Inside his Pioneer Square studio, artist Vikram Madan is working on a new self-portrait. Large windows facing Washington Street provide plenty of natural light as he paints. The front portion of the space is a showroom filled with vibrant original works, prints such as a dragon playing a clarinet and copies of his books.
Among his oil and acrylic paintings is “Unicorn-Robot: Tales for Ladybugs.” In it, a robot unicorn sits on a rock and reads to more than two dozen ladybugs gathered in a semi-circle listening intently. “Drinking Buddies” shows a person and a dog toasting with a glass of red wine. The pair are clearly besties as they are wearing matching hats and shirts. In “The Great Escape” two bees fly over a field of daisies.
“Perplexed Penguins” is a series of cute penguins holding various objects from a cell phone to a cappuccino to a slice of pizza. Madan’s work is creative, whimsical and humorous. It’s hard not to giggle and smile at much of his work.
“I want to have a little fun with the whole process of making art,” said Madan. “I want people to enjoy the art when they look at it on the wall.”
Madan describes his work as the comic relief in an art scene that is often serious.
One of his popular characters is Lil’ Grim Reaper. In “The Short-Lived Balloon” the black-robed figure’s red balloon is perilously close to his sickle. It shows his ability to make even a morbid figure amusing. “Pet Walk” shows Lil’ Reaper pulling a little red wagon. Inside it is a fish bowl with an anglerfish. The reactions to the character are usually positive and he’s done events where all he’s sold are Lil’ Reaper prints.
Madan is in his studio most days of the week. He often experiments, which has led to interesting characters in his work. When he’s not creating a new piece, he’s working on the other aspects of being an artist, which are akin to running a small business.
“I will devote as much time to it as I can without my family getting upset, mostly because I have to,” said Madan. “Being an artist is just like any other profession. You’ve got to put in the time, you’ve got to put in the blood, sweat and tears and then, hopefully, if you keep working at it, you evolve to a point where you can make it look easy.”
Madan’s intentional path to art didn’t begin until well into adulthood. The married father of two was born and raised in New Delhi, India. He’s the middle child between two brothers. He was drawing and doodling at an early age but never thought of himself as an artist. He had no role models and art was seen as more of a hobby. The only artists he knew were Picasso and M.F. Husain, an Indian painter known for vibrant works. Those factors, coupled with parents who were focused on stability because of the turmoil they experienced, led Madan to choose a parental-approved career: an engineer. His other option was doctor.
Madan attended graduate school at the University of Washington. While there he produced award-winning editorial cartoons for UW Daily, the student newspaper. Later he went on to work in the tech industry. Writing code fulfilled his creative needs for a while. He enjoyed it but didn’t quite fit in with the monoculture of the industry. A trip to Paris in 2010 set his life on an unplanned course that would culminate in Madan becoming a full-time artist.
“Art is something I’ve always been passionate about,” said Madan. “I just didn’t realize how important it was for me until I actually went to those museums and I felt I was completely missing out on some part of my life.”
Upon returning home, he didn’t immediately quit his job and excitedly proclaim that he was an artist in dramatic fashion. It took another two years before he’d make such a bold move. He began taking classes at Gage Academy of Art and he found himself surrounded by others who were older than him.
“A lot of the people who were in this part-time class had waited to retire before they came back to their passions,” said Madan. “I was looking around and thinking that can’t be me.”
While mentally mulling over whether or not to take a leap of faith, he began cutting back where he could and saving money. Madan says he received several signs along the way that reinforced his desire to become an artist. He came across two books “Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow,” and “This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love” plus a TED Talk from a philosophy professor who theorized that always making rational choices in life essentially turns one into a robot.
Once he built up the courage to quit his job, Madan toiled away in his basement. He had the right tools — paint and canvas — but lacked direction. He wasn’t happy with the work he was creating. At the encouragement of one of his Gage classmates he enrolled in the Drawing and Painting Atelier class. It proved to be transformative. He spent 30 hours a week learning and improving his technique. Initially he thought he would focus on abstract and figurative art, but then he discovered pop surrealism.
“That actually was really good because it gave me the safe harbor and I could start developing some fundamental skills in drawing and painting,” said Madan. “As the work became more whimsical and more humorous it started feeling more me.”
Madan also completed the Artist Trust EDGE Professional Development Program for Visual Artists.
He first displayed his work at a café and immersed himself into the art scene by saying yes to everything. His talent and willingness to participate in shows led to a number of solo and group exhibitions, public art projects plus awards.
Madan also wrote and self-published “The Bubble Collector,” a book of funny poems and illustrations in 2013. “Tale of the Itchy Witch” begins: "There was a witch who had an itch / An itch that waxed and waned / The more she tried to scratch her hide / The more her itch complained.” His book is reminiscent of Shel Silverstein’s, “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
When Madan began shopping his first title around to local bookstores, he heard many noes but he was undeterred. Some took a chance on the unknown author and their faith paid off. He sold 800 copies, received glowing reviews and it was nominated for a 2014 Washington State Book Award. Madan now has an agent and a publisher. His next book is set to be released in Spring 2020.
The artist is a self-described introvert and says the experience of figuring out the distribution of his first book taught him perseverance. Since deciding to pursue art full time he’s gone through an evolution he’s happy to be experiencing. In part because he’s living a more authentic life.
“As an artist now I feel like I’m comfortable in my own skin,” said Madan. “This is who I am, this is what I do.”
Madan’s ability to bring delight to the viewer through paintings, poems and illustrations speaks to his execution skills and ability to hone his ideas into charming works.
His journey is also a testament of what’s possible when you take a chance on yourself.
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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