At 33, her paintings sell for over a lakh apiece
The thing that strikes you most about artist 33-year-old Snehal Ghangrekar is the sheer simplicity that is characteristic of most middle-class Maharashtrian girls. When she speaks of her family, she also mentions in the same breath the influence of her spiritual guru and the long summer vacations with her 15 cousins in their Pune home.
There is something very likeable about Snehal and her work -- mostly religious. It is uncomplicated and serene. The dove-eyed Krishna and Padmavati strike a chord, as do her various paintings of Meera. These pictures and many more adorn the boardroom walls of various corporate houses in and around her hometown Pune.
Yet it wasn't Pune where she was born. Neither was it the place where she grew up and spent most of her formative years. Thanks to her father's transferable bank job, the young artist-in-making 'travelled all over the country and loved it'.
While studying down South -- where language became a huge barrier in her education -- Snehal resorted to sketching to communicate with her teacher.
"I'd draw what I made of the teacher's instruction and show it to her. We would go back and forth till both of us were on the same page. It was the only way I could understand what was being taught in class till I actually learnt the language," she says of her first tryst with art.
From Hyderabad to Trichy to Kochi to parts of Tamil Nadu, Snehal's parents, the Joshis, were a bunch of nomads and no one in the family seemed to mind it. "My father loved to travel and he enjoyed driving his Premier Padmini. We never needed an excuse to get into the car and head out of town," she says.
These travels and outings seemed to help a lot too. The young Snehal would be sketching furiously as the good ol' Padmini took to the road each time. Varied landscapes and the country's diverse cultural ethos provided enough fodder for her imagination. Her spiritual journeys also got her interested in divinity and religion that would form the theme of her future works.
But it wasn't until her dreaded board examinations were over that Snehal received formal training in art (unless of course you count those once-a-week 45-minute lectures in school as training). Snehal joined Pune's Abhinav Kala Vidyalaya and graduated in Applied Art in 1998.
"It was a natural progression for my parents too, I guess. They knew I would take up art. And they supported me through it all," she says.
The art school was also where she met her future husband and fellow artist Nitin Ghangrekar.
'As strugglers, we even desiged thermocol carvings for ground events'
"For many of us, advertising seemed like the next logical step; it promised a regular source of income. But neither Nitin nor I was keen on taking it up as a full-time profession," Snehal confesses.
Yet, money was a concern. "Studying art doesn't come cheap," Snehal says. "The stationery and other material cost a lot of money."
Neither intended to live off their parents and started taking up pretty much any assignment that tickled their fancy. They designed brochures, created murals for jewellery stores and even went to the extent of designing thermocol carvings for ground events.
"It is easy to get sucked into the rut. We had to consciously ensure that our personal work doesn't suffer in the process. We were making ends meet and giving clients what they needed, but the final goal was somewhere else," she explains.
In 1997, Snehal got the show she was waiting for. It featured some 35 artists besides her.
"It was a strange feeling. Everyone who was anyone was present. I stood awkwardly in a corner till someone came looking for me and told me that all my paintings were sold. I was ecstatic!"
It was also the show that opened the doors of the Bajaj household to Snehal. "Uma Bajaj was at the show and liked my work," she recollects. Soon enough Snehal and Nitin were painting in Rahul Bajaj's house. "It was the first assignment we got after our marriage; in fact, four days after our big day. So we even had to postpone our honeymoon!"
From thereon, invitations to art shows started trickling in. Shobhaa and Dilip De took a liking to their work and showcased some of their paintings at their farmhouse in Alibaug near Mumbai.
The association with the Des opened the doors for both Snehal and Nitin. "They (the Des) continue to promote us a lot," Snehal says.
Today the Ghangrekars count as their clients the Consul General Of Italy, Smita Dilip Dandekar of Camlin, Supriya Sule, Uma Bajaj and Standard Chartered Bank, among others.
Snehal recently showed Weavings: The Eternal Joy at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. That show, she says, has been a sell-out.
"The recession really hasn't affected me much." The admission is earnest. "One of the paintings was sold for Rs 1,20,000."
The artist tells us that Weavings took her about three years to complete and that she's never ever had to scrap a painting once she's started work on it.
"It usually just flows. A particular painting might take longer than the other, but I have never I scrapped something I started work on," she says. "There are always times when I face a creative block. That's when my husband and I go for a long drive or simply play with my son, Ishan."
'Focus, patience and perseverance saw me through'
Like most mothers we know, Snehal too loves to gush about her child. She says that Ishan is very perceptive and sensitive to his surroundings. "We tell him stories from Indian mythology and the next thing we know, he has already painted them! He is also very focused and will stay with his painting for hours on end till it's done," she adds.
Ishaan, we are told, has created over 800 paintings of Hanuman alone, each different than the previous one and shows all the signs of becoming a painter too. "Of course, he has a long way to go. Though his perseverance amazes me," Snehal says.
Focus, patience and perseverance are virtues she recommends all young artists possess and says that those were the very things that saw her through her rough phase.
Snehal also comes across as someone who has her feet firmly on the ground. She says that practising and appreciating art is fine but when it comes to brass tag realities you better be prepared to face the real world.
"When I wasn't making money through my paintings, I have even designed wedding cards to make ends meet! It is nothing to be ashamed of," she says, adding that you need to be able to take time out and enhance your skills as an artist too.
According to her, striking balance is a continuous process, something she does even to this day. Being a mother, a wife and an artist doesn't come easy. But she says that it helps if your husband is also in the same profession and your son understands you.
It has been a long and interesting journey for this artist -- a journey that she began as a little girl driving in the backseat of a Premier Padmini motorcar around the countryside.
These days, Snehal spends her time unwinding, painting and driving around with her family. The Padmini has given way to a Honda City and Nitin is just as passionate about cars as her father. Her parents have retired, but their travels haven't stopped. The cousins don't meet as often as they once did. But Snehal's next collection is already taking shape.