Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YS, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 520 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festival, telecom expo, millets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.
Based in Bengaluru, Jeena Raghavan is an artist and fashion designer. She was born in London and studied in India, the UK, and the US. She studied at the Hill House International School in Chelsea, Mallya Aditi International School in Bengaluru, and Parsons School of Design in New York.
She interned at the art auction house Christie’s, and worked for designer Kate Spade and at Hugo Galerie in Soho. Jeena has participated in workshops and fundraising activities for the Agastya International Foundation. She recently launched her own fashion label, JEENA.
In this photo essay and interview, Jeena shares insights into her creative process, pandemic activities, the launch of her fashion label, and tips for aspiring artists.
The artistic journey
“Art is the way you see the world in colour and form. It’s a way of expressing yourself through your conscious and subconscious mind. It is all-encompassing and subjective,” Jeena explains, in a chat with YS.
“My style is probably best described as magic realism, a tint of surrealism with some pop art as I love bright colours,” she explains. She was always intrigued by unconventional compositions and odd colour choices. “Technique was something I learnt by trial and error by constantly trying to work on new paintings and ideas,” she adds.
She says she is not from a family that has a painter. “I do know that my mother used to paint earlier, but did not pursue it as a career or passion. However, my grand-uncles and aunts were/are classical music singers, so there was artistic talent in the family,” Jeena recalls.
Her journey in art began when she was 13 years old, living in London. “I had my first exhibition of paintings featuring a series on Lord Ganesha in different compositions, and donated half the proceeds to charity in India,” she recalls.
She then began to pursue art while at the Parsons School Of Design, where she created a series of oil paintings for her senior thesis titled Assortment of Bloom. Four of these works were exhibited at a gallery in the Lower East Side in Manhattan, NY. “That’s when I realised I wanted to paint more than anything else,” she recalls.
Success for her as an artist is in the process of creation itself. “When I express myself through my art, it gives me a sense of pride and delight that I am able to create something through my own skill and technique,” she describes.
“Success for me is about the satisfaction of being able to create something from nothing. Awards and recognition can definitely be a measure of success for anyone in any field. I don’t believe that it’s the most evident example for success,” Jeena adds.
After all, there are so many talented people who have changed the world and not been known for it.
“Success should be a personal journey too. That way people have a clearer thought process to work with rather than external pressures from society,” she says.
Describing her creative process, she says the methods vary. “The creative thought for a work of art could come from something I’ve seen out there in the world, or a picture online, or something serendipitous,” Jeena describes.
It usually starts off with a rough sketch on a piece of paper lying around the house, and then develops into a drawing on a surface like canvas. “Sometimes there are no sketches and it’s a direct drawing. Those can go wrong sometimes too,” she observes.
Mistakes and retakes are part of the artistic journey. “There is no clear formula on how to learn from your mistakes while creating. You can always turn those mistakes into opportunities to make something you dislike into something beautiful,” Jeena explains.
This requires resistance – and some kind of patience. “But when you push through, you eventually find yourself improving and becoming more tolerant of your mistakes,” she suggests.
She says she has been inspired by a range of artists and designers from different backgrounds, particularly Salvador Dali and Renee Magritte. She also points to the use of colour and shape by Raza and Kandinsky, and fashion icons like Gianni Versace and Pyer Moss.
As a hobby, she loves to discover new music and make playlists. “I also have an interest in applying makeup on my friends. It excites me as it’s a different type of canvas and one can create so many amazing looks. I loved watching the show Glow-Up on Netflix,” Jeena adds.
She also points to differences and similarities between art and design. “As they say, design should work, art doesn’t have to. It is challenging for me to apply myself to both categories. However, I believe that your skills are strengthened when you diversify your artistic mediums,” she affirms.
Art played an increasingly important role for many people during the pandemic and its lockdowns. “Art acts as a companion during times of social isolation and distance. It engages you to the degree that you start to lose the concept of time and immerse yourself in your ideas,” Jeena says.
Art allows the expression of feelings of frustration, curiosity and uncertainty by putting it all down on a canvas or a paper. “This art that you create during such times can remind you later of your temperament and be a symbol of change and transition,” she adds.
For artists who get inspiration from outdoor environments and people interactions, the pandemic year has been particularly tough. “The pandemic halted my productivity as I had limited social interaction and external stimuli. It was challenging to adapt to a new way of life where interactions were limited and outdoor movement was prohibited,” Jeena laments.
