When I wanted to do something related to art, I just looked around me for ways in which I could include it in my life. Giving up a comfortable job, it was time to network, meet artists and conduct workshops in art, in collaboration with artists. It was in one such collaboration that I met and was introduced to Girija Hariharan by my friend, Preethi Prabhu. And we could instantly connect. Every time I meet her, I am in awe of her. You will be too, when you read of her journey and understand all that is Girija @2flatbrush. No wonder all her paintings call to me….her thoughts and emotions translated to vibrant colours and forms.
Strings of heritage- What was your ambition as you were growing up?
Girija @2flatbrush- I always used to wonder about children living in railway stations, pavements and under bridges when I was a kid. I had made up my mind around my tween years, to provide a safe and secure place for them to be educated and provided for, when I grow up. When I had a chance to return to India after my education and work stint abroad, I hastily started a foster home for kids and ran it for a while despite being quite naive and inexperienced.
Strings of heritage- What changed and how did you plan the way ahead when the orphanage was no longer feasible?
Girija @2flatbrush- In Karnataka, the orphan children are given to government institutions. Private institutions like my ‘Annai Charitable trust’, would be given single-parent kids who can’t afford good living conditions. The kids I was given by the child welfare committee for my foster home, had a mother and she simply wasn’t able to support them. As the kids started missing their mom, I realised I was making orphans in order to run an orphanage. It was during my foster home experience that I realised it was important to see the big picture and help others the way they wanted to be helped, not the way I wanted to help them. So I let go of the foster idea and sponsored the education of those kids and they were happily resettled with their mother. From then on, for the past 14 years, with the helpful donors of my trust, I have been sponsoring at least 10-12 single-parent and orphan kids each year to complete their education. I am very proud of each one of those kids. Some have moved on to jobs after their degrees and are inclined to help other kids like themselves. I have some big things planned and have been saving up for it, to launch in a couple of years.
Strings of heritage- Was art always part of your life?
Girija @2flatbrush- Yes! Strangely enough Art has followed me everywhere, and sneaked up on me at the right time 🙂 I used to scribble a lot of colors on walls and floors from a very young age. My mom’s idea of baby-sitting was to give us (me and my brother) a bunch of sheets and pencils and color pencils and we would be occupied for hours. An artist who lived opposite our house was my inspiration to draw and paint. I used to watch him work with great focus and it was meditative. Incidentally he used to paint on walls too!
I had been painting a lot in my college, three hours a day during our cultural programs, and made some lifelong friends there. Every pleasant memory I have, is associated with some art in the mainstream or background. We used to paint humongous posters and backdrops and I was in love with big canvases and larger than life artworks. I always had a painting brush in my handbag, for as long as I had a handbag. I am not sure I ever used it, but it was the universe’s plan for me, I guess.
Strings of heritage- How did you make the transition from software engineer to an artist?
Girija @2flatbrush- It wasn’t a planned transition. It developed organically. When I did my first mural for my home I just put out a Facebook post asking for volunteers to lend me their walls for mural practice. Strangely enough I had a taker and I did my second mural and I started considering mural art as an alternate career. Meanwhile I was more and more dissatisfied with my job. When it got to be too much, I just decided to quit the company. I was thinking of going solo or start my own firm. I still love technology and I keep myself up-to-date.
Strings of heritage- Was it a planned change or sudden?
Girija @2flatbrush- As soon as I drafted my resignation, I remember going to a job portal site to look for alternate jobs in freelancing. I must have spent five minutes and I got incredibly weary of reading the same job descriptions over and over again. It was then that it struck me, ‘I could be a mural artist!’ It was a no-brainer, as I had the initiative, interest and some basic experience for me to build upon! I didn’t even have three or four pictures for my Facebook page for 2flatbrush:) when I started. It was a crazy adrenaline rush and I launched my business on Facebook. I had steered away from everything comfortable, in just a couple of days. I remember brainstorming with my friends about the name of the business. We had several favorites. There was this brush in my college that I had reserved for painting, it was an ugly flat brush which used to be blue, and I loved it to bits. And it came to my mind at the right time. I looked at the brush in my handbag, and it was size 2, Flat.
Strings of heritage- Did you get the support of family when you decided on the transition? What were the challenges you faced?
Girija @2flatbrush- They were already used to my spontaneous decisions, I guess. My parents were used to me, but this time I had in-laws! They were super supportive as well. There were apprehensions from my near and dear ones, but there was encouragement all around. Everyone for some reason already knew I would be a good artist. Even if they hadn’t seen my works! My husband for one was so excited and there was not an iota of doubt in his mind. I have a great friend circle, and a great family who support me in everything I do.
