Laura Jane: Can you tell me when you started making art?
Rani: The first time I knew I was going to be an artist was when I saw this amazing older woman painting Christmas motifs on a store window, like the really bad, cheesy Christmas decor, you know? And while I watched her every brush stroke, I was like, I understand you. I get this. I was so satisfied by that interaction and the task she had at hand. Since then, I’ve tried to figure out ways to get that feeling.
I was homeschooled so I was never with my peers. I never had the schedule and the expectations that come with public school. I filled my time with what I didn’t understand at the time was making art.
Artist has been a part of my identity for as long as I can remember. It’s taken on different forms, but it’s always been there.
LJ: How has your practiced evolved or transformed?
R: It has transformed a lot over the last year and that is because of several factors including my mental health. Getting my thoughts organized and getting my brain in a place where I can find the playful part is really important, to not be as plagued by the heavy stuff. The “practice” has always been a part of my day but I have never shared it with anyone until recently.
I started sharing my work after I started seeing a therapist a couple years ago. She is so magical to me—she is such a bright spot in my life. She would give me these assignments—and I love to complete task, like, easy actionable task are huge for me. You can see that in my artwork because I repeat things. I make problems for myself that I can solve. So my therapist, she asked me one time what it felt like to not be able to make the thing that I wanted to make because I was riddled by all of these other things. So I started painting all these snake holding my hands and holding my feet. I was painting this idea that there is something in the room that I didn’t want there. It was so literal and so elementary in so many ways but that was really freeing for me, to let it be simple and easy and obvious. It felt childlike. But it ended up feeling so right that I kept painting and painting them until eventually I stopped painting snakes until I just started painting hands. So while it is just a repeated print and it is just like any other repeated print, like a graphic, they are made with a lot of love because to me each one represents freedom. It was really fun when I started making those for different people and companies and other people responded to it for completed different reasons which is great.
LJ: I know you do a lot of other body parts—did it go from hands to other parts of the body pretty naturally?
R: It did, especially around the election because I started thinking a lot about women taking up space. When Hillary went into the woods, I felt this gasp of air. Where are the women taking up their space? Like, they all left. They were all going to go with her and they were going to fill 50% of the seats and they are all gone. And where are they? What about their space? This was our space. It gave me a lot of compassion for people who are so much more marazlined than I am. It put these huge aches in my heart.
I started to make this childlike reaction to a feeling. The feeling was: we need to take up space, we need to continue doing that, I need to remind my friends that we need to do that. So I started drawing these women in all shapes in all lumps and sizes, taking up their space on the page. Then I made one for every year of Hilary’s career since Yale Law. Then I sent one to all of these different women. I sent this call out: who needs this thing in their life? It ended up being this amazing moment for me, this moment of healing. It was the first time I used the internet for something I actually cared about. It was amazing to feel like people were holding my hand from all over. It was called “Women Taking Up Space.” There are about 40 something women all over the world that have these drawings that I made when I was feeling sad, by myself, in my apartment like everyone was those days.
LJ: Why do you want to make art of women’s bodies?
R: I feel that as a visual artist, I have this enormous responsibility. I think about every class that I’ve ever taken and everything that I remember are the images that someone presented to me. It’s really important to me that whatever is found from whatever I make in my time represents the world as it actually is and not how I was told it was when I was younger. The world that I’m actually in is filed with lopsided boobs and mushy tummies and all these beautiful things that I’m so obsessed with drawing that I literally can’t stop.
I studied art history a lot when I was in school because I couldn’t get away from the lens that it provided for me. And something that was really fundamental from those classes is that every time I considered how someone handled the human form, you could understand how they felt about life and their world. And it speaks to what was going on in their time, whether or not there were wars or famines, it speaks to literal things and existential things. When I go to Soho and sit around all these other people to draw this naked person, you can just look around the room and see how we have very different feelings about the same thing. I really like that, about drawing the form. It’s an amazing practical and obvious way to participate in the conversation about life. It’s one that goes back centuries and it’s just so fun to jump in and say, oh I’m here too and my friends are here too and this is what we’re up to.
It’s nice to strip things back and have things be simple. Like, these are breast and they are so beautiful and then have everyone be like, ‘Yay we love boobs.’ It’s so fun for me. It just feels so right.
LJ: Tell me more about how you’ve developed as an artist? How was social media been a part of this in terms of sharing your work and engaging with that aspect of your identity?
R: “Women Taking Up Space,” was one of the first things I put on social media that people could participate in. Before that, I did some sharing here and there. But mostly, I stopped sharing after art school. Social media was very different back then and I was kind of afraid. I spent a lot of time being fearful of being a phony. It was really hard for me to hold the identity of being an artist while I was juggling these other things. I was trying to be practical in ways I didn’t need to be but I didn’t know that yet. It’s easy for me to think that I lost those years where I should have been making and sharing work, but the truth of the matter is I wasn’t ready. From where I sit now, I have a lot of compassion for myself back then. Now I can see that when I wasn’t making and sharing art, it was because I was just percolating. I was learning the things I needed to know to do what I am doing now.
It was a really cool experience to use the internet as a place to use my voice or find my voice. Like, the alternative caption for every photo I’ve ever posted or of every painting I’ve ever made is, “This is a process!” Nothing is final and no piece is ever actually finished. I’m making it a part of my practice to invite my friends into what I’m sorting through and what I care about. It has been really good.
On a good day, being an artist is great. On a bad day, it is really fucking terrifying. I’ve always had jobs that make it really easy to hide behind the work there. I could be so happy thinking, ‘They don’t know me. They don’t know my secrets. They don’t know what I’m actually up to or care about.’ I would think, if I failed at that thing I was doing, no one could judge me for it because it wasn’t my thing, I was just doing it for shits and jiggles and to have a day job. And there is so much comfort in that because you can just float along. It’s so transactional and so easy. But there ended up being so much cognitive dissonance. I think I just burned myself out. I physically and mentally couldn’t’ hold up all the pieces anymore.