We are taught that anything worth doing must be pursued with single minded devotion. Especially that which is considered a talent. If you find within yourself a trait that instills passion, then you must devote your lifetime to honing it in earnest. Until you master it. Or it masters you!
But there are some amongst us who manage to pack in several lifetimes in one. It is almost as if they bought a premium package deal, ensuring an entry into every arena of creative expression this world has to offer! They willingly let themselves be consumed by their gifts. And they manage to achieve glory in all of them. History has bestowed upon them the title of “Renaissance” figures, and celebrated their lives over the ages.
The act of expression needs nothing more than indulgence from the mind it inhabits. It demands total surrender by wandering, exploring, prodding and unearthing—the many paths that lie within its realm. The fallout of such a surrendering is an intriguing, thrilling, awe-inspiring body of work. A treat of massive proportions. A veritable feast that goes beyond limitations like age, gender, social standing and education. It has a universal reach and a power to alter both the creator and the viewer equally.
Kartik Trivedi is one such example of bountiful talent. Those who pursue creative paths are often multifaceted. But very few manage to straddle dual forms of expression with ease. While most artists eventually find one channel to hone their craft and chart their course by it, Mr. Trivedi has found two—visual art and music. The fact that he should be so prolific in both disciplines, makes him a Renaissance man of our times.
The artist who calls Houston, Texas his home has currently taken up temporary residence in Santa Clara, California while putting together work for his next show. A cursory Internet search resulted in several hits in terms of biographical information, prior interviews, news articles, images of his bright canvasses and YouTube videos of his piano repertoire. Simply glancing through his list of achievements is enough to make anyone sit up and take notice.
A string of degrees—five—to be exact, a bevy of awards, a body of work spanning two spheres of creativity, and art which resides in the collections of Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, as well as late Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi to name a few. This is an impressive achievement by any standard. Needless to say, I was intrigued. Eager to learn more but wanting to keep a fresh perspective at the same time, I cautiously refrained from delving deeper.
When I called to set up a time for our meeting, I was pleasantly surprised by his approachability and warm demeanor. Here was
a man whose accomplishments were exhaustive, and yet he was sincerely thanking me for being interested in his work. His humility was endearing.
Greeting me with a firm handshake, he led me into his apartment which doubles as his studio, where the walls were covered with his paintings. More were stacked on the floor, some packed in boxes, new works in progress stood waiting for his brush in varying styles and treatment. There he was in the midst of it all, an almost-octogenarian, surrounded by the vivid proof of his passion. His 79-year old frame bears the slightly-stooping posture of one who has experienced life. He seemed, at first glance, to be weakened of body. Yet his work indicates the strength of his spirit. A testament to all that he has managed to achieve despite the invariable ups and downs of his journey.
The Vibrant Paintings
The colors grabbed me right away—jewel tones of reds, greens, blues—plucked from the rainbow and dropped onto his images. Scenes showcasing rural settings with beautifully attired people; stylized figures, composed with patterns and motifs that reminded me of the famous tie-dye bandhni fabric of Gujarat. Contrasting compositional elements where broad swatches of flat colors rest beside areas which fairly hum with densely packed details provide a sense of balance. The treatment and application of acrylic colors have strong echoes of the indigenous local art from the region of his origins. They bring to mind the miniatures and murals that grace the halls of havelis from a time long gone.
Elements of music came through almost immediately. In Malhar–Raga of the Rainy season, a woman is seated, eyes downcast and meditative, holding a veena, completely immersed in her music. There are dark thunderclouds gathering in the background, fish swimming in the river, verdant trees and bushes all around, cooing doves at her feet. A celebration of the season and the joyous notes of the raga. Even in the absence of instruments, other scenes have a feel of a rhythmic flow of notes meandering through their midst. It is almost as if you can hear the looping drone of the tanpura, while the symphony of brightly colored melodies plays across the scene.
