Meet Bakula Nayak - The super talented vintage paper artist

Bakula Nayak

With an undergraduate degree in architecture and an M.S in Communications Design from Pratt Institute, Manhattan, artist Bakula Nayak began her career at a fragrance house in New York, followed by a long stint in retail package design with L’Oreal, Mikasa and Ralph Lauren. After more than a decade in New York, she moved back to Bengaluru in 2010. Art was always her passion and vintage art was something which particularly piqued her interest. She started painting on old documents and papers to revive memories of a bygone era as she believes that these are pieces of history that have a story to tell. She supposedly has a collection of close to 3000 vintage papers including legal documents from the pre-Independence era of princely states, music sheets from across the world, old maps et al. I spoke to Bakula Nayak on her passion for vintage paper painting and what made her pursue this unusual art form.

Anjana: You have a background in communications design and architecture. How did you drift into vintage paper painting?

Bakula: When my parents passed away, I found a bunch of love letters they had written to each other. It was a spontaneous reaction and I guess a way of dealing with my grief that I started to draw on them. But soon, reading their hopes, dreams and love for each other and the emotional impact it had on me, I didn’t want to draw on them anymore. However, collecting vintage paper was a passion I nurtured for several decades and I moved on to drawing on them. I love to imagine their life stories and of the people who owned them. With my art, I am trying to bring appreciation for pieces of papers that are really invaluable pieces of history that have a story but are not valued as they are not collectors items.

A: Do you also paint on other mediums other than paper?

B: No, I haven’t yet explored other mediums.

Painting on a 1937 Government of Madras legal document

A: How do you go about finding old bills, post cards, documents and the like to paint on? You have nearly 3000 such pieces!

B: I have been collecting old documents since I was in school – from people who no longer felt attached to them. These are pieces of paper that have no monetary value..just sentiments, and how we interact with an object changes, as time passes.

Yes, I do have plenty of such pieces though am not sure if it is 3000. I have also collected them from flea markets in New York, Paris, Barcelona and Lisbon, estate sales, second hand book stores and ruddi shops are my favorite haunts. Now that more people know what I do, many of them give me old papers that have been in their family and they no longer want it or don’t know what to do with them. Sometimes they are total strangers who know how much I love and value old papers. I am truly grateful for that trust.

A: Can you share some of your painting series and their inspiration?

B: I just recently finished a show in Delhi called “Intimate Strangers”. This was my first show where the focus was on people who owned these papers and how I form a relationship with them.

A: What is it that draws you towards vintage or everything old?

B: I started illustrating on them four years ago to give them a life outside of the cupboards they were stored in. I find a strange relationship with these papers and objects that had so much value once upon a time and are now discarded. I feel like I am the keeper of memories – for those people that loved these papers so much once upon a time. They hold love, hopes, dreams…

I didn’t have grandparents growing up. My mother died early and my parents weren’t really record keepers. I don’t really have any “family history” per se in the form of furniture, photographs, anything at all – perhaps I live vicariously through other people’s histories…My illustrations are an attempt to give a new life to these forgotten pieces of beauty. Aged gorgeously, they form the perfect canvas to interpret the reality of my world, an unfinished inventory of my day dreaming, my love for all things vintage and reflect my insane desire for romance, aesthetics, poetics and seduction in everything.

Painting on a postcard from the Indian government in 1947 reminding to pay house tax, overlaid on a newspaper page
Painting on a page from a gardening journal from 1954

A: You use gouache apart from watercolors. Is there a special reason for doing so?

B: I use watercolors when I want the writing on the vintage paper to show through and gouache when I want to hide some of it.

A: What are your future plans?

B: I have recently started working with vintage objects to make art installations and am loving the process. But I really don’t plan anything with my art…it’s a journey..

Images: Art by Bakula