Niva Shrestha, Galatea Fine Art Opening Reception, June 7, 2019 Photo: George Shaw
Written by Karen Klein
Born in Nepal, Niva Shrestha carries in her heart and aesthetic memory the geometric lines of her childhood home: horizontals, rectangles, squares, alleys and angles, streets and projecting balconies. She brings them into her paintings of the disparate places she has lived: Annapolis, Northhampton, Paris, Stonington. Like Stuart Davis, whom she acknowledges as a major artistic influence, she is fascinated by buildings. But the simple, concise title of her current exhibition, Houses, in no way conveys the complexity of her art.
She always begins with drawing, both in her studio and on the site she has chosen to depict. Oscillating between indoors and en plein air, sometimes using her own on-site photographs, she figures out the composition by abstracting from line to find the geometric patterns which she sees as groupings of shapes, almost like puzzle pieces.
Niva Shrestha, Inn On The Harbor, 8.5 x 12, oil
Her painting, Inn on the Harbor, for example, at first appears flat and still, with large areas of harmonious color—the reddish tone of the building on the left echoed in a smaller space of the other building. But this seeming flatness is broken by the careful placement of the diagonal stairs between the larger shapes, leading back into a dark area and creating depth. Another break in the façade leads back into both a dark shape and a light background, while connecting to the larger light area, which we could read as sky or simply as lighter shape. That, too, like the dark area at the bottom of the painting–perchance the ocean—is not solid in tone, but subtly variegated. Curved lines in the railing, the sign, the differentiated thickness of the three dark lines that ground the buildings, the thinner lines that might be overhead wires, and the wheel shape—all spatially frame and organize this painting: top, middle, bottom.
These details reflect Niva’s creative process which she calls ‘editing’. She begins with observation, then moves to organizing changes. For example, the windows on the buildings she saw do not reflect, but are placed to create a pattern of breaks in solid color areas. Further, the circular image is of a ship’s wheel which floats somehow in a large light area with the ship nowhere to be found. Still it fits in a painting about things that belong at a harbor. Niva says she does not know when a painting is finished, but her best indication is that she can’t either put anything else in or remove anything.
Niva Shrestha painting Opera House, 11 x 12, oil
The best illustration of her editing process is to compare the photograph of her painting at the site, and her completed painting Opera House. Painting outdoors dictates the size of her canvas, since smaller is more portable, and using oil as her medium allows her to change, add and subtract, as her composition grows. In the final painting, the stone wall and the green areas connect as large, abstract shapes of her puzzle piece, while the vegetation and more realistic details of the Opera House itself are eliminated. The unusual shape in the foreground, which breaks the horizontality, is a shadow that fell on one occasion when she was painting outdoors. It’s a memory which preserves a time in a place—just as Niva’s painting Way to Dattatraya Temple preserves her favorite alley in Bhaktapur, Nepal.
Niva Shrestha, Way To Dattatraya Temple In Bhaktapur, 10 x 9.5, oil
Houses, Niva Shrestha, June 5-30, 2019. Visit Galatea Fine Art,460 Harrison Avenue, #B-6, Boston, MA 02118, (617) 542-1500. Gallery Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 12-5 pm and by appointment. PLEASE JOIN US FOR AN INTIMATE TALK WITH ARTISTS C.J. LORI, JOE CARUSO & NIVA SHRESTHA SATURDAY, JUNE 15TH, 1:30PM AT GALATEA FINE ART.