The Krishna series captivates—casting a spell on the viewer, as does the music of his flute on Radha and the gopikas who gaze dreamy-eyed at him. The lovely moon, full and still, provides a pristine counterpoint to the colors and patterns rendered to great effect. There is the inherent drama of the Kalia Nartan painting, where you can almost hear the celebratory, victorious notes of music in the background. The hushed feel of an intimate moment captured in Radha Offering Lotus while Krishna once again serenades with a lilting melody. My eyes were darting about, wanting to record all this and more, before we sat down to the business of uncovering the portrait behind the paintings—the act of discovering the artist.
Discovering the Artist
Almost at once he started to talk about the idea of Mother Divine—Shri Mataji, the inspiration behind his reason for working. This element of the divine feminine echoes through nearly all of his work. He regaled me with stories of his mother, Sharda Trivedi—his very first music guru, and of his beginnings in Saurashtra—the south eastern peninsular region of modern Gujarat. There, in Lunsar village, he was born into the household of the school headmaster, LaxmiShankar Trivedi. His formative years were spent in a large joint family with parents, siblings, friends, and the rhythmic sounds of devotional garba songs, full of color, pomp and pageantry. His father was an artist himself and initiated the young Kartik in watercolors. Despite having to take on the responsibility of a large family, he travelled to the nearest big town, Rajkot, where he acquired watercolor paper and paints for young Kartik. Thus began a journey where art, music and the divine were interwoven in varying strands of a fascinating fabric.
The Trivedi siblings were encouraged to pursue educational achievements in the areas of their choosing, setting the bar fairly high for a young impressionable boy to attempt to strive towards. And excel he did. If one of the measures of a man is the educational accolades he acquires, Kartik’s academic achievements is certainly impressive. With the encouragement of his father, armed with a B.A. in Economics and Geography, and an M.A. in Economics and Political History from Gujarat University, he made the journey to the land of opportunities, America to pursue his ever burgeoning dreams. The America of 1967 must have been a novel experience for a student with a “foreign” status, to say the least. But to hear it in Kartik’s words, “The sky was my limit!”
Having secured a second Master’s degree in Art History at Case-Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, Kartik began to teach. Inspired by his study of the French Impressionists, he once again threw himself into the pursuit of learning and garnered his third Masters degree in Fine Arts from Kent State University, Ohio. This prompted a move to New York city and an artistic departure towards an academic style of painting, portraiture, landscapes and the like. Again—the intrepid wanderer metamorphosed to add another layer to his creative exploration.
Throughout the pursuit of academic and painterly excellence his other passion, music stayed by his side. Like the twin “lub-dub” rhythm of a heart beat, his music inserted its harmonic notes in between the colors of his artist’s palette. He began by studying the flute—bansuri, the sarod and took on vocal music while still at the university in Gujarat. Clearly his early initiation into devotional forms of music had made its mark. He discovered the mystical and multi-nuanced Hindustani style of raga exploration. It inspired him to visualize notes in colors. Music was stirring his heart strings as only it can. It took wing and flew with him on his journey to America where he began exploring ragas on a grand piano in the student hall of the university.
Eventually, and yes, there is a pattern here—it resulted in another degree, the fourth feather in his cap—an M.A. in World Music from San Jose State University in California. His life in the San Francisco Bay Area was replete with creating art, holding one-man shows, teaching Non-Western Classical Music Theory, all the while pursuing the study of his music and composing his first piano album, Basanti. To hear him talk about this period is to visualize a man in the midst of frenetic and continuous activity, borne along by his impulse to create and express everything that he discovers within his being.
This move was prompted by events that the artist describes as a very personal, mystical experience. Raised in a spiritual environment from childhood, Kartik sees his life as a mystical journey, traversing several lifetimes. His belief in this statement is unshakable. He is matter-of-fact about stating it as such and sees divinity in all that he undertakes. He shared several experiences that added another facet to my attempt at condensing and understanding the man and his work.
His ever-wandering feet took him to Houston, Texas in 1999. He taught as a part time faculty member in community colleges, still working, challenging himself, and creating. Between 2008 and 2010, came a series of personal setbacks, in the form of serious health issues. He maintains that he has managed to endure despite these challenges, only because of his spiritual awakening. In his own words, “Sarve Matru Shakti”—Mother Divine’s Power is All encompassing.
