INTERVIEW BY: Olivia Williams, FIFTY+SA Editor
Adelaide artist Dana Kinter has recently returned from a life-changing adventure to India, where she delved into the country’s fascinating cultural tapestry and basked in the beauty of its diverse landscapes. Her trip has left an indelible impression on her artistic vision, igniting a new spark of creativity that is sure to capture the hearts of art enthusiasts everywhere.
In this interview, Dana shares insights and experiences from her travels, revealing how the journey has influenced her artistic vision and expanded her creative horizons. Join us as we delve into the mind of this talented artist and explore the transformative power of travel on creativity.
Welcome back from your incredible trip to India. Can you tell us about what inspired you to go there?
Travelling to India has always been a dream. I still have a bunny-eared, well read and loved childhood picture book ‘Aladdin and his wonderful lamp’ which has the most charming Indian illustrations by Jiri Behounek. I hadn’t thought about these drawings for such a long time but they instantly reconnected with me when I arrived in India.
As a child I would trace the outlines and recolour, like making my own colouring book. I wanted to experience the colour of India, the people, the surroundings, the weather, explore the architecture, forts and palaces along with the diverse cultures and yes, eat the food.
I had a successful solo exhibition last year at Art Images Gallery in Norwood and planned to do something big, something that would nourish my arts practice as well as fill my soul. India kept popping up on my radar, you know the funny coincidences. I met an inspiring woman who visits India twice a year for her business, she told me if she can do it, I should. So, I booked a tour of Rajasthan, India the following week.
Can you describe some of the places and experiences during your trip that had a significant impact on you?
Travelling as a solo female I chose to go with an Intrepid group tour to start, with the hope that I would be accustomed to what everyone was telling me would be an assault on my senses, and then planned to explore Jaipur solo. There I had booked in to do some local artisan workshops related to my arts practice and crossed my fingers I would love it. Of course, I did. I landed on the Rajasthan tour because it included Agra and the Taj Mahal, Jaipur and the Thar Desert.
Jaipur bought me my first balloon ride ever and sharing this with my new found friend Nisha from the tour was spectacular, floating across the rural landscape of Jaipur at sunrise allowing the wind to take us was breath-taking. Watching locals and farmers go about their morning business, wild peacocks and deer roaming within the colour of the landscape and morning sky was surreal.
Watching children flying kites on the rooftops of Jaipur from my hotel balcony was magical, something I have only read about in books.
I found the city palace in Udaipur exquisite. I absentmindedly lost my tour group for 20 minutes because I was so engrossed in savouring the decorated walls, floors, nooks and ceilings, every surface presented hand painted ceramic tiles, mosaics and murals. The palace is also abundant with the famous blue and white ceramic tiles Rajasthan is known for so I was especially excited, I had booked into a blue pottery workshop later on in my trip and this palace was a terrific foundation. It was fairy-tale like to peer down from ornate arched windows into sprawling courtyards full of people and mazes of colourful flowering garden beds, the pink walls with purple and green flowers, the mosaic life sized peacocks filled with millions of little mirror tiles all breathtakingly wonderful.
I was mesmerised in the Red Palace in Agra the detail and variety of flower/plant and geometric patterns in stone, a marvel of design and craftsmanship. I would have loved to sit for a time and do some sketching.
During the Intrepid tour we were blessed to be welcomed into the homes of two families for meals, the hospitality and kindness was heart-warming. The food was delicious and of course Indian style, it just kept coming, thalis filled with dahl and veg curry, raita and chutneys, pickles, roti or chapati and dessert a favourite gulab jamun. As a vegetarian the food options were vast, before I left, I had made a decision to eat only local food for the trip, oh gosh I was pleased. I managed to have home cooked meals on tours and during the workshops, eat at many of the street vendors and do two food tours. I now have an appreciation of all the different flavour and textures of dahl dishes and a love for kulfi, the traditional Indian ice-cream (my favourite was fig and cashew), and there was a big calling for gulab jamun small soft juicy sweet balls of joy amongst our tour group, we would rate them at each different stop.
How did the sights, sounds, and experiences of India influence your art?
Still processing all of it, everything is so different and new and I am sure it will take some time. I love seeing all the Hindu deities painted on walls and have planned to paint something inspired on the walls of my home, but the images I have dancing around my thoughts are of the beautiful Islamic patterns I have found, the repeated images of flowers and geometric shapes in stone or painted on walls.
The buildings are mostly carved stone or covered in coloured plaster wash, the walls are embellished with painted motifs, people wear wonderfully coloured clothing, fabric drapes in the wind and food is being cooked on the streets in front of my eyes.
It was a happy accident that I managed to stay in Jaipur during the Hindu religious festival Holi. Holi celebrates the victory of good over evil, feelings of love and pure joy with a coloured powder fight. I travelled by rickshaw to the entrance of Govinda temple and followed the crowd and cows. The noise of horns and festivities was intense and energetic. I was head to toe splashed with coloured powder. It was amazing, I smiled for days, the bright colours of the festival have already started to seep into my artwork. A splash of joy!
