The artist as her own muse

Shachi Kale is a visual artist, originally from Mumbai, India and now based in Phoenix, Arizona, USA.

She also happens to be my sister J and I remember attending her final year exhibition in Sophia College and seeing her pick up 11 out of the 12 awards! (a record of sorts then). Her art exhibition that year was a brilliant and melancholy set of paintings based on a famous Marathi play Wada Chirebandi.




She has come a long way since then but is continuing to pick up awards and accolades! (Winner at the Maricopa County College this week for the League for Innovation, Artist of Promise for this painting–Learning to Breathe Underwater)

Learning to Breathe Underwater_small

After her recent solo art exhibition–Conversations with Myself, at the Bee Hive in Phoenix, we had a chat about how she reached where she is and what are the thoughts and ideas that led to some of her paintings.

conversations with myslef-small

Here are some of the highlights of our conversation:

Tell me a little bit about your journey as an artist.

I have always wanted to be an artist. When I was in the 3rd standard I started going for weekend art classes with Vijutai Sadwelkar who was our neighbour and it was heaven! I went to her every weekend from 3rd to 10th grade and loved it throughout and never wanted to stop that.

However it was attending a Sophia College exhibition with a friend’s mom that opened up my eyes. That experience totally blew my mind and till today I can still remember what the girls we wearing and where they were sitting the day I went to see their Annual exhibition like it was yesterday! I had found my universe.

I joined Sophia after the 10th standard to do commercial art. After the course was over I was torn between doing advertising and animation. I was tempted by the 7000 Rs salary that was offered to me by a leading Ad Agency, instead of what my heart truly wanted and I suffered for that choice, although in retrospect I learnt a lot but I really disliked every single day there.

I quit that job in Oct 1997 and collaborated with a school friend to start our own design studio which was the best thing that ever happened to me! I was contracted for my very first children’s books illustrations by Sohaila Abdulali and they were a joy!


The logo for Ka designs was a bird and almost all your paintings also have a bird. What is the significance of that?

It is my spirit. The bird is often of different kinds but the crow is Bombay for me so it is often that bird. It is trapped inside and it knows it can fly but doesn’t always. The bird is watching me. It wants to fly but it can’t do it till my physical body takes the steps. The cage is a mental space. The door is open or even if it is locked I know that I have the key but I am not opening it. Physical and mental barriers stop me.

the box is an illusion-small

Title: The Box is an Illusion


How has your art reflected your trajectory?

I had never planned on leaving India so coming to USA after I got married was a huge shift. I was in California and went to art school there and thought I would find my tribe. But then due to various reasons we had to move to Phoenix. In those early days I had no transport and no money, no job and no tribe and things were very difficult. But some years later I finally was able to join classes at community college and my life changed.

I got started with acrylic paint and made a series of paintings of a girl who had no mouth and whose eyes were unseeing. I suppose it was a reflection of my state of mind.


After having a child, I started painting for him and made lots of children’s art but my own inner journey was not on canvas.

endless days


Geninne’s  blogpost gave me a new direction and I started working with water colours.

At the same time, I had begun to feel crippled by anxiety and decided to go to a therapist to help myself and she walked me through my fears and talked through what is the worst that could happen. This helped me see my fears differently.

Then I took the class which changed my life—I was not sure if I could stay in a space with other people for over an hour because of my anxiety! This was an oil painting class with JD Parrish at the Chandler-Gilbert Community College and I loved it. It was genuinely a life changing trajectory—the choice I made to take it as well as the class itself. I learnt enormous amounts and it opened up a whole new window of understanding the craft of making art. I did 2 semesters and then enrolled in a watercolour class at Mesa Community College with Cynthia Peterson , which was phenomenal. That shifted technical things in my mind about using the rights materials for the results I wanted.

What were the turning points that led up to this exhibit?

I had been looking at the Art Marketing class for years at theMaricopa Community College

It was about professional practises and it seemed like something I needed and finally decided to take the evening class twice a week. That was a life changing class taken by Ted Decker although it was so innocuous and I thought it would be more about how to write a resume etc.

But the very first assignment forced me to think about my art in a way that I had never thought about!! Who am I as an artist? We had to do an artist statement—what do we do and what is our art about.

I felt like I had no clue and that shocked me! It forced me to introspect. We also worked on an elevator speech to introduce ourselves and talk about what we do and what was the philosophy behind the art. The articulation clarified issues in my own head and Ted encouraged me to paint my journey. His insight was that as a woman and a mother and an immigrant I have a unique but universal journey! That sparked something and I started on this series of conversations with myself.

What were the ‘a-ha’ moments from the art history class?

Art IS influenced by the current political climate or culture. It doesn’t have to be commissioned portraits and art. It keeps evolving with the social political climate. There is value to personal as much as to mega scale political art. All artists of the past thrived in a community and no one was in isolation. They were all influenced by their peers and so Instagram is my community now and I understand better, that that is how art grows and develops.

