Meet the Artist: Jemisha Maadhavji

Meet the Artist started in 2014 as a way to recognise and platform the incredibly ambitious work being made by artists based across the East Midlands! Following an extended break Meet the Artist is back for a limited run, which will see CVAN EM platform work by an artist from each county in the region.

Artist Jemisha Maadhavji’s work is hugely influenced by bold colours, patterns, and fashions. Jemisha uses symbolism and narrative to depict individuals from different cultural backgrounds and with different lived experiences.

Her painting style explores the themes of desire and luxury, prompting us to question what beauty is in the 21st century. Her works are predominantly oil on canvas, created by applying multiple thin and delicate layers, and sometimes finished with thickly textured paint, in instances where it is important that the viewer is conscious of the material’s physical presence.

Jemisha’s work can be seen at Nottingham Castle until 3 January 2024. She participated in BBC 1’s Extraordinary Portraits.

HYPNOTICA, oil on canvas

Where do you practice? 

I am a Leicester-based artist and have a studio in the city’s cultural quarter. I moved into my current studio after completing an MA in Fine Art at De Montfort University in 2022.

What do you practice?

Many of us think of ourselves as icons in some shape or form, especially in this time of smart phones and social media. We might want to look like a certain celebrity and share countless selfies online, but when and how do we appreciate our own selves, and who we are as individuals?

I am not interested in painting people that everyone knows but am instead compelled to paint people unknown to me, and the world. I don’t really think about direct likeness when I’m painting a person, instead it’s just a process of discovering who they are through how I see them, and by considering what they mean to me. I user the process of painting to discover a subject, to capture their character.

I usually paint people I don’t know, often someone I have seen on social media or at an event. I approach the individual and ask to paint them. Eventually, the work is created after a couple meetings followed by a photoshoot where the sitter will bring a selection of their clothes and accessories. I style them but usually I like to know details about the clothes might be the sitter’s favourite outfits and so on. After the photoshoot I work on the paintings in my studio. The works are influenced by colour, patterns and the sitter themselves, which informs the composition and colours of the paintings. I am interested in the idea of ‘beauty’ what it means to me and what it means now.

During my MA in at DMU I also explored the relationship between painting and sculpture or objects – particularly jewellery. I created a bunch of metal flowers influenced by High Jewellery and its history of making and designs.

Nottingham Castle, installation photo

How is your work shaped by your locality? 

I really love people and thinking about how individuals represent themselves in their daily lives. Even as a teenager, when I’d go to the city centre, I’d be looking at what people were wearing, clocking their unique sense of style. Leicester has been a point of constant inspiration, primarily the diverse cultures represented across the city. The various colourful sari shops and stores selling Indian confections located on the golden mile have proven to be a jumping off point for my desire to document the vibrant colours and flamboyant fashions. Being born and bought up in Leicester means my Indian heritage and the culture surrounding me has naturally fed into my practice, particularly religious festivals or weddings, and seeing how beautifully the Mandir, gods and goddesses are dressed and decorated with numerous colours, flowers and offerings.

Likewise, the Leicester art scene has had a profound influence on me. Since starting university in 2015 I have seen a huge increase in opportunities for artists and creatives in the city, including more studio spaces, places to exhibit, open calls and platforming. I’ve recently had the opportunity to exhibit work in the city in John Lewis, as part of the UKNA Leicester take over in 2022. I always wanted to exhibit the paintings at a window display and thanks to Saziso Phiri and the UKNA team I was able to realise this goal and see my work be experienced by audiences, not only art lovers but also members of the general public, hopefully helping grow interest in arts and culture activity around the city.

Sundar, oil on canvas

What are you working on?

Currently I’m working on some commissions and a personal project of small and larger paintings. There are a few WIPs on now and for me this is an exciting phase in my practice, seeing them all gradually come together. They continue from my previous theme of ‘Desires Never Desire’.

What are you wider ambitious for the ongoing development of your practice and engagement in opportunities to develop and present work regionally, nationally and event internationally? 

I’m always looking forward to new opportunities, be that being part of exhibitions, residencies and commissions, and working both nationally and internationally. I would love to collaborate more and potentially do an international residency in the future.

Grace and Jemisha

What makes the Leicester art scene unique?  

Leicester’s diversity is one reason for the city’s unique qualities. There’s a mix of galleries and studio in the city, all located close by helping support the arts community and networks between artists and curators. The art scene in Leicester is growing, which makes it an exciting time for finding new opportunities and different ways for connecting the public with arts and culture.

Find out more about Jemisha’s practice on her website and follow her on Instagram.

Jemisha was interviewed in December 2023.

All images are courtesy of the artist.