Nalini Tyabji


About Me

About nalini misra tyabji

I turned into a full time artist through rather sad circumstances. In 2011, my mother died suddenly and I brought my father to live with my husband and myself. He was an utterly broken man without my mother and I, too, was devastated beyond words and just as I thought we were settling down we discovered he had cancer. He was with us for two and a half years before he passed away and each day was worse than the previous one. I couldn’t bear to leave him alone for a single minute so my husband and I just stopped going out. I felt I was going to lose my mind as the thought of losing both parents in such quick succession was not only heartbreaking but also terribly frightening. Slowly but surely his room turned into a full fledged ICU.
As the cancer grew he became less coherent and slept most of the time. I needed to distract myself so I started to nurture the seed that had been planted in my head by a friend- to have a Show! I began to paint, at first seriously, and then, furiously. When my father passed away on his ninety first birthday, in December, 2013, I had a large enough collection of artworks ready to have my first show, in February of 2014, after a long hiatus of thirty two years.

My show was called NASCENT. It was held at the Gallery Annex of the India International Centre. It had a bit of everything on view, from folk to figurative, from landscape to abstract, from flower to fauna. The media used was watercolour, pen and wash, ink, acrylic and mixed media. I was a floundering novice, without any direction. It was late Virendra Kumar Jain, of Kumar Gallery, who saw my potential and gave me the encouragement to pursue my dream.

November, 2015, saw my second show called WHIMSY NAMA, held at THE ATTIC. Two years at my board had given birth to some kind of style. It was definitely whimsical and since it was enjoyably creative I decided to explore it further.

My third solo, titled WONDER NAMA, was a continuation of the previous year’s WHIMSY NAMA. Instinctively, I paint happy pictures because the child in me never got a chance to do so. Somehow, I see a world that is as beautiful as it is wonderful. I admire friendship. I desire love. I know that when one door closes another opens. I know blessings and am convinced that the passing away of my parents was the catalyst that brought me back to the drawing board. Through their loss, inexplicably, I saw who I was meant to be and what I was meant to be doing with my life.

I know that there are no shortcuts to success. I know that struggle creates its own destiny. I dream all the time. I know that I have dreams not only for myself but for all those I love and care about. I know I have a future through my art. People ask me how I am so prolific. Here is the thing. I am not a quitter. Since I am not trained I accept, unquestioningly, the long, arduous hours and the inevitable mistakes. I am never satisfied with any of my works. If I do cats I go on painting them till I cannot think of another posture. If I do owls I play with the heads and eyes till I cannot find another angle. Recently, I have also begun to paint myself as a little girl. I have some insight into my journey but it’s far from concrete. Through my work I am just trying to get comfortable in my own skin. Pure and simple- it is a search for my identity.

I am inspired by anything and everything that appeals emotionally. As long as my work invokes a smile, I am happy. I have been more than lucky with commissions. It never fails to amaze me as to how many people there are who share my love for owls and cats and are willing to spend their hard earned money on something I create. There is a child in all of us and I suppose the child in my work speaks to the child in you.

This journey has been made possible, largely, due to the unconditional love and support from my indulgent husband, Hindal Tyabji. At best, an artist’s journey can be a very expensive and time-consuming hobby: at worst, it can be an emotional and financial disaster. As one turns professional, one must be able to sell some of the work. Hindal has not batted an eyelid through the days before my work found buyers and the house was littered with unsold canvasses. The greatest joy and fulfillment has come when he has liked my work. With his unerring eye, he has proven himself to be my best critic.

My Story


I was compelled to create from the time I was very little. One of my first memories consists of these large, coloured glass beads, strung together, and found around the necks of cattle. My father would stop the car, pay for them and I would house them in a small tin trunk. Then, I would labour away for hours, re-stringing the beads back through their large holes and refashioning them into necklaces of my choice. If I recall correctly, this very first exercise and lesson, in size, shape, texture and colour, was sheer heaven!

My next preoccupation was with a pair of scissors, rather longnosed and sharp. I cut everything in sight, whether it was a flower or a tree or a sun and moon. I made up stories based on what I had cut and glued the pictures together to create my own Pop-Up Story Book. When I was older, I even started writing words to these picture stories. Sometimes, I filled in spaces with fantastical drawings. This was creative and magical and amongst my earliest lessons in composition. One day, I made my own Cinema! A picture story was glued together into a strip and passed through long, vertical slits on either side of a shoe-box. The reel was threaded in from the left slit and let out from the right. I made hundreds of them and I must have watched them over and over again. I found many uses for the ubiquitous shoe-box. I made a double storied doll’s house, complete with match-box furniture. I drew humans and flora and fauna and pasted their cutouts onto cardboard with an extra bit of cardboard at the base to enable them to stand in the shoe boxes. I remember it being rather tedious work, as the miniature sizes required precision in drawing, cutting and pasting. My eye and hand got the much needed training that I would require later on. Halcyon days they were: no rude interruptions from telephones or T.V. or the Internet. I was the Captain of my Ship and the Master of my Fate!

I was drawing before the age of five. The recurring themes were people, flora and fauna and quite complex motifs, picked up from books and my own clothes. My instrument was the humble, colour pencil on paper or coloured chalk on my blackboard. I did not have the luxury of crayons. Did they even exist? At eight years old, I became fascinated with geometrical design and graduated to a pen my father gave me. It had the primary colours plus green and black. I fell in love with it. I used it till it ran dry. By age ten I had discovered the joys of brush and paint. Surprisingly, I started with oil colour because the tubes were hand-me-downs from an older cousin. But, it was water colour that was to eventually capture my soul. In my fifteenth year, under the doting eye of my grandfather, I started to copy the Kangra Miniatures and my love for the Krishna Form has endured to this day.

The Chinese Masters, also, greatly influenced my work. No one can surpass them in the understanding and execution of water colour: strokes are minimal and precise; colours are clean and intense; usage of negative space is brilliant. My first Exhibition, consisting of fourteen large canvasses,was held at the Shridharani Gallery, in 1980. At the same time I started to teach at Raghubir Singh Junior Modern School. I would paint and sell in my spare time. I left school in the early nineties to set up my own export business of glass bead jewellery. In a sense, life had come full circle. My first love, the humble cow bead, had morphed into a high fashion statement and had become the cause of my independent identity, even allowing me to travel abroad with my own money.

However, I soon discovered that creativity and running a business were two separate animals! My restlessness took me to the hills of Kumaon. I started designing (and managing !) a weaving centre, attached to an income generation programme for the economically weak. This was the stuff of my dreams. I came into my own. I played with colour and design and grew aesthetically. We produced wool mufflers, stoles and shawls in the most exciting colour range and texture. This led to the start of a small knitting group as well. Here, too, we went to town with colour and design. I cannot thank enough, my dear friend and mentor, Lakshmi Lal, who was a wizard knitter.

In 2013, I started working for what was, in essence, my first real show. It was held at The Annexe Gallery, India International Centre, in February, 2014.

I love the fact that my art affords me the possibility of creating more and more whimsy and that I can be limited only by the limits of my own imagination. I do not define my art: it defines me. It nourishes me and, cocooned inside it, I feel my growth. More importantly, it keeps me sane. When I paint, I forget all my problems. Each time I pick up a brush what I feel is nothing short of a spiritual experience. That reinforces the knowledge that I was destined to paint.

Nalini Misra Tyabji