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Artist Interview | geetha thurairajah

Updated: May 27, 2021

(Installation) Migration is more momentous than ancient invasions, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Kitchener, 2019We caught up with Brooklyn/Sackville based artist, geetha thurairajah to discuss process, latest projects, the impact of place, and bad painting.

Onement, acrylic on canvas, 16" x 40", 2019

Struts Gallery: As an artist based in Brooklyn, NY and who typically spends part of the summer in Sackville, NB do you find that ‘place’ influences your studio practice? More specifically, do you find your working methods or general thinking around your practice changes when moving your studio practice between the two locations?

geetha thurairajah: It’s impactful in the sense that less inputs (Sackville) has led me to more imaginative, maybe disoriented works. The place is the stage so the possibilities in painting will always find a way of responding. In a more practical sense, failure feels less consequential here and boredom is very real… the key to good work.

SG: You have recently introduced sculptural and structural frames around your paintings, which allow them to float in the middle of a room, or hover off the wall. Gallery walls are intrinsically linked to 2-dimensional work – what was the motivation for bringing these paintings into 3-dimensions?

gt: I arrived at painting by way of Intermedia at NSCAD. My intent has always been to locate the intersection of painting and conceptualism within my work. Because these pedagogies are taught to be contradictory, my task has been to remove the barrier. The wooden frames take painting into a new space where painting’s history feels like less of a burden. Dematerialization and minimalism to me are foundational but not explicit to “idea art” just as historic referentiality is not innate to painting.

SG: Do you think of these frames as extensions of the painting? or as separate and supportive? or as a tool for recontextualization?

gt: They are a symbolic extension of the image making process. Both revealing and concealing the factors that make a painting a painting, ie. the limits of the painted surface are usually addressed in a compositional way and I rarely pictorialize illusion without contradiction. The paintings in a physical sense, are shallow containers and I think the frames reinforce this sentiment.

I tread carefully around painting’s history and consider the white walls to be part and parcel of this sentiment. Moving work from the walls has the power to prompt a different engagement; less burdened by what came before. Pushing the physical boundaries of painting just feels like a byline within my practice.

(Installation) Migration is more momentous than ancient invasions, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Kitchener, 2019

SG: What is your process typically like?

gt: I’m usually drawing out connections between irreconcilable referents. The painting is in service of this goal so technique will change in order to see this through. Style and content can drive each other so I’m always open to making changes. Drawing at this stage will be a mix a digital and pencil sketches. Once I feel comfortable with a batch of drawings I’ll move into the painting.

ST: What do you enjoy the most, the procedure or the result?

gt: Both. But I get tired of looking at old work.

SG: In the spring you had a collaborative exhibition with Tiziana La Melia at Projet Pangée in Montreal. Can you speak about the show, your collaborative process and how you came to find common ground?

gt: Tiz has a flexibility within her practice that I deeply admire. We are both guided by symbolism however the poet in her encourages fluidity and more playfulness while I have a penchant for creating more definition… perhaps introducing more brashness. I feel the collision of styles was incredibly dynamic and complimentary. It was enough of an exchange that I felt we both came out renewed with painting/ installation. For myself, I would say I gained a sensitivity around the poetics of materials.

(Installation) Ozone Gleaners w/Tiziana La Melia, Projet Pangée, Montreal, 2020. See more of Projet Pangée here.

SG: We recall you mentioning an interest in bad painting. What constitutes a bad painting?

gt: I’m usually drawn to elements that have felt unwelcome by painting’s history and in a more expansive way thinking about cultural hierarchies and using painting to destabilize inherited beliefs. I think bad painting torments its viewer. It can unearth a feeling that doesn’t seem fair and to me this is a powerful position to take with image making.

SG: What is the relationship between your chosen medium and your subject matter?

gt: The material and history is always interwoven into my work but never anchored by a specific read.

SG: What is the role of the viewer in your work?

gt: I am conscious of how a viewer might want to look at a work. It’s a game that I play… trying to break down these assumptions or inherited biases in the way a painting is made.

SG: What are you currently working on? What was the starting point for this project?

gt: I am working on a show with the Vancouver-based artist, Gabi Dao for our show at Unit17 (Vancouver) for September. Gabi and I are taking a collaborative approach to this show by way of conversation. For Gabi, rituality and the grotesque seem to be coming through while I’m trying to unpack the identity of virtue— looking for the uncomfortable aspects of larger belief systems.

We’ve been working through the isolation of COVID-19 so material scarcity has entered into the work. Gabi was making bread sculptures early on but due to the flour shortage in Vancouver this past April she pivoted to repurposing readymade materials like food packaging. I on the other hand didn’t have a serious material disruption but did run low on canvas which led to experimentation with sewn canvas.

SG: The past several months have been destabilizing on a number of levels. What impact has it had on your thinking and practice? Have the questions you ask in the studio shifted?

gt: There is a veneer within the work that for sure feels very much of this moment. While hopeful the works may present an obvious air of skepticism.

In terms of how I’m working, I am trying to make things more uncomfortable in the studio. I’ve located this discomfort in the elements that feel difficult to translate into painting so starting from this place forces me to renew my interest in the medium. This means everything and nothing is sacred with how I work; technique and materials stay flexible. Paintings are always shifting which turns them both into tracings of time but also bookmarks of sorts.

Neophyte, acrylic on canvas, 16" x 40", 2020 (left). Bloody Moon, oil and acrylic on canvas with custom wood frame 60" x 84", 2019 (right).

SG: Do you have predictions for ways that the pandemic will alter the art world for the foreseeable future? Any potential positive outcomes? both positively and adversely?

gt: As artists and creators I realize we are actually less fragile than the market/ institutions. This is a time when everyone is struggling to survive but creators do have tools to continue working in isolation. Practices may have to shift but there is still a lot of possibility in it. Many institutions and galleries might not reopen but we know that this is a system that needs to change.

SG: Will the role of the artist change in the ’new normal’?

gt: I think artists will have to get better at digital engagement; writing more personal emails as oppose to relying on social media.

SG: What is influencing your work now?

gt: Notre Dame, Laughing Buddha, Hieronymus Bosch, cave drawings and pigeons.

SG: What are you reading right now? Listening to? Watching?

gt: I just finished Herman Hesse’s Demian and have moved on to Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s The Uprising. Listening/watching everything and nothing.

To see more of geetha’s work, please visit


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