Some of the early art works of the famous artists weren’t perfect but they evolved, so the pressure to produce perfect art was gone when I realized that!

There are no rules to a true artist!! It is their own perception and what came to them from inside!! It is beautiful to us because it is so real and heartfelt and authentic.

What are the milestones of your journey that are being reflected in this?

Art should be about what you know best and for me that is the conversations in my head –who I am and where I am.

Ted created an opportunity to meet with a gallery owner who said that my portraits had value. I realized that I have always made self- portraits and that I was drawn to that subject matter. The painting Invisible emerged from my own feelings of being invisible. Of always being the observer, but not being seen or heard. 

Can you tell us a bit more of the thoughts behind some of the paintings here? For example why are the women blue?

They have different colours because I see my subjects more in terms of emotions and also don’t want them to be identified as a race or ethnicity. It is the spirit they symbolize and colour is relative—I was too white for Indians! And here I am not white enough! I did not want my ethnic identity to shift the way my art is interpreted.

My painting titled Strength is about embracing your strength but not necessarily full guns blazing and riding the tiger. My strength is quiet, more like the pink tiger with closed eyes and that is how I see it.

In Conversations with Fear, I have come to a nodding acquaintance with my own fears. Fear is not so un-named now and I can have a conversation with it. Earlier it was just a big dark looming thing consuming me. It is there even now but I can name it and look at it and talk to it. The spiral inside myself is the knowledge that the strength to deal with the fears lives inside me.

conversations with fear-small


Did you feel vulnerable about showing your portraits as part of a difficult journey?

I am not ashamed of my shortcomings. They have made me who I am, and have shaped my life. Pretending to be more in control has never helped. I would rather be seen with all my flaws and that people who can handle that will stay with me and be a part of my life. My weakness and vulnerability is as much a part of me as my artistic abilities or long hair! I would not want to hide it like a dirty secret and only show the shiny perfect bits.

I paint what I feel. The painting ‘Learning to Breathe Underwater’ was a kind of funny take on the whole ‘keep calm and drink tea’ thing. But it was also because I seem to be always drowning in chaos and always underwater but I am not going to allow that to define me. The crow/ spirit is watching the chaos but is not part of it. Managing daily life sometimes feels that way, and I cannot run away from it so I have to stay calm and drink tea. I love rain and tea and having grown up in Bombay it is a deep part of who I am and hence it plays a big part in my imagery.

The painting The Burden/ The Privilege is my reflection on domesticity. I feel like I am carrying a mountain and I resent it but I also recognize how lucky am I to have a house and a family and a life of stability. What would an alternative life without any of this mean? Maybe there would be more time for my art but could I really do the same art without all of this connected to me? There are times when I do I still resent the trappings of this and managing it and running it, there is guilt, there is hard work, but that is what it is.

the burden and the privilege-small


The four women is the Journey—I came here feeling caged and wanting to go back to India hence the lotus leaves. Then follows the transition and finding my way through the dark forest of the life and now I am at a stage of looking forward.



What advice would you give other young artists?

Don’t paint for an audience. Do it for yourself. Keep doing that. Ted validated my desire to paint. He encouraged us as a class to build our community and speak about it and involve ourselves in the art scene. Many of us are introverts. Doing the art in the relative isolation of our studios is easier and more comfortable. He taught us that we needed to leave that comfort zone and step out, participate in the local art scene, meet with artists and create a community. One small step at a time.

As a result of this I reached out to a curator, who chose my pieces for his art show! That was a step forward. I also took classes in Contemporary Art History with Lindsey Pedersen and Printmaking with Brent Bond to expand my knowledge of the subject. My advice would be to keep learning the art and craft and history of the subject. It makes your understanding richer, and you also meet interesting like-minded people in a safe non-judgemental environment!

As an artist I need a continuous flow in order to build on the creative mood. Art is like a symphony—you need to keep going at the right tempo and build it to the finale through the process!

In an ideal world, I would just spend all the time in my studio, painting, drawing, exploring printmaking, clay, embroidery. Working on projects and paid assignments means that I don’t have time to go deep enough to explore anything in depth. Job demands and a family life means lots of interruptions. That is something I have a hard time grappling with. But I continue to keep making in the snatches of time I get.

I don’t have the luxury of waiting for the ‘perfect’ moment!

What are you looking forward to?

Taking control of my life and knowing what I want to do and then doing it. If not me then who?

Where do you think you will be 20 years from now?

I have only scratched the surface and I want to explore my potential as an artist. I want to immerse myself in my art making practise and see what will emerge from it!




6 thoughts on “The artist as her own muse

  1. I enjoyed reading this interview with Shachi so much! Shachi’s paintings are always a treat to eyes and I can sit there and admire all those details forever even though I don’t understand the symbolism. So it is a delight to have got the new insight into at least some aspects of it!
    Thank you and Shachi’s for doing this interview and sharing the story behind her journey!
    It has inspired me to return to my art once more and I am going to try and see her art at least on Instagram.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s