique, intuitive style of painting is distinct with her treatment of fresh, bright colors executed with rapid brush strokes. Often combined with varied intricately interwoven textural materials interwoven into the paint rather than stand-alone collages, they visually create the aura of extending beyond their two-dimensional surfaces. To that effect, many of her paintings are created in expansive scale, or as multi-paneled works. With the abstract concept of happiness and expression of joy as the theme of her ongoing body of work her work has attracted displays in both private ad public venues including courthouses, hotels and prominent solo and group exhibitions.
An award-winning child artist growing up in India, Ramanathan earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting with honors in 1993 and M.B.A in 1997 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her numerous originals have been acquired by private and business clients, auctions, and site-specific public art commissions including an installation of a pair of custom-created paintings at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas in 2004 invited by MGM Resorts International.
Recent private commissions include a three-paneled painting by the CEO of Biaggis chain of restaurants in Bloomington, Illinois in 2016 and a custom created painting created for a private client in Boston, Massachusetts in February 2018.
Publications with Chitra Ramanathan’s biography and images have been featured in Askart.com, Luxury Real Estate Magazine, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), Who’s Who in America, International Contemporary Artists, Vol 1., the Indianapolis Business Journal, Indianapolis Monthly Home Magazine, Miami Art Scene Magazine published in September in 2018, and recently, Art Guide Mag’s Artist Directory in 2020.
In recognition of her work, Ramanathan was invited by the Keeper of the Royal Academy of Arts, London UK as Visiting Artist for a visual presentation and student critiques at the Royal Academy of Arts Schools in 2005.
– IMDb Mini Biography By: Biography
Born in Thiruvananthapuram, India; Chitra Ramanathan is a contemporary Indian American visual artist and educator. She produces predominantly large scale abstract conceptual mixed media paintings, drawings, prints, site-specific installation works, and sculpture that have been exhibited in art galleries in SoHo, Broadway Manhattan, New York, solo exhibition at the ARC Gallery & Educational Foundation at Chicago, and a 2006 solo exhibition at the Indianapolis Artsgarden, Circle Centre, Indianapolis to name a few.
Several of her colorful mixed media paintings are owned by individuals and corporate collectors around the United States and in Europe including donation of two large scale paintings on permanent display in the conference hall of the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since 1995, a painting sold at the Madam C.J. Walker Theatre Center, Indianapolis towards benefit to the Eightieth Birthday Benefit Gala Dinner-silent and live art auction in 2006 and a piece created for the ‘Indianapolis International Film Festival 2008’ based on a favorite Hollywood movie “‘Breaking Away 1979′”.
Commissions include a series of post-card paintings which was a commission for the Florida International University art department, Miami, Florida in 2005 (to coincide with Art Basel Miami 2005) and a series of ten post-card sized paintings for the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s “Gallery of the Machine” in 2006.
Recently completed commission entailed creating a permanent wall mural measuring 13.8 feet wide and 4 feet high, for the front lobby of Crooked Creek Elementary School, Marion County, Indianapolis, this March 2008 site specific public art project made possible through a grant to the school by the Metropolitan School Foundation which is a public school district in Indianapolis.
Earlier site specific public art commissions and installation art projects awarded include two large paintings for the MGM Mirage that are permanently housed inside the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Las Vegas in 2004, and five large-scale multi-media paintings for the Arts Council of Indianapolis at Chase Towers near Monument Circle Indianapolis in 2006, which is an annual project supported by the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission.
Academically, Chitra Ramanathan’s work has attracted invitational visiting artist lectures to educational institutions such as the Kansas State University art department in 2002, and the Royal Academy of Arts/Royal Academy Schools London in 2005 by current Royal Academy Keeper and Head, Professor Maurice Cockrill. Chitra earned her second Bachelors of Fine Arts in Painting with Honors in 1993 during which period she also allotted time to study Painting and Art History in Paris, France, with visits to Giverny, France that influenced her later work. The artist returned to France in April 2010, accepting a invitation to complete a self-directed artist residency at Marnay-sur Seine, completing her month long work in April 2010 with a trip back to Giverny.
What projects/commissions are you most proud of and how did those opportunities come about?
In 2004, my art entered the public realm through sheer serendipity. I received a telephone call that year from MGM Resorts International stating that the company had come across 18″ × 24″ and 24″ × 36″ works of mine on a website, inquiring as to whether I would be willing to re-create the pieces on a large scale as site-specific installations in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. After the designated space was refurbished in October 2004, a pair of my paintings were permanently housed in the Bellagio Conservatory, an indoor botanical garden. This commission has brought significant recognition for my career as a professional artist, since MGM requested that I sign the paintings, and I continue to hear from visitors and those who know my work through social media.
During the past few years, I have completed several projects. I am especially proud of a site-specific mural commissioned by Crooked Creek Elementary School in Indianapolis in 2008, as it involved working with young children. As the sole artist chosen, I planned the 13.8 feet wide by 4 feet high wall space from scratch and thought, why not include all 500-plus students so they could own a piece of the space to call their own? I was delighted it was met with the approval of the project coordinator and appreciation from the parents and, above all, the children, who were delighted to contribute to the mural. On the academic front, I am particularly honored at having received a visiting artist invitation from the Keeper and Head of the Royal Academy of Arts in London for an artist talk and visual presentation of my body of work, including student critiques at the Royal Academy Schools in 2005.
Mural at Crooked Creek Elementary School, Indianapolis, 2008
What informs your practice? What motivates you to paint the way you do?
After my academic training was done, I kept my practice advancing through professional artist residencies in France and Italy, contemporary art discussions, and memberships in organizations that provide cutting-edge knowledge for my work and its quality to evolve with regard to concept and material usage. One such example is being a member of the College Art Association, New York, in which I served on the Services to Artists Committee and the Committee for Diversity Practices. I have also attended annual conferences, including one at which I co-chaired an art history session in Dallas, Texas.
Does your geographic location affect the content of your work?
As I am an independent artist who has chosen to teach art part-time, the content of my work has never been geographically bound, and this situation facilitates my involvements with public art and visiting artist projects. Professional artist residencies for extended periods in Marnay sur Seine, France, and at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in recent years—which entailed working en plein air as well as in Venice, Italy—have made significant impacts on and gave inspiration for my series of works that followed. Exhibitions at the end of artist residencies provided me with new perspectives and feedback from foreign audiences. The responses have encouraged future creations based on my work abroad after returning home to the states.
Pulsating Rhythms, 2018, mixed media, 58″ × 75″
Is there a professor or mentor who made a lasting impact on you?
Tim van Laar, professor of art in the painting area, was one of my teachers at the School of Art and Design during my BFA years. We are still in contact, frequently exchanging updates on our mutual work and careers. I was accepted to the MFA program at Illinois State University, where I had the opportunity to briefly take classes from Professor Harold Gregor, who really appreciated my presentations during critiques.
However, circumstances soon led to my switching to the MBA program at the Gies School of Business back in Urbana. I was in the midst of continuing to exhibit in New York City while enrolled in the MBA program from 1995 to 1997, and I recall the curious interest and excitement of my business school professors, being that I was the only visual artist in the program!
After your MFA, you earned an MBA at Illinois. Has having an MBA impacted or informed your career as a working artist?
While the MBA has not made an impact on my studio art practice or the style of my work, it has certainly helped me gain awareness about the pricing of artwork, management skills, and financial aspects related to gallery representation and, in recent years, working in a not-for-profit art gallery in Vero Beach, Florida.
When you look back on your time at Illinois, what are you most nostalgic about?
Monoprint encased in Plexiglas