One of the most appealing things about food is the way it looks.
Great food is just as much a visual experience as a physical one. And even something that tastes bad — if it looks good, if it looks real — people will try it. In a way, it is almost a magic trick — getting people to believe in something that alters their perception.
For Saravasthy TK, a food artist living in New Jersey, the creativity of perception is how she makes her mark.
From Indian roots to flowering creativity
Born in Chennai, India, TK grew up in Puducherry and then moved to Singapore after getting married.
As a student, she actually studied computer engineering, but as she started visiting museums and exhibitions, she began to have discussions with her husband about her passion for art.
“I always loved to draw and paint. One day, my husband asked me, ‘so why not do it?’ And once I made it a hobby, he encouraged me to do it professionally, too.”
A driven individual, TK is a self-taught artist who first researched other kinds of art, eventually finding in herself a love for oil paintings. As she was drawn to beautiful landscapes, abstract artwork and still-life, one of her biggest influences was artist Jessica Brown.
“I’ve always loved her paintings. I could stand and watch them all day,” TK explains. “So then I started getting into realism. Images of food, bowls, spoons— simple things that people can relate to. And at the time, I needed an identity for myself, for my work. I think any artist needs to create the ability for people to see their work and know who they are. So I gave myself time and searched. Ultimately, I fell in love with the food from my home country. To me, food is one common thing that we all have; it connects with everyone. What we cook is what we are and where we come from.”
TK’s work is defined as hyperrealism: recreating paintings of Indian cuisine that looks so lifelike you can almost taste it. And not only does she portray the image itself, but she tries to convey their surface details, their colors, their textures, the aromas of the food. Even something as simple as a samosa, the details of her work are meant to create a psychological bridge that allows the viewer to have an intimate experience with the food, even though they can’t eat it.
To TK, that’s how she honors her home and connects with her cultural identity.
Touched by the muse
Since TK is developing her artwork from actual Indian dishes, the process of her creation is painstaking at best.
“To start, I prepare the food, and then I do a professional photoshoot of it, and then a drawing for a week or so — then I start painting them.”
Altogether, from ideation to finalization, it takes her about three months to complete a painting.
“I think that’s why the work speaks to so many people upon seeing it,” says TK. “Even once I came to the U.S. in 2017, my first artwork was shown in an exhibition hosted by the West Windsor Arts Council in New Jersey. it was a part of their cultural heritage show, and everyone was so welcoming! They asked about my dish, and from the painting, they wanted to go try it immediately! It’s for that reason I take so much time to make something real: it’s a great way to my culture and who I am as an artist.”
The world is her oyster
After relocating to the U.S., TK is fiercely busy, earning more accolades and participating with a welter of exhibitions.
Just recently, she received the “Award of Merit” for her online showing with the American Women Artists of California (2020). Also, in the spring, she was a finalist in the International Guild of Realism Spring Salon Exhibition in Scottsdale, Arizona. In the year before, TK’s work was also chosen to be a part of the 41st Salmagundi Annual Open Exhibition in Painting, Sculpture & Graphics in New York.
“It is not easy to get into Salmagundi, and the same artwork (chosen for that exhibition) got me membership into the International Guild of Realism. So many fabulous realistic artists around the world are members, and being one of them is really awesome. There are no words to explain—it is a great pleasure.”
But aside from her achievements, life in New Jersey—despite the effects of COVID-19—has given her one of the most precious gifts an artist could ask for: time.
For some, being stuck inside may be a hindrance, but in terms of her lifestyle and abilities to share artwork online in a variety of mediums, TK is grateful for the period of respite with her loved ones.
“For the most part, we’re all fine and happy. Yes, COVID has been bad, but for me, having a family and having time with them has been very lovely. I think it’s all about how you use your time to benefit your impact on the world. Right now, it’s time for me to spend it concentrating on my artwork, so really, it’s been nice. It’s very positive for me.”
Plus, with her spare time, TK has been arranging another art show in New York for the following year. It’s a solo show with 11 featured artworks from a new collection. It’s still in the planning stages, but TK is bringing together a community of artists and professionals to create an immersive experience for guests.
“I’m planning to invite some great chefs to be a part of the exhibition—a one-of-a-kind show that’s all about food,” says TK.
“I want everyone to be a part of the culture and cuisine. I’m still talking to some galleries, and because of COVID, the whole process is being delayed, but by end of the year, it will come to a conclusion with a solid plan.”
The argument for self-belief
As she preps for her upcoming art show, and in the meantime, continues her craft at home, TK offers some helpful words of advice to other aspiring artists around the world:
“I would encourage everyone to come up with their own ‘food’ — to know themselves. And if you have a spark or a belief in what you like or what you want to do, and if there are no resources or help, you have to give it your best. The best will come. It took me five years to get my career going, but I believed that I could do it because I really loved it. You will succeed one day.”
To learn more about Sarasvthy TK and to keep up with her work, click here.