I HAVE A VAGUE MEMORY of growing up in India,” says Arizona-based artist Sheetal Shaw, who comes from a large family that includes eight brothers and sisters.
The childhood photo that she cherishes most is one of her sitting with her brother, who has since passed away, painting a palm tree. She observes the irony that she now lives in a place resplendent with palm trees, but you can sense that she would gladly trade the palm trees for more time with her brother.
Shaw is quick to conceal her feelings, always focusing on the positive, painting her world in bright colors and iridescent ideas. “I am thankful I received an education, despite being from a middle class and large family. I really value the gift of education my parents gave me,” she says, noting that she loved reading, especially Nancy Drew stories and Robin Cook medical mysteries. Although she majored in economics at the University of Delhi, Shaw really wanted to become a doctor and missed entrance into the program by one point.
Her memories of India have faded over the years. However, the bright colors of her birth country are etched in her mind and inspire her art. The one celebration she vividly recalls is the popular, ancient Hindu festival of Holi. “It was an energetic event full of fun, music and intoxicating drinks,” she remembers. Although she never drank the libations, she enjoyed witnessing people having a good time. Shaw appreciates the culture and heritage of India, seeing it through a positive and modern lens. “I was not into the clothing. I am a jeans kind of girl,” she says, smiling.
A self-described “very visual person,” Shaw also studied graphic design in India, Canada and the United States. “In my mid-30s, I thought maybe I could pursue art and make a living,” she says.
Shaw reignited her interest in art when she moved to Arizona, enjoying art classes at a community college and obtaining her Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics (cum laude) at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.
Shaw started making ceramics from a home studio, building a business on her own by doing everything from making pieces to marketing and promotion. “After a couple of years, I started losing my passion, realizing it’s not an easy way to make a living,” she says.
After her brother passed away, she changed media and started painting. “My brother’s passing had a deep impact on me. When I lost him, I thought this is a big void that I will never fill,” she recalls.
Then one day she bought acrylic paints and patterns started emerging. “It just happened,” she explains about creating her first painting. “If someone told me to reproduce that painting, I could not do it.” The piece was dramatic, deeply emotional, full of color and positive energy. “This painting was just the balance I needed,” says Shaw, marking the milestone as a new direction in art and life. “I never really studied painting. I did not know I had a creative spirit; I thought I was a graphic designer.”
When looking to find another word for paisley, the term boteh popped up. “It means pinecone, or a very stylized water drop,” says Shaw of the iconic droplet-shaped motif, the basis of paisley patterns. “It clearly resonated with what I was looking for.”
Shaw also creates abstract, tabletop-sized sculptures consisting of numerous stylized paisley forms. “I love my sculptures. I really can’t pick a favorite piece of work as it would be like a mother picking a favorite child,” she says.
“My art is my way of working my way out of setbacks. I think about quitting every day, but haven’t yet,” Shaw jokes. “I have a lot of support from my family. Everyone should support artists. They add beauty and meaning to life.”
Stacey Marcus is a Boston-based freelance lifestyle, luxury and travel writer. Her works have appeared in Art New England, Boston magazine, Boston Common Magazine, Modern Luxury Chicago, Ocean Home Magazine, Playboy.com, RD.com and many others. A lover of big words and little white dogs, Stacey’s biggest joys are found in life’s simple moments.