Artist Profile: Eva Malhotra
“Art helps us imagine possibilities. We need to imagine the future. That we even have a future.” ~ Eva Malhotra
Written by Jenny Begun
Why do we hold artists in special regard? Why do we revere artists? I think because they are able to channel the energy, with which we all want to connect. They are able to process it and, through their work, impart it on their creations, which in turn become vessels that discharge to us, to the viewers, portions of that energy in a form of a feeling, an emotion, or perhaps a sudden understanding.
Last fall, my friend and I were strolling through the Santa Fe Art Colony, enjoying their annual Open Studio event. Through a doorway of one narrow, but cozy apartment, I saw a woman bent over a table, pressing a short tool into a small wooden box. Artist Eva Malhotra looked up with a wide smile, welcoming us to her studio. As we were walking around, admiring the beautiful colors and graceful swirls of her abstract paintings, she said, “Touch them.” Feeling the relief of the paint under my fingers was magical.
Her abstract paintings are all based on stories. Eva is very sensitive; she absorbs information that she wants to retell and then gets to work. Her feelings and her overwhelming passion pour into the paintings. I believe I was able to feel them through my fingers.
Eva works on wood panels, which she covers with many layers of acrylic; different colors, sometimes up to twenty. Her designs look complex and have some hidden elements that can be interpreted as the artists signature or, better to call it, her language. “I am very expressive and emotional,” says the artist, “and using carving tools adds a physical element right to that visceral action. I love doing it, the physicality of it, the texture. I love touching it and I enjoy when people touch my work because I feel like that’s when they really get to experience it fully.”
She uses carving tools to scrape, pick, or dig through the coats of paint to uncover the color she needs for her composition. It is an intuitive process. Eva never prepares a drawing or a blueprint beforehand. According to the artist, once she puts a mark down or a color, “the painting itself asks to be balanced. It starts dialoguing: talking to itself and to me, asking for the rhythm, for the equilibrium. It’s not just me. It’s me and the painting–the elements in it that talk to me and each other.”
From an early age, Eva thought of herself as an artist. She was surrounded by art. “First thing I saw in the morning was my grandfather at the kitchen table painting. From the time I can remember I was watching people paint.” There were always paints and brushes around their house in Mexico. And Eva, too, was drawing whatever she saw. “I can never explain anything verbally. I don’t consider myself a very articulate person, but through my work I’m much better able to express myself.”
Her maternal grandfather was a commercial artist. Through his murals, he was telling stories. And Eva loves stories. She went on to study Spanish Literature. “Literature and Visual Arts are my passions and one feeds the other,” she says. A few years ago, Eva produced a series of paintings based on the books of a very influential Mexican writer Juan Rulfo, who is considered one of the pioneers of Magical Realism. “It is about his work,” describes the artist, “the plasticity of his work, which is like an abstract painting. Rulfo gives you just very little information about his characters, in a way making an abstraction of human traits.” One doesn’t need to read the book though to be able to perceive the author’s main theme, the mood of the story. It is captured in the hues, the lines, and the forms that Eva laid before our eyes. This year, the Rulfo Series will be exhibited at the beautiful complex of Cultural Center in Tijuana from October through December.
Eva’s method of working requires physical effort and often she ends up working on the floor with her knees on a pillow surrounded by her little tools. It’s a slow process. “I have to be patient about anything I paint,” says the artist, “because if I don’t, it just doesn’t work.” It is a meditative work and many times Eva ended up falling asleep. Also, because she paints during the hours that she can carve for her studio work around her full-time law practice.
However, Eva’s work as a lawyer is not a hindrance to her artistic practice. “You can only get the material from the real-life experience,” she explains. “The things that I’ve seen and heard, they are really a rich source of inspiration for me. I get passionate about these things.” One of the themes that the artist works with is mythology. As a lawyer, she hears all kinds of stories from her clients. “And so many of the myths are in these stories,” she says. “For me, they are so eternal. They describe life–our real experiences, our real passions, our real faults, our tragic faults–and also our ability to deal with life.”
Mexican on her mother’s side and American on her father’s, Eva witnessed a lot of injustice. She could not tolerate how badly Mexicans were treated by the American immigration officers. Full of compassion and indignation, she did a whole series about the borders. “I was going back and forth a lot. And I remember sitting in the car at the border crossing for about 5 hours. I had so much anger. This border was so enormous and so insurmountable that I said, ‘I hope I can do a painting about this’. That’s when I initiated that series. I’m very impatient about my reactions to these things. I find them infuriating and they move me to express those strong feeling.”
The paintings from the Border Series, though abstract, include multitude of details that could be interpreted in many ways to complete her message. In “La Pasada”, a monumental painting–10’ by 7.7’–that consists of several panels connected with piano hinges, one can see lines that are reminiscent of stitches. Are they meant to patch the wounds of those who cross or to connect the origin and destination for an easier crossing? As the artist puts it, “It has a cinematic feel to it. The painting is a story about people crossing the border. It’s about the empty inhospitable land. There is probably between 15 to 20 layers of paint. Different colors because things are never one color. It’s always a mixture of colors, never flat.”
Aside from the intellectual interpretation, Eva’s work affects viewers emotions. Whether it is her masterful use of colors that conveys very well the overall emotion of the story or her powerful impassioned charge that gets transferred into her paintings, but standing in front of her artwork, it is impossible to remain indifferent.