Maya Varadaraj Interview - The Hopper Prize

Maya Varadaraj

Maya Varadaraj discusses experimenting with combining collage and painting, pushing boundaries, & nurturing new relationships in the work.

How did you get into making art?

I studied design for six years, and my graduate thesis looked at material culture in India that subjugated women under the guise of tradition. With this project I started to work with images; collaging calendar advertisements with painting to explore the concept through pop culture media.

After this I continued to collage, experimenting with combining collage and painting. Now, both are foundational to my practice.

What are you currently working on?

Currently, I am continuing to paint from family photographs and researching archival materials to collage into the paintings.

This is a new process for me, as previously I made digital collages with photographs and images and painted over them. Here, the process is more integrated, and exciting for me!

Currently, I am continuing to paint from family photographs and researching archival materials to collage into the paintings.

Maya Varadaraj

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

I created my last body of work during a time of loss for me and my family. It helped me connect with my work very intimately. It was the first time I felt like my work was an extension of myself and an integral part of my healing.

I wanted to honor that and continue to nurture the relationship with my work. So I am pushing the boundaries of my previous paintings with collage and allowing myself to enjoy the new process.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

I work on distinct projects. I work best with deadlines, lists, and clear processes. That objectivity is something I really loved about design, and I bring that to my art practice. It keeps me grounded and organized.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

I can’t say I have a typical day, because so much of what happens in my studio is based on how I feel that day. Sometimes I feel like making, and sometimes I just want to research and/or organize.

But let me share a day in my studio where I feel most productive:

It usually starts with getting all my emails and administrative work done in the morning. That way I can concentrate on producing work the rest of the day. Then I organize my work area; getting paint, water, source images, brushes, snacks (very important), laptop, charging devices, phone all set up.

Recently I’ve been listening to “Cults” Podcast on Spotify, but in the past I’ve had Harry Potter films playing in the background as I work. It feels like I have friends in my studio when I have Harry Potter on.

I take a proper break for lunch, and then come back to my set up, and finish around 5:30. That describes my most productive days.

Who are your favorite artists?

Barkley L. Hendricks
Mamma Anderson
Marcel Dzama
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
Alice Neel
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Bharti Kher
Surendran Nair

Where do you go to discover new artists?

Instagram mostly.

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