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Artist Interview: 7 Questions with Painter Gazala Chinwalla

Gazala talks about creating evocative contemporary art and her training in Parsons School of Design, in New York and the School of Visual Arts.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   02-07-2015
Gazala Chinwala
Gazala Chinwalla has worn many hats since she started her compelling journey as a well-known artist in Manhattan. In her twenties, Gazala walked the ramp for over 500 fashion shows and was the glamorous face of Bombay Dyeing.

She put her modeling career behind her when she moved from Mumbai to New York to work as a couture designer in the U.S. fashion industry. Gazala worked with Maggy London International and top designers Oleg Cassini and Oscar de la Renta for twelve years before turning to the hospitality industry. She later worked as a financial analysis trainer for seven years with Citibank in New York, but art has always been a part of her life.

"I have been painting for 29 years. I sold to private collectors even while working in corporate America, but never had time to focus on it full time. When I worked for the Citigroup, I had an agent in New York who commissioned me to do masterpiece reproductions of the 20th Century Western masters Matisse, Van Gogh, Modigliani, Picasso, Cezanne and Gauguin," says Gazala.

In 2005, Gazala left Citibank to focus full time on creating art. She has since had a series of solo exhibitions of her original works in galleries in New York, Florence, London, Bangalore and Mumbai. 

A driving force, Gazala organized a high-profile art-cum-fashion show in Mumbai to help Indian children with Aids. She successfully roped in 139 artists including Anjolie Ela Menon, Yusuf Araakal and Jehangir Sabhawalla to donate sales from their works for the Aids fundraiser.  

While working in corporate America, Gazala enrolled in the Parsons School of Design, in New York and later the School of Visual Arts in their Continuing Education programs to study the Impressionists and Contemporary Masters.

The multi-talented artist talked to about creating evocative contemporary works of art in oil and mixed media on canvas and her training.

  1. Did you always know you wanted to paint and were you encouraged to be an artist?

    Unfortunately, back then I didn't get any encouragement. My parents didn't really support me — they didn't think art would help me make a living. I started painting when I was barely 7 and the only one who saw my proclivity for art was my oldest sister. I have five sisters. I was keen to go to the J.J School of Art, in Mumbai, but I didn't get the right encouragement and ended up not going to art school in India. I really regret this. It's important to get an early exposure to art.

    I joined the corporate world in America and I used to paint on the side and sell my works. I did this right through my long corporate career.
  2. What stirred your passion for art in America?
    I got into it again when I was working with designer Oscar de la Renta as it was mandatory to draw, paint, color and express oneself visually. If I liked a design I saw, I had to express myself by drawing it. Oscar didn't want any voluminous description — he wanted a visual.

    In fact, Oscar sent me to Parsons School of Design, in New York. My interest for art came pouring back when I went to Parsons.  But I had to travel a lot when I was working in the fashion industry so I couldn't devote enough time to art class. Later, I went back to Continuing Education classes at the School of Visual Arts, in New York, when I joined Citibank and had more regulated nine-to-five work days.
  3. Can you talk about your experience at Parsons.

    In Parsons, they teach you oil painting by educating you on “The Masters,” traditional techniques, art history and interdisciplinary connections. I love the Impressionists. As part of the coursework, I had to paint a Cezanne and Matisse so I learnt to reproduce Western masterpieces. Copying the work of famous Western masters has long been part of artistic training.

    For a while, I was actually doing masterpiece reproduction and selling pieces. There is a huge demand for replicas in the U.S. as people love the old masters but they can't afford them. Therefore, they would commission me to reproduce landscapes and compositions and I was selling them to middle America and far-flung places like Columbus, Ohio.
  4. What was your most memorable good or bad experience while studying at Parsons?

    Sadly, at first the teachers had no faith in me. They saw me as an adult woman with no formal art training so they pushed me to the side. They didn't give me the attention I saw them give the younger artists. I was the oldest in the class so when I actually painted a Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso they were in an absolute state of shock. They didn't expect it!
  5. What about the School of Visual Arts?

    I really felt that I got what I needed from the continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts. It's a wonderful art and design school in New York. It has great short courses for professional artists and designers. It was so much fun to be in a lively classroom with artists of different ages and backgrounds: there was a lot of experimentation and dabbling with new means of expression. I really enjoyed it.
  6. What do you love about art?

    I love color and the impact it has, exerting direct influence upon the soul.
  7. Can you talk about your 9/11 artwork which was selected for the prestigious Florence International Biennale of Contemporary Art.

    I painted "In Ruins" with September 11 in mind. It was a sad time for New York, America and the world. I love this city in which I've lived and worked for three decades. "In Ruins' is an abstract contemporary oil on canvas which reflects the dark day, yet shows light ahead. As people stare at the painting, a discussion inevitably starts; some see a city emerging through the clouds.

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site and a writer for Forbes India. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism at the University of Westminster, in London.



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