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Being an artist again

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on September 25, 2020 Published on September 25, 2020

ILLUSTRATION: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

Two big changes have taken place just over the last three or four weeks. One is, I’ve been accepted as a member of a small gallery. The other is, I’ve discovered a cheap and affordable means of getting around the city.

Undoubtedly, it’s the first of these that’s the more startling. Why? Because I‘ve been living in Elsewhere for just over 10 years and in all this time, I’ve not managed to introduce my work to any galleries here. In Hartford, while visiting my sister, I showed a small sampling of my work at the excellent Farmington Valley artists’ centre. Having a modest show at the gift shop gallery was a sudden reminder to me that “Yes! I can DO this!”

It had been so long since I’d had a show that I’d forgotten what it felt like. It felt good. But the moment I was back in Elsewhere, I lost focus again. It’s hard to explain. The closest I can get to it is by referring to the classic conundrum about a tree falling in a forest: If there’s no one to hear it fall, is there a sound? The parallel for me is, if I can’t find a friendly gallery nearby, can I call myself an artist?

Okay, okay — it’s not exactly the same! Sight and sound are not identical effects! And anyway, the situation has now changed, because, quite suddenly I have found a small group of artists who run their gallery as a cooperative. By “small” I mean, just over 16 and by “artists” I mean painters, sculptors and photographers.

It happened in the most casual way. A friend sent me an invitation to participate in an “open access” show, in which non-members could participate. I scrambled to create two artworks and managed to deliver them before the submission date was over. At the time I made the delivery, I liked the calm and unfussy style of the gallery so much that I wondered if it was possible to extend the experience in some way. Whereupon I was told that I could consider becoming a member.

Whereupon...well...of course a lot has happened since the time of that first connection. Specifically, the pandemic. Of all the times for an artist to choose to “come out”, the outbreak of a virulent disease ranks amongst the worst. Most of the members of the group are either older than or the same age as me, that is, sixties-plus. So we’re all vulnerable and we all follow the safety protocols.

Being a member includes certain duties, such as sitting at the gallery for a few hours a week. This is why it’s so crucial for me to have a convenient, inexpensive way to get around. Ta-da! A chunky-looking van called the Flex Shuttle collects passengers to and from their homes, all for the same price as a bus-fare! Best of all, I’m painting and drawing again. It’s like being in a forest. Listening.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on September 25, 2020
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