Visual artist Meena Subramanian finds inspiration along the trails of Staring Lake Park for many of her pieces, which are showcased online at meenasartroom.weebly.com.
“Each day is a different scene; the scenery is spectacular,” she said. “I just love all the trees and all the seasons, especially fall. It’s just gorgeous, you know?”
Subramanian lives close enough to Staring Lake Park that “no matter what season it is, I’m walking the dog around the lake,” she said. While there, she’ll take pictures with her cell phone of scenes that she’ll later try to capture in art or collect items, like tree bark, that have fallen on the ground.
“One of the pieces I collected from the earth was shaped like the face of my dog, so I actually painted the face of my dog on it,” Subramanian said. (The dog, a 10-year-old Shih Tzu/poodle mix, is a character in his own right. Named Theodore Roosevelt but called Teddy, “He’s a popular dog,” Subramanian said. “People who know him say, ‘Oh, Teddy Roosevelt, the president,’ and they give him a salute.”)
Although she has no formal training in art, Subramanian has always been interested in it as a hobby and has studied art history for her own personal interest. “I always had this imagination. I just loved to draw,” she said. “It was a hobby always – like doodling.” She also volunteered with art projects at her kids’ schools, attended interactive programming at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and visited multiple museums worldwide with her husband, Arvind Subramanian.
“Then, maybe 10 or 12 years ago, my husband one day surprised me with a whole big easel and a whole set of painting kits and everything in the basement,” Subramanian said. “Sometimes, somebody has to give you the nudge.”
“I started getting all these canvases, and I started building upon that. I just kept doing it,” she said.
Primarily, Subramanian said, she identifies as an abstract artist. “I love abstract because I like to explore, and I want the viewer to say, ‘what is it?,’” she said, with the viewer making their own choices about such elements as a painting’s composition and structure.
She’s tried both oil paints and watercolors, but now prefers acrylic paints for her work. Subramanian has also done mixed media work. “I like mixing it all up: I just want to try different things,” Subramanian said. “I’ve used sand, I’ve used rubbing alcohol, and all kinds of things that I find interesting to put on to express my feelings.”
One of those things was a wasp’s nest she found lying on the ground at Staring Lake. “I picked it up – everything was fine; no wasps or anything — and I did a beautiful painting of the honeycomb structure, and then I stuck that thing on the big canvas.” She then let the glue that adhered the wasp nest drip, “and it just added a beautiful feature to the existing painting already.”
As for subjects, “I’ve done landscape, people, animals, nature,” Subramanian said. “I’m very much into the geometrical forms and structures of things, so I’ve done paintings related to that.” For instance, she’s done a painting highlighting the red roofs and structures of village buildings she saw while looking downhill in Tuscany. The person who purchased that piece is the same one who bought one of Subramanian’s paintings in which she said the lines reminded her of mountains, possibly in Japan. “She says every single day, she sits there in front of my painting and it’s very meditative. For her, this is just a whole lot of peace and joy, and that makes me very happy, that I make somebody happy,” Subramanian said.
She has also addressed topical issues in her paintings. “I’m fascinated about what’s happening to our environment, so I’ve done that,” she said, “stuff talking about how water levels are rising and we are all drowning.” In her water levels painting, she has made the sky red for heat and flooded the work with rubbing alcohol to create open spaces. Another painting depicts a weeping willow tree, “weeping because the environment is changing.”
A fan of American painter Jasper Johns, who is known for works with different interpretations of flags, Subramanian has also made paintings “which represent the American flag in my own way.” For instance, a painting she made after the 2016 national election cycle portrayed the flag’s stars as “also like firecrackers; they’re all bursting, you know, all the anger.”
In addition to Jasper Johns, Subramanian has found inspiration from artists from India and Germany. “I’m very passionate about the art of India, where I am from originally,” Subramanian said. “There is an Indian painter by the name of M.F. Husain, who does abstract art, similar to Picasso, cubism kind of faces and stuff, and I was inspired by him.”
Her admiration for German abstract painter Gerhardt Richter has also influenced her technique. “He hardly ever uses brushes, but he uses squeegees and cardboard and interesting things, “ Subramanian said. “I love and enjoy his paintings, so I started buying a bunch of squeegees and stuff.” On one painting, she applied different colors with a squeegee to create a seven-layered painting. “It’s layer upon layer. Some of the inner colors will stay, but as I put on the new color, it takes all the old color and brings all these other colors in it.”
Subramanian has also done paintings of Minnesota landmarks like Split Rock Lighthouse or the Wabasha Street Bridge, as well as other scenes like a series of national parks or a painting of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. The latter two were a request from her daughter and a commission from a friend.
Staring Lake, however, remains a constant inspiration. Subramanian’s daughter calls it her “Walden Pond.” She might see some ducks near a bridge in the park and decide to paint them because “I enjoy those ducks,” she said.
With this month marking her 20th year living in Eden Prairie, “Every day brings some joy to me because it’s so beautiful. You really don’t have to go all the way to Up North or some cabin or something; right there in front of our homes, you just get out and walk. I feel I am blessed.”
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