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The Thing Behind the Appearance

Pushpa Ki Rasah

I love this painting. Not because of how it looks, but because of what it's made of, what it represents and what it lead to.

At 91, my grandmother-in-law is a source of inspiration and admiration, both of which have very little to do with the length of time she's been on this earth. She inspires by how she utilizes her time to engage with life by staying informed, connecting with those she cares about, immersing herself in what she loves and continually learning.

Though she lives in Delhi, many years ago she earned the nickname Digital Maharani because she got everyone in the family on Facebook and Skype so she could connect frequently with those of us in the US. If you want to know what's going on with a family member, where they are and where they're off to next, just ask Naniji! Every morning she reads the papers to see what's going on in the world, she talks to her local and faraway family, and she does something creative.

She started out painting small pieces and making greeting cards. Lovely little things with colors and flowers and textures. When I saw them, I wondered why she wasn't creating larger pieces. 2x3 inches just wasn't doing her art justice! But she resisted. She said she was just passing time, wasn't a real artist like me, couldn't imagine doing anything larger and all the other likely excuses that come to mind.

Fast forward a year to when she spent the weekend with me and my husband. We planned to paint together and she wanted me to teach her some things. Well, the way I teach others to paint is the way I taught myself to paint... just play with it until it starts to look like what's in your imagination or something better! Get your hands involved if you want. Use any tool you can think of. Want texture? Try adding spaghetti or coffee grounds. But most of all, let go of what you think a painting is or should be and let the painting show you what it can be.

I only had one intention. That she have fun and know that there were no limits, especially to the size. We started with 5x7 and 8x10, but I really wanted her to get a taste of what's possible, so the painting above was born.

Each of the little rectangles are tiny paintings she had made and glued to greeting cards. I saw them as small pieces of a whole, so I pulled them off of the cards, adhered them to a some pretty Indian tissue paper she had used to wrap a gift she had given me and incorporated this into a painting with the colors of my Louisiana Creole heritage to form a union of two creatives, two cultures, two viewpoints of artistry fueling each other.

These days, after getting caught up on the news of the world and each of her family members, Naniji logs on to YouTube to watch painting videos and connect with artists and art teachers from around the globe. She knows way more techniques than I do. She's set up a home studio where she prolifically paints every day, in both large and medium formats (no more tiny paintings!). And she's selling her creations to people around the world. She says she feels most alive when she is connecting and painting, and it shows!

I am by no means taking credit for her progression in scale or artistry. What I am getting at is: If all you did was look at her and perceive her to be a tiny little older lady making tiny little greeting cards, you'd miss the remarkable woman and artist she is and the love and beauty she and her art infuses into the world and beings that surround her.

Marcus Aurelius had it right. "At all times, look at the thing itself—the thing behind the appearance."

Art: Pushpa Ki Rasah, acrylic and mixed media on canvas by Angela Chargois and Pushpa Chawla

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