“From the Easel” with artist Ela Shah: On Building a Global Reputation


Caption 1 From the U.S. to the U.K. and Bombay, Ela Shah’s Indian inspired and deeply evocative paintings, sculptures, wood cuts and more can be found in museums, cultural centers, and galleries. Her work will be featured at Art Expo, the highly anticipated, international art show and sale returning to New York City.  We used the opportunity to speak with Shah about the show, and her evolution as a global contemporary artist.

Sandy Levine: “Your work will be featured by Art Mudra* during New York City’s Art Expo. Tell us about the show.”

Ela Shah: “It’s the world’s largest fine art trade show and I’m showing with the Art Mudra gallery…Their booths spotlight established Indian arts like myself as well as emerging talent. It’s very exciting to see this show and sale returning now that Covid is largely over in this part of the world and I’m especially excited to see artists and friends that I’ve missed for so long.”

SL: “Can you remember the early days exhibiting your work?”

ES: “Of course!  My first, real one-person show in the US came after my graduation from Montclair State University. I got a lot of attention and was very encouraged…A few years later I became president of a large group of female artists…I shipped almost 50 art works to India and showed my work in a very well-known gallery in the middle of Bombay. My parents and all my relatives could visit…students and tourists, and lots of people came in and asked me questions and gave me feedback. They could relate to my work, and I got a lot of positive reviews and satisfaction and that encouraged me.”

SL: “You’ve also done commission work in the US and elsewhere. Tell us about your first commission.”

ES: “One of my husband’s friends asked me to do a large mural for his home that they could see from their backyard…It was about an Indian wedding and was fun to do…It led to my getting more commissions to do work like that, but I got bored. It is easy to get into a rut of doing the same work, but I resisted.”

SL: “And how did you first come to the attention of museums?”

ES: “I was introduced to the director of the Newark museum, and he wanted me to do a one-person show, but I was too busy so it never happened…The director of the Montclair Museum said he would mount a show of my work, but I never followed up and he got sick and left.”

Illustration 2
Sketch, Pen on Envelope, 8″x10″
“I have always been sketching ideas and thinking about what I am feeling and how to express that in my art.”
Photo: courtesy Ela Shah

SL: “It sounds like you wanted to seize the opportunities, but other priorities got in the way. True?”

ES: “I never thought of it like that, but yes. My priority will always be my family and home, so putting a priority on my art wasn’t possible, especially during our first years here in the states…The timing was not good and so I let the opportunity slip…I’m ready now.”

SL: “Is there one competition that gave you special pleasure?”

ES: “I won a juried show from the Montclair Museum and created a special work. The museum was close to my home and so many friends and people who knew me from the area were able to come and see my work. (see illustration 1)

SL: “Do you think things are different now for female artists?”

ES: “In those days it was very, very difficult, and even now I can see how hard it is for women to juggle between family and their careers outside the home… I think every person knows their priorities and makes decisions that way. For me it was not possible when I was younger to do everything…but as an artist I have always been sketching ideas and thinking about what I am feeling and how to express that in my art.” (see illustration 2)

SL: “Was there a moment in your career where you felt you had broken through?”

ES: “I won in a juried show and the reward was a one-person show at the Aljira Gallery in Newark, New Jersey…I got a lot of attention for my work, a lot of people came, and so other opportunities followed.”

ES: “What would you say to artists who are struggling to get attention for their work?”

“Keep learning! Develop your art and take advantage of all the opportunities…competitions, juried shows, galleries, fairs, open studio tours…go everywhere where you can show your work and people can meet you…Create a website…keep it current and promote it on-line, too…and if you have any time left over, meet other artists and keep meeting new people and joining new groups…Most important of all, if art is in your heart, and if it is your passion, keep working. If it is your fate, dance with it!”

Art Expo New York City

April 7 – 11    Pier 36.

*Award-winning artist and gallery director Daxa Khandwala is the owner of Art Mudra. Motivated by her belief that “art is for everyone,” her highly curated collections break the myth that the only good art is expensive art.,

Ela Shah and the work of other fine artists can be found at Art Mudra during Art Expo at booths 203, 233, 330. www.artmudra.com




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