This unshakable faith has helped him overcome adversity and ill health. Faith has helped him persevere with his creative process. Faith has meant he is still standing amongst us willing to share and give of himself once again—celebrating his spirit and undaunted pursuit of creative expression.
Artist At Work
Despite the presence of two pacemakers in his heart, he still manages to get in five to six hour work days—spent actively
creating work. The amount of detail in his paintings translates to anywhere between a week or two of working and tweaking before a piece (20”x20”) is considered completed to his satisfaction. Larger works take even longer naturally. So he often works on several pieces at the same time. Starting with a pencil sketch on a blank canvas, he spends time actualizing the composition visualized in his mind’s eye. When a series is in progress, time is set aside for researching various details about the matter at hand. For example the Krishna series he is currently developing, has involved him painstakingly poring over mythology, history, even watching television programs, before he is able to condense the material and “see” his composition. When he is satisfied with the underlying sketch, he then proceeds to apply acrylic paints in layers, until the even, flat look is achieved. Then begins the process of adding the patterning and details, working on the features and clothing. This is often the part of the creative process that keeps him at his easel the longest.
In his artistic journey, he seems to have come full circle in his creativity—having started out with the folk art of his birthplace, to his foray into Impressionistic art and back to a folk “look and feel” of his current practice. He draws inspiration from the work of several noted Indian artists—Jamini Roy, Nandalal Bose, Somalal Shah to cite a few. With Jamini Roy’s work, he especially likes the use of “flatness of space” composition, and the apparent simplicity of color application. This was a feature that jumped off the canvas when I first viewed Mr. Trivedi’s work, the other being the treatment of the eyes. He reminisced about an observation made by a young woman who attended one of his shows featuring this style. She was congratulatory about his colors and subject matter but wanted to know why all the women were portrayed in profile, and why they all appeared sad or melancholic! He took this critique to heart and started including figures facing front and gazing directly at the viewer for the mark of a true artist is to be receptive to critiques and willing to adapt continuously. He is constantly evolving and changing, truly the mark of a great artist. At this point of our meeting these revelations prompted me to ask a question—“Where can we find the essence of Kartik Trivedi—the human being?” He was silent for a moment, collecting his thoughts. Then he looked up to state simply, “Between the colors and the notes—there is a pool that is shifting all the time. That’s where you’ll find Kartik.” His struggle as an artist is to strive to create work that fills people’s lives with joy and beauty.
He recalls how during his time of ill health, many of his collectors in Washington. D.C area came together to form a group “Friends of Kartik Trivedi.” They arranged an evening in his honor, where each brought a work created by him, and they spoke about what it meant to have it as part of their homes. This gesture, he says, gave him a new lease on life, and willed him to continue as an artist.
Amongst the paintings on his walls is a framed letter of appreciation from President Barack Obama. This is one of Kartik’s prized possessions. President Obama thanks him for his gift of a painting titled “Hope: 2009,” and states, “Artistic expression and creative works can resonate with us, challenge us, and teach us important lessons about ourselves and one another.” These words struck a chord in me. With current events on the world canvas fresh in our minds, they are a reminder, to look “within” instead of “without,” for answers.
Ask Kartik Trivedi about his concept of success, and pat comes the reply; “Whenever the soul is happy, and you are filled with joy, that is success.” A simple but fitting response from a present-day Renaissance man. It resonates and rings true amongst the many paths he has traversed.
His signature stands out—a Trident (trishool) with a distinctive dot near it. He explained that both the trishool and the dot were symbols of the Mother Divine—Shri Mataji.
To me, the Trident encompasses the varied facets of the man who calls himself Kartik Trivedi.
The Artist—The Musician—The Mystic.
Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. She has held art shows in London, Bangalore and locally. She is a mother to a rambunctious girl. When she is out trying to find answers to “why,” “what” and “how,” she loves to dabble in all things creative, and keep life interesting for her family.
Oct 29 Sunday: Kartik Trivedi will have an exhibition of his paintings and will also play the piano. Organized by Friends of Kartik Trivedi. 6:00-9:00 p.m. Sunnyvale Community Center, 550 East Remington Drive, Sunnyvale. (408) 816-7948.