Strings of heritage- When you look back today, would you have done something differently with your life,education or decisions?
Girija @2flatbrush- I would probably be more polite and less rowdier I guess 🙂 Art has softened me and made me much more empathetic than I ever was. I wouldn’t revise any of my decisions or education.
Strings of heritage- How do you decide on what to paint next when it is not a commissioned work?
Girija @2flatbrush- It is not a decision, it is just coming into being, I think. I believe I am a medium, and the paintings flow through me, not from me. I have lots and lots of ideas that always come to me while day-dreaming:) I note some of them down, forget many, and forget what the note is about sometimes too! I read a lot, and I am tuned into many social issues as well, and it inspires me and gives me a lot of new ideas all the time. I want to paint every day, and I never run out of ideas. If I ever feel out of my element a quick meet up with my friends or a good book will put me right back in my studio.
Strings of heritage- Why do you love murals?
Girija @2flatbrush- Firstly, because it shares five letters with my husband Murali. 🙂 I know it’s a tacky answer, but maybe there’s a pattern to how the universe matches us with things.
Jokes apart, I have always been an introvert, and I get intimidated by outgoing, confident and assertive people. Large paintings are a way to assert myself, it’s my little way of showcasing who I want to be. Little things blown up larger than life give us a unique perspective on things, and give us a sense of wonder. I think any artist looks for this wonder, ‘elusive wonder’ that we try and package into music, dance or art.
Strings of heritage- Your favourite subject to paint?
Girija @2flatbrush- I am forever obsessed with faces and hands. I love thoughtful paintings that add layers to it than just a visual appeal.
Strings of heritage- Any favourite medium ?
Girija @2flatbrush- Acrylic for life. On everything. (Canvas, walls, doors, skin)
Strings of heritage- Your thoughts on experiments in art, your favourite artist and contemporary art.
Girija @2flatbrush- I am so psyched about art installations. Larger than life art installations that just literally make you walk in to the art. I love amalgamation of several art forms and collaboration of artists.
There’s no single favorite. But I love the lines of MF Hussain, the fearless Frida Kahlo, Acrylic techniques of Milind Nayak, an old man in Jayanagar who doesn’t sell his works but just wants to express himself in inks, and displays art just for pleasure, my brother who was the first portrait artist I knew, and a million others I follow on Instagram who inspire me every day. I love oil painters who have the patience to layer and glaze. I love a lot of illustrators and comics who comment on social issues relentlessly. Most of all, I love sculptures and our traditional nameless painters of Indian Historic murals of all religions.
Strings of heritage– Do you think an education in art is relevant to ones success?
Girija @2flatbrush- Success is a dicey term. It is set by one self. I don’t see art as a means to an end. Art is itself success, to be able to express yourself creatively is a success, and to package wonder is a success. Art itself is an education. Having said that,I see tremendous improvement in my work in the last three years working full time. So if art education lets you practice for years, I am all for it. I am for anything that’s a focused approach to practice your craft without you having to look over your shoulder for validation all the time. So a formal education is both bad and good in some ways.
Strings of heritage- Where do you see yourself five years down the line in terms of your evolution as an artist?
Girija @2flatbrush- I have my cake and I am eating it too. In five years, I want to be able to do what I am doing right now:) Live, love and paint! If I am able to bring about some social awareness through some public art, it will be the cherry on the cake.
Strings of heritage- Any advice that you could give from your own experience? Be it in terms of changing career tracks, to art or otherwise. This is especially so as any change comes with its own challenges.
Girija @2flatbrush- I am not a big fan of advice. Giving or taking. But these are what worked for me.
- Integrity. Do what you say. Say what you do.
- Build a network. You can’t sit around in your studio if you are making life changing decisions.
- Trust yourself. Be your own warrior, even if you stumble.
- Learn relentlessly.
- If you are changing careers don’t expect comfort. If you want comfort go back to your old job.
- Be comfortable with your finances. You might earn less than, or minimum wages (there’s no such thing in India, another political issue) for a long while. You should be ok with cutting down costs while you are building a client base.
Thank you Girija,for sharing so much of yourself with us.
And that was Girija @2flatbrush for you. You can follow her work @2flatbrush in instagram and facebook. If you want to contribute towards educating a child, contact Girija on her profile.
Write to me and share your thoughts or challenges you faced with transition.
Lots of Twinkles to all of you.