Contributed by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech / I initially resisted Instagram, dismissing it as a repository of selfies, sunsets, and celebrities, but, soured by Facebook and Twitter, I finally joined. Over the past four years I’ve come to appreciate IG for introducing me to a lot of terrific artists, many of whom never show their work in New York. “Hello Instagram” is a Two Coats column where I can share some of my favorites. In this installment I interview Soumya Netrabile (@netrabile), an artist based in Chicago.
Giovanni Garcia-Fenech: Please tell us a little about yourself.
Soumya Netrabile: I’ve lived and worked in the Chicago area since 1990. I studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I concentrated mostly on painting and drawing. About ten years after I graduated from art school, I discovered clay and since then have been dividing my time between making ceramic sculptures and painting.
GG-F: Your work looks to me primarily abstract, but I also see a lot of references to landscape and the body.
SN: You’re absolutely right about the references to landscape and body. Years ago, mainly I made observational drawings and paintings of figures and animals, and anatomy became my focus. In the beginning I was interested in bending the anatomy, the flexibility of musculature and joints, and how paint just lends itself so easily to describing and eventually to abstracting such forms. I was playing around with medium and having fun with the body. This seemed like a good place to ponder things, such as how many ways a body can be broken, bent, and reassembled.
I was engrossed, and I started reading books on animal/human anatomy and other topics in biology. I read about the immune and endocrine systems, human pathology, and even microbial ecology. Certain elements from the readings were beyond my education or capacity for understanding (like the chemistry stuff!), but I was enthralled by the complexities of the worlds I was discovering. I became so intrigued with the systems and channels which exist inside organisms to help them function.
Somewhere around this time my sculptures started to resemble fictional organs–vessels with openings for things to go in and out. I accumulated a lot of these organ sculptures. They were literally lying in piles around me, so I started drawing them when I realized the piles resembled landscapes. That’s when I started to explore the idea of the body as a landscape and the landscape as an organism. Recently, the compositions have become more descriptive. I’m tapping into fuzzy memories of places I’ve been, which are really more memories of a feeling than of something objective, but these memories are accessed rather later in the journey of a painting. My practice always begins and ends with the medium, as well as drawing and color.
GG-F: I notice that you share a lot of photographs of landscapes and snippets of poetry on your Instagram stories—what are the connections between those and your paintings and sculptures?
SN: Poetry is nourishment and opens up possibilities for me. There is magic in discovering words that you might not imagine to ever coexist, yet there they are in front of your eyes. And when you feel a connection to those words, they enter you with such force that you can feel yourself transforming.
The landscape snippets on my story are mostly taken on my daily walks in my area or on my travels. I live on the edge of the city, but am lucky to have a good amount of nature to access within a couple of miles. My connection to nature is also very important to my practice.
GG-F: You keep a fairly active feed on Instagram. What is your practice like, do you make art every day?
SN: I’m in the studio every day, and try to work for 5 to 7 hours. Sometimes I have to break up that time into two sessions. If I absolutely cannot get to the studio, I make sure to do a few drawings at home. I usually have a few paintings going at the same time, so when I arrive at the studio, I put on some music and start working right away. There’s an urgency inside of me to get the work out, so I tend not to take breaks. I find I can work for long periods of time without tiring. If I do get stuck on a painting, I’ll read or look at a painting I admire for a bit before going back to the piece.
Sometimes there’s no hope of recovering a work. In that case I’ll just retire the sad thing (or banish it to the corner) and go work on another canvas. I always take a few books with me to the studio. This week, I’ve got Hockney and Blake keeping me company. I also have a stash of poetry books I keep to help me out of a rut.
G G-F: I was surprised to discover that you don’t have a personal website. What made you decide to use Instagram as your primary way to share your work on the web?
SN: Three years ago when I started painting full time, I used Instagram to help motivate me to make work and look at what others are doing. It’s been a great tool for networking and building up a personal community. I am slowly working on my website and plan to have it up this year. I delayed it mainly because in the beginning of my full-time practice, I felt self-conscious and confused about my many trajectories and did not want to present myself as being inconsistent. But these trajectories now make sense to me and even seem necessary as they come together.
G G-F: Can you recommend a couple of Instagram accounts that you follow?
SN: I really love Elliot Green’s (@elliottigreen) and Matt Bollinger’s (@mattbolinger) feeds. Sunyoung Hwang (@ssunyoung.hwang), Reza Shafahi (@rezashafahiofficial), and Arghavan Khosravi (@arghavan_khosravi) are also so good.
About the Author: Giovanni Garcia-Fenech is a painter based in Queens. His writing has appeared at artnet, Artforum, Art in America, Hyperallergic, and Wired. His artwork has been exhibited throughout the United States, as well as in Iceland and Puerto Rico. You can see his paintings in Chart Gallery’s exhibition MELT, up through August 23, and you can follow him on Instagram at @giovannigfnyc.
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