CMA Stories

“The freedom and immediacy of children’s art is what makes it so fascinating and worth paying attention to” — Meet CMA Teaching Artist Deepti Sunder

Flowers as big as trees, books the size of mattresses, a friendly pink snake with lime-green polka dots – these are just some elements you might find in Deepti Sunder’s artwork. Deepti’s style is whimsical and inventive, pairing together bright colors and rhythmic patterns to construct fantastical worlds, characters and scenes. As a Teaching Artist at CMA, Deepti is available to lead private art lessons in any discipline of your choosing — learn more and sign up here.

The Whimsical World of Jiljil & Boo (Fantasy Forest)

You are available to lead private art lessons through CMA. Can you share a “behind-the-scenes” look at what your lessons might entail?

It could involve any number of things that you might want to learn! In my own art practice, I enjoy working with lots of different media, so exploration and experimentation are very much encouraged in my classes. Just so you know a little more about me, I’m an illustrator and sculptor and work with mediums like watercolor, gouache, acrylic, papier-mache and clay. My work is generally whimsical and fantastical, filled with lots of bright colors and patterns. I also love craft and making things by hand, so we can explore all sorts of craft processes. Some examples of class topics I can think of are drawing and illustration, recycled crafts, weaving, clay sculpture, papier-mache sculpture, conceptualizing and building your own imaginary worlds, storytelling and character development — the list goes on!

My lessons are usually process-oriented, so I’ll most likely lead you through how to make something in a given lesson. The great thing about private lessons though, is that they can be so much more specific to students’ interests. You also have the freedom to explore multiple art and craft processes of your liking, which isn’t something you get to do as freely in regular lessons with many other students.

Tell us about your experience teaching art classes at CMA. What are the challenges (and rewards) of transitioning to virtual learning?

I’ve had a lovely time teaching at CMA. I’d say some of my best experiences have been at the Clay Bar (pre-pandemic, of course!). It was always great to arrive at work, find out what the theme was for the day and come up with sculptures to fit. It was also really fun to see how kids interpreted the themes for themselves.

Transitioning to virtual learning has definitely had its challenging moments. I think what I miss most is the involvement that in-person learning provides. It’s so much harder to see what your students are creating and to give detailed guidance. There’s still a lot of opportunity for making lessons fun online though! I’ve especially enjoyed getting creative within the limitations of staying at home. There’s been quite a few class ideas using only basic materials available at home, and I’ve learned some new things myself in the process!

Paper Diorama

Can you share your favorite CMA memory?

I have many favorites, but I guess the most recent one before the museum was shut down for the pandemic was designing the programming for the Indian Cultural Festival at CMA. I really enjoyed being able to bring over some aspects of India’s visual culture to CMA, and introducing people to Indian art and artists. I wanted to make it as visceral an experience as possible, so one of the exhibits included a mini stop-motion set in the Media Lab of a market street in India. I’ve always been really fascinated by Indian markets, so really I was just living out my obsession with them. We also highlighted Indian truck art, the tradition of drawing kolams on thresholds and floors of homes in South India, and the work of Indian artists Pigeon & Co. and Sameer Kulavoor.

Why is children’s artwork important within the context of art history?

Children’s artwork is significant because it’s a very honest portrayal of things children are absorbing from their surroundings and experiences. As adult artists, we constantly seem to be chasing meaning in our work, or trying to find a deeper purpose to what we’re doing, while children are creating just for the sake of it. There’s something very pure about that idea, and ultimately through all the struggles of being a working artist, that’s what every artist is seeking — the pure joy of just creating. The freedom and immediacy of children’s art is, for me at least, what makes it so fascinating and worth paying attention to.

Papier-Mache Garden as part of CMA’s Artist Residency on Governors Island

What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?

I would say to just have fun and make whatever you want to make! Regardless how long you’ve been making art, that to me seems to be the most important thing to keep in mind.

Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?

I don’t have one singular favorite memory but I was always making something or the other! I made a lot of handmade cards for close friends and family, and had a lot of DIY craft kits. I think my silliest memory might be making a set of tea cups and a kettle from this brightly colored kid’s soap bar.

Top Image: Deepti Sunder, Fantasy Landscape

View more of Deepti’s art and follow along at @deeptisunder

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