Detroit-based artist’s meticulous process on display at Flint gallery

Neha Vedpathak wasn’t setting out to invent a new technique in 2009 when she started experimenting with different materials. She was simply pushing herself as an artist.

“Around that time, I experimented with a bunch of different materials with some successes and some failures,” Vedpathak says, noting it was part of a 10-month experimental period in her life. “My goal wasn’t to invent a technique, that just happened. I used to be an abstract minimalist painter, and after doing that for five-to-seven years, I wanted to push my practice and find a new way of expressing myself.”

What resulted is a process Vedpathak calls “plucking.” She takes Japanese handmade papers and, using a push-pin, meticulously separates the fibers. The process creates a lace-like fabric that she then creates works of art with through painting, sewing, and collaging. The resulting work adds color, texture, and dimension to the surfaces.

“It took about six months to formalize the process from the initial moment of inspiration to something more dependable and a solid technique that I could come back to again and again,” she says. “It was a period of trial and error. I wasn’t aiming to necessarily find a super unique way of doing work, but that’s what happened. Once I started, I was hooked.”

The process is time-consuming, with Vedpathak spending eight or more hours per day multiple days per week simply preparing her surfaces by plucking. During that process over the years, she’s plucked millions of paper fibers just to get her surfaces ready to paint and create on.

“That’s just one element of the actual finished work,” she says. “Other elements of work like conceptualizing, painting (some have multiple layers of paint) and sewing take time as well, so all that added up does make it a time-consuming process, but I don’t mind it and have the temperament for it. It’s like running a marathon, or like a meditative process where I can get in my zone and do it.”

Vedpathak points out that this is in contrast to her previous painting process, which was quicker. She says the ability to be able to focus on the rigor required by plucking is something that she has developed with time and experience.

“My earlier painting process was very quick,” Vedpathak says. “I could finish a painting in a day from start to finish. This obviously takes lots and lots of days and sometimes about six months for larger works. I didn’t know if I had the constitution to be able to focus and do such a rigorous process and practice in the beginning. Now, I’ve been making works with this technique for over 12 years, so I know I have it, it’s just a matter of continuing with it. It gives me more time to spend with my work, which is always a great thing.”

Vedpathak’s studio is currently based in Detroit. She began her journey as an artist while growing up in India, with support from her mom.

“Before I went to art school, the idea of aesthetics and beauty was inculcated in me by my mom,” she says. “We also lived very close to very famous rock carvings and massive temples named Ellora and Ajanta, and we visited those sites quite often. I just knew that pursuing art was a worthy endeavor, so that instilled the curiosity and taught me that I could do something with my hands early in my childhood. Then eventually, I went to art school and had a formal, academic education in art, but I would say my early childhood was a big part in me becoming an artist.”

Vedpathak currently has an exhibition of her work entitled "Time: Constant, Suspended, Collapsed" on display in the Flint Institute of Arts Graphics Gallery through January 9, 2022. The exhibition explores the concept of time and the significance of slow, labor-intensive processes in the age of mass media and digital technology. It also challenges perceptions of time and space in relation to the events of 2020, where the past, present, and the future seemed to collapse onto one another.

As an artist creating during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vedpathak says it initially felt “disorienting” because so many fundamental aspects of daily life had changed. But she also understands the importance of pressing on.

“It was hard in the beginning of the pandemic, to create and find a voice that felt relevant,” she says. “It seemed like the world was falling apart, and it also felt so not urgent and trivial to make work at the time. But eventually, I had to remind myself that, even though this is a giant, catastrophic event in our lifetime, there have been other tragedies and other horrific events in our history. I can only do what I do, which is to work and find my rhythm and balance to make sense of these world-changing events through making art. Going back to the studio, even if it felt futile, was actually quite healing and helped me a lot personally to keep things on track and move forward. Making work was the only way I knew how to keep going and maintain a sense of normalcy.”

That meditative, slow process of her work is also something Vedpathak hopes audiences see when they view her exhibition. The texture and layers of her pieces make it possible to look at them multiple times and from different angles and see new aspects each time.

“Personally, that’s the best part of my job as an artist,” Vedpathak says. “I can get lost in it. It’s therapeutic and meditative. The time kind of slows down, it gives me an opportunity to really focus on one thing. In turn, that causes the audience to slow down too. One can appreciate the details, the different layers of color, the difference in materiality. Instant gratification is such a dominant aspect of all our life right now, my work allows viewers to relax and take in the work, there’s no haste in it.”