From a 10 year old girl not wanting to go to mandir to a 20 year old female entrepreneur and artist for “Creations by Wattie” She bridges three forms of Hinduism together through her religious paintings.Youwatie Kalicharan acts as an artistic medium for all dreaming of Hindu deities. Here is an edited version of our conversation.
Youwatie R. Kalicharan beside a gallery of her paintings in her home studio.
How did you first get involved in art?
In school, being in art class was where I felt comfortable. And then when my parents had to force me to go to mandir (temple), I didn’t want to be there. Having no connection to the religion was really weird for me. As soon as I hit sixteen I started dreaming about all of these different gods. And not knowing who they were. Art was the only way I knew how to express myself. Being forced to sing and play instruments really wasn’t for me. All my time went into drawing and it started from there.
Does being in NYC, a place that fosters creative growth, and a first generation youth have any impact on your work?
It does. You are always wondering what decision you should make. Having strict parents and not being able to do what you want actually brought me closer to who I am now. When I meet kids who are inspired by what I do and ask, “How did you start?” I tell them the fact that my parents did force me to go to temple and if they are in mandir they should find where their heart is at.
Describe the artistic process of how you translated the images of Hindu gods from your dreams to your paintings?
My first dream was of Mother Kali in a fierce form. I woke up wondering, “Who was that?” After I had done the research I found out who she was. For a week, I dreamt one god after another: Lord Shiva, Ganesh, Mother Durga… And then I created a journal with all of my drawings.
How did you develop your business “Creations by Wattie”?
I went on Freewebsite.com and made my own website called Wattiespaintings.com. And then I posted up my work and people loved it. People even asked me “Can I buy?” After that I told my Mom and she was really supportive. Since then my brother has been helping me. He actually helped me create my first website. I got a lot of support from my mandir and my parents. They supported me the whole way.
How did you build connection with mandirs?
I started off at the Nirvana Humanitarian Foundation. I had a lot of support from there because they do a lot of comedy shows at different schools. So I was able to set up a small booth there and hand out my business cards and from there other mandirs were able to contact me. I was seventeen years old at the time. It was a little scary when I first started to do it. But after a while I got used to it. Now every time they have shows I set up a small booth with my paintings.
What mandirs have you visited for your work as an artist?
I’ve been to quite a few Kali temples and I did a lot of work for them. And then a few Sanatanist temples and Arya temples. The mandirs request specific images for me to do.
Are the mandirs similar or different from each other?
The mandirs are all very different. A Sanatanist mandir is different in the way they do their service because you walk into a Sanatan mandir and you sit down and listen to the prayers and watch. When you go into a Kali mandir, it’s more hands on and you feel exactly what is going on. And you can take part as well. An Arya mandir is like a Sanatan mandir but you don’t have all of the pictures of gods. It’s a completely different belief in that way.
At Adi Shakti Maha Kali Mandir of New York. The first time I was refurbishing their murtis. They loved it so much they asked me to repaint their walls. And I started doing scenery there. That experience will always stick with me because I re-did an entire mandir with my paintings. It was a great experience.
As you ask your clients to request religious images they want painted, do you ever feel the need to interpret from your own imagination?
I do it all of the time. Many of my pastel Ganesh works are from my dreams. And I was thinking I can’t physically make a Ganesh that changes colors like in my dreams. But I can interpret it this way through pastels.
What are some recent innovations in your art work and business?
I started making jewelry after I saw Christians with rosaries. I thought what if I made Hindu jewelry? So now I’m making Hindu rosaries. I’m also making T-shirts upon request and expanding my business. I’ve even gotten requests to airbrush cars. Hinduism right now is my main focus, but I would also like to expand from religious artwork to other artwork.
As a college student how does your field of study help you in your work?
I hope to use my major Graphic Design and Advertising to help me with my business. I can use it to help my website. My artwork helps me in what I study too because you need to be able to draw in order to do Graphic Design.
What are your dreams and hopes for your future?
I really do want to have a small painting boutique somewhere in the Richmond Hill area. To have a workshop would be great. So now I’m saving up money to find a small shop. That is my main goal.
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