Shashi Chopra: The colours of Naxos

When did you start painting, and why choose Naxos and the smaller Greek islands as your subject?

I’ve painted all my life, it’s almost like “I have to paint.” I went to art college and university, studying fashion design. I worked as a designer for many years, designing ranges for various companies such as Jerry Hall, Victoria’s Secret, and others. But I’ve always painted. So why Naxos – My love affair with Greece and the Greek Islands began over 40 years ago; from the first flight to Greece and that scent of warm peaches upon leaving the plane, it was love at first sight. Over the years, I have painted and sketched on so many small Greek islands, each one radically different and unique. I came across Naxos by chance, as I had to make a stopover before travelling to some of the smaller Cyclades. Bit by bit, year after year, my stopovers got longer and longer. All the islands are wonderful, but Naxos is special to me – its colours, seasons, skies and, of course, its sea which continues to fill me with wonder every time I look. The light here is intense, and even on the rainiest of days, the light is there making colours sing. I try to capture those fleeting moments of colours, light, shade, like seeing a rainbow in the crest of a breaking wave, the wind rippling the surface of the sea creating purple eddies in an expanse of turquoise.

Can you describe your works?

I try to paint what I’m feeling, my emotions at that time. The first poppies in the olive grove, the sunrise, the clouds, the moon rising, I could go on forever. Being on an island is different from being on the mainland. The weather changes almost by the hour, and the colours change with those changes. One can look at the same expanse of sea, and the changes in colour are limitless. Capturing these emotions/feelings is a lifelong obsession. Having drawn and painted all my life, I excelled at detailed, almost photographic sketches and paintings. Capturing the moments and my feelings couldn’t be recorded in the usual traditional ways. So I stopped painting in situ and started looking – a lot! I look for hours, noticing the fleeting incidences, the changing lights and colours, the wind and shadows. My friend says I have ‘colour memory’ – the ability to remember colours, their subtlety, and nuance. But to me, colour memory is part of the whole story; shape, form, and emotion are the other elements I try to capture.

Some people might say that your work is abstract, is that a fair description?

Some people say my work is abstract. To me, it isn’t. Sometimes the images are figurative, but from a different angle or perspective, so they might require the viewer to work a little to see it. I must mention something about emotions and feelings – Sometimes I look at something in my island home of Naxos, maybe a sunrise, sunset, a rainy day, my garden, and I am overwhelmed with a feeling of wonder and joy; more often than not, it is the sea around Naxos. Maybe (and I think it has), it’s about living and being in Greece, with Greek friends who see what I see.

You’ve had successful exhibitions in the UK, three in Vienna, and in Naxos, so why do you think they have been so well received?
I hope that people perceive and connect with the message I’m trying to convey. My work isn’t always readily comprehensible, requiring observers to contemplate what they see. I don’t mass-produce my artwork; each piece is unique and distinct. There are occasional variations on themes, and for instance, I frequently revisit the theme of the sea, exploring its colours, waves, reflections of light, and the influence of the wind. One of my proudest moments occurred during my exhibition here in Naxos. An elderly man entered, en route to pay his water rates, and inquired about the event. I informed him that it was an exhibition of paintings, providing him with the titles in Greek. He slowly traversed the exhibition, and just before leaving, he remarked, ‘This is Naxos. I see the colours. You have perfectly captured Naxos.’

So when will you be exhibiting in Naxos again?
Soon! The Pocket Gallery in the Castro always showcases some of my latest paintings.