Did you have any specific goals or objectives for your trip, in terms of your art or otherwise?
I am planning to spend this year engrossed in making a body of work from this trip, I already have a gazillion things I want to explore, paintings, ceramic and fabric works are swimming in my head.
It was amazing, I smiled for days, the bright colours of the festival have already started to seep into my artwork. A splash of joy!
I visited two workshop studios with the hope to work together and create textile artworks. The most promising has been the woodblock workshop using natural dyes. I am determined to find something where my arts practice can be a positive part of a community. I want some transparency, to celebrate traditional craft, to know who makes my product and that they are made by valued craftspeople. I want to know the artist’s names and I want the finished product to be unique and an artwork in itself. I feel like it’s a two-way win.
What was your favourite memory or experience from your time in India?
India was full of unique experiences; every day was so different and wonderful in its own right. Actually, I am pretty chuffed with myself for even going, travelling on my own and meeting amazing new friends has opened up my ideas on how I should be experiencing life and living to the fullest. Already planning my next trip, more India, Turkey or Egypt?
What specifically about India inspired you, and can you see yourself translating that inspiration into your future work?
I felt totally surrounded by art, by handcrafted objects. The buildings are mostly carved stone or covered in coloured plaster wash, the walls are embellished with painted motifs, people wear wonderfully coloured clothing, fabric drapes in the wind and food is being cooked on the streets in front of my eyes. Everything handmade seems to just have more life about them, nothing was the same or perfect. Just from my experience and the places I visited, for sure there are a million of the same Ganesh statues but each has been hand finished so you have to look through them all to find the one with the not so wonky eyes. It’s quite freeing and it gives me more determination in my making. More confidence to make things just how I make them.
Travelling on my own and meeting amazing new friends has opened up my ideas on how I should be experiencing life and living to the fullest.
Are there any particular Indian artists or art forms that you found particularly inspiring during your travels?
In the last week I attended a two day woodblock printing workshop at Studio Bagru using natural dyes. The studio is the heart of a small suburban village, scattered throughout are workshops and open air studios housing each of the different processes or techniques at the centre is a large courtyard. Metres of coloured and printed fabric are laid out in this courtyard on the earth to dry, at times it looks like a field of brightly coloured flowers. I spent a lot of time in each of the different studio/workshop spaces exploring and watching the processes these studios were usually attached to homes and run by the families. The studio and the community are one. This space is welcoming and something I want to explore more in my arts practice.
How do you approach incorporating different cultural influences into your art while still staying true to your own style and perspective?
I love to look to other artists and styles for inspiration. I think all makers do, it’s part of the art brain, the dissecting of the making process you study to try to work out how things were done, what process came first. I look to lots of different artists and cultures, each giving me some new energy. I am inspired by Japanese woodblocks, particularly the space that is created with composition. I love to look at Australian Indigenous art for their confidence in mark making and brush strokes… it is just so freeing. I think with India it’s the patterning of nature whether it’s representational floral or more abstract and geometric. Colour, always colour. Last week I visited Andy Warhol’s exhibition at the Art Gallery of SA and spent a long time looking at eight screen prints of Mick Jagger. Only four colours used in each, it looked like screens of collage, ripped paper and a combination of charcoal or conte drawings. Just beautiful and so simple but the finished product was perfect.
Dana’s top tips for travelling in India
- Do everything: if an opportunity to get on a hot air balloon at 5am comes up and everyone is like “eek that could be a bit scary”, do it!
- Eat everything: try all the different food, obviously from reputable places – maybe don’t get the western food, like pizza, it’s probably the cheese on the pizza that will get you.
- Learn some local language: hello, thank you, good morning and no is a great one especially for the constant shopkeepers selling goods. Don’t assume that people will speak English, especially the tuk tuk drivers – they don’t. There is a Google translate app that’s awesome! I was able to have conversations with women at the workshops, we laughed and chatted about family and home life.
- When tipping, always double what you think is good: it’s probably going to be a difference of $5-10.
- Bring along a water filter bottle: bottled water is a must and it was nice to not use another plastic bottle.
- Learn as much as you can from your hosts and try to leave them happier to have met you!
Living in the Moment: Dana’s Philosophy on Life and Art
Something I am trying to do is live in the moment and enjoy my surroundings, nature, people, family to be present. Someone told me this in India and it has really stuck: “if it’s meant to be it will be, so you don’t need to force, just accept and enjoy this time”.
I guess when you look at an artwork you have to stop and pause, live in the moment, to look deep and feel what the painting has to offer, hopefully my work reaches some part of the viewer that they decide to stop for a bit and just look if it’s for the colour, or the technique or for the feeling that would be nice.