Sangita Phadke had been playing with pastels for years when she decided to become a full-time artist. Still, there are some things you just can’t prepare for when you entirely devote your life to art—especially when your subject matter is edible.
“Whatever fruit or vegetable I’m doing, I’ll go the farmer’s market and buy tons and tons of them. I sit there at the apple bin for an hour looking at every little shape and color,” Sangita says. When she started, store employees would give her confused looks, but it was the artist’s husband who was the most clueless. “The first time I did it, he ate half my stuff,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh no! It took me so long to pick those!”
From then on the artist labeled her prized produce with a “Do Not Eat” sign, and soon found that the work it inspired was as irresistible to collectors as eating it had been to her husband. In her 7 year career, she’s won over 50 awards and a spot on Southwest Art Magazine’s “21 Young Artists to Collect Now” list. That’s quite a juicy taste of success.
“I just started creating paintings and the reaction was so great,” Sangita says. “I never had to have that period where I second-guessed the decision, and I’m so grateful for that.”
The artist partly attributes her rapid rise to the fact that she knew her medium when she started. “In high school, I experimented with every medium out there,” she says. “I did some work in colored pencil, and then I wanted to work on a larger scale. Pastel was right away the most natural thing. I loved it.”
Despite her talent, Sangita didn’t consider becoming an artist right out of high school. Instead she indulged her love of math and majored in finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, though she did take portrait commissions to support herself. It wasn’t until she got married that she considered taking her art to the next level.
“My husband and I were discussing, ‘In a dream world, what would I do?’ and I said, ‘I’ve always wanted to be an artist,’” Sangita explains. “He said, ‘Go for it!’”
Selecting subject matter was a natural process. Sangita indulged her inclinations for heavy layering and a high key palette by placing fresh fruit, veggies or flowers under bright spotlights. You couldn’t exactly label her photorealistic work still life, though. Beneath chiaroscuro lighting, the objects explode from their frames with all the vigor of Baroque portrait subjects.
“I feel like they all have their own stories,” Sangita says. “I’ll see something and be like, ‘This looks like a professor!’ I’ll think of emotions while I’m painting them.”
Sangita starts each piece by taking multiple photos of her subjects and selecting particularly appealing angles. Then she arranges the fruits or veggies based on the photos and works from life, lightly sketching the scene in pencil and layering her pastels from top to bottom and left to right to avoid smudges. The finished works are so realistic that we often find Waxlander visitors with their noses nearly smudging their surfaces.
Luckily for Sangita’s husband, most of the fruit is still good by the time she’s done with it. “We’ve been doing a lot of creative cooking since I started doing this,” Sangita says with a laugh.
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