She was forced to find solace in her studio. “I found myself connecting with more people virtually and showing them my work. This led to a few sales of my paintings,” she recalls.
Despite the increased anxiety, she decided to become more proactive about putting her work out there. “Potential art collectors probably had more time to look at my work and had more time at home. This would have made them want to surround themselves with more colour, especially during these anxious and difficult times,” Jeena explains.
She also donated proceeds of the sales she made on her art exhibits towards a COVID-19 relief fund set up by the Agastya International Foundation. She sponsored kits for children of migrant workers as well.
Serendipity – and fashion
In its own strange and beautiful ways, serendipity (or ‘happy coincidences’) can play a significant trigger role in our lives, particularly for creative people.
Jeena says she has always liked to style her friends’ outfits and help relatives dress for occasions. She often finds herself doing things like rearranging and colour-coordinating wardrobes in her spare time.
“Being at a fashion school in NYC definitely piqued my interest in design and fashion as the streets were my inspiration for looks and ideas. I thought to myself, why not use some of my artistic ideas and create outfits that could be worn,” she recalls.
“Then one day, when I needed a rag to clean my brushes, I found myself looking through my father’s wardrobe. I looked around to see if he had any faded or used shirts,” Jeena recalls.
“I found a couple of them and started to doodle, while I was taking a break from my canvas. My father didn’t object to my using the old shirts, and soon I found an entire shirt filled with patterns that I had created. I Facetimed a couple of friends to show them how it looked and they said I should create a few more,” she adds.
Jeena thus decided to create a fashion label featuring some of these original hand-painted pieces and other designs. “This led to me start the label JEENA. I began to experiment with not just shirts but also denim jackets and skirts,” she describes. The designs were largely inspired by nature, wildlife and magic realism.
Social media impacts
Social media helped Jeena test and market some of her ideas and products. “I photographed my pieces and started to send out images to friends and family inviting them to be a part of my new venture. My first batch of orders was through these photos,” Jeena explains. She then followed up via social media, and built up an online following.
“I was thrilled to see my art being worn by people from diverse backgrounds. I had some fashion influencers from NYC, Germany and Mumbai wear some of my designs,” she proudly says.
She remarks: “The highlight of my fashion journey so far, was probably having the world’s most stylish dog wear one of my pieces!”
After launching her label on social media, Jeena reached out to a couple of fashion trendsetters who she thought would help carry and promote her designs.
“The one account that I was most drawn to was @MensWearDog which is an Instagram account for the world’s most stylish dog,” she recalls.
“Bodhi, a Shiba Inu breed who has been well known as the face of memes and an ambassador for many fashion brands, is considered to be the world’s most stylish dog,” Jeena explains.
“Besides being exceptionally cute, this Brooklyn-based dog has a tremendous sense of style, and it was no surprise that his account had more than 400,000 followers. One of my designs was featured on a page where the Shiba Inu wore my ‘H2O’ blue and black jacket for a photo-shoot. It was a great moment and something that makes me smile,” Jeena proudly says.
Art and society
Jeena calls for a greater appreciation of art in society. “Art in India’s villages is actually a way of life – the pots, the walls, the way they decorate their homes. Art is a fabric of life for a large segment of the Indian population,” she observes.
“But we don’t leverage the inherent artistic talent we have around us. Art is seen more as a hobby than a profession. Though that perception is changing somewhat, it is important to encourage people to pursue their passions through more exposure,” she recommends.
Jeena offers tips to audiences as well on how to appreciate art. “Be more open-minded towards different works. Explore and research more on what inspires you,” she suggests.
“It’s always fascinating to know the context and story behind certain artistic pieces even if you don’t find them visually appealing. One can always improve on powers of observation, questioning, exploring and connecting apparently unconnected dots,” she adds.
“You don’t have to be an artist to learn to think like one,” Jeena evocatively describes.
The road ahead
Jeena is currently working on a new fashion collection for the summer, titled SS21. “It will have a series of one-of-a-kind outfits and new prints. I’m also working on a couple of oil paintings so that I can exhibit those sometime this year,” she says.
She also offers tips for aspiring artists. “Create as much as you can even if you don’t always like the result. I found that constantly creating keeps my mind alert and it would give me a lot of new stimulus for newer projects,” she recalls.
“Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques and styles in your work. It is also always great to have a few role models and other artists who inspire you,” she adds.
“Get constructive criticism on your work from other creatives to see how you can improve,” Jeena signs off.
Now, what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and find new ways of exploring your creative core?