Though she is a successful muralist, Kanak Nanda tells me that she did not want to study art as a subject. “I wanted to think and create in my own way, and at that time I didn’t know that I’d be doing it as a profession”. So she chose psychology for her bachelors and masters degree so art was something which she taught herself. Kanak specializes in wall art, especially murals.
Despite painting on large canvasses and surfaces right now, she used to do nail art in a stall during the Sula Fest, which is India’s biggest vineyard music festival. After that she started picking up objects around her house and started painting them, before gradually progressing onto bigger surfaces. She got the idea for murals while travelling, and she was astounded by the way artists were free to express themselves on a wall.
Her first mural commission was for a restaurant, which she got when she was discovered by Vinod Guruji, a production designer, after he was bowled over by her art on the blackboard of a fashion institute. Recognizing her talent he invited her to paint the walls of his soon to be opened restaurant. Though she was initially skeptical, Kanak tells me that it was the best decision that she could have made; as it set her art career rolling. Before this she has donned many hats, working as a graphic designer, a fashion stylist, a school psychologist, professional model and even a brief stint as an actor on the silver screen. She recalls her Miss Teen years with a fond nostalgia and looks at it as a learning curve, “I applied on a whim when I was in school and I got selected, but I slowly realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do.” No matter what she did art always seemed to follow her around, as evidenced during her brief acting career, where all the shows she did were art based.
Though a majority of her work is on the wall, Kanak uses graphic design software to visualize her design before breathing life into them. “It’s very helpful to visualize designs, and to show the client what it would look like on their walls.” After building a digital version, she then proceeds to scale it onto the surface, which takes anywhere between three days to a week.
Kanak believes that murals are for the people and so they have to be adapted according to the people who will live with it every day, according to her “It’s an extension of their personality” so with each client she sits down and hashes out ideas, and shows them what can be done in the space provided. However it is slightly different for public spaces like restaurants, where a lot of factors come into play, like the type of food being served, the ambience and vibe and the average age of their clientele. “It looks fun and vibrant, but a lot of work goes into it” she adds.
Though she specializes in murals, she does not restrict herself to walls as she has worked on a variety of surfaces like furniture, barrels, and once on her own denims! She confesses that she has a long list of surfaces that she would love to work on and they include a swimming pool and a car among many others. “Every different surface presents a new challenge, as you have to figure out what kind of paints work on it and what does not. It’s a different experience each time, and that’s what I like about it.” Painting murals keep her busy and right now she is working on three projects, one of which is in the final stages of its design, and two of which are abstract works.
While not beautifying walls, Kanak also does paper art and last year she was contacted by a friend to make a batch of paper roses for an event; which turned out to be the Filmfare awards. Her flowers were used as props in a performance by the Badshah of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan. She also worked with Disney, to create Desi versions of the Avengers for a fan event that took place shortly before the Avengers: Endgame premiere. Right now she works for Asian Paints as a design consultant, and recently she has worked on a texture book, with an underlying theme of sustainability, “I’ve done the hard part of coming up with combinations of colors and textures and the people just have to pick and choose what they like.” Apart from this she is also the Indian brand ambassador for Novacolor Italia.
Besides taking commissions, Kanak also teaches the art of creating murals through her workshops, and her curriculum ranges from basic concepts to intermediate stuff. “When I started I never thought I would be teaching and once I started I realized that you learn so much while teaching, as you see things from a student’s perspective.” Then she speaks up on the low number of female artists in India, “I want to change that, I want to show people that us girls can do it too! I want to give that confidence to my students!”
Kanak is chiefly inspired by the things she sees during her travels, “I like to go to the off-beat places that aren’t frequented by tourists. I like to experience things as a local would. Apart from that I would say that my family is my source of inspiration, they have always encouraged me and if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am right now” She learns constantly and gathers ideas that she can use later for her art. “The more you see and experience, the more you can use in your art. Painting is something that I do every day and whether it’s actual painting or working on a design, it doesn’t matter. Because when you paint, you express yourself; you leave a bit of yourself on the canvas.”
She advises young artists to be bold, on the canvas and with clients, “Your clients will have specific ideas, but it’s up to you, the artist, to convince them what will work and what will not. When it comes to learning, you should go all in. There’s no in between. You should be passionate and work continuously and always be open to learn new things, especially from your own mistakes.”
You can reach out to Kanak Nanda and find her amazing art works on her Instagram handle @kanaknanda