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Essential Disintegration

Essential Disintegration

Nachiketa Rao '09

Nachiketa Rao '09 recently graduated with a degree in economics and now works as an analyst in mergers and acquisitions at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. His training there this summer started nine days after an exhibition of his paintings opened at the Daira Art Gallery in Hyderabad, India. He is currently working on several new art projects, including a study of changing cityscapes in India. Write to him at

Looking down at water pouring from a tap onto the stone-tiled floor of my shower, I saw random shapes constantly changing and evolving. Drawing from this inspirational moment, I decided to investigate the fluidity of things I encountered everyday, including burnt paper, flowers, fireworks, and even Spiderman. The result is 10 paintings I made for a group show, Nano Art, at the Daira Art Gallery in Hyderabad, India.

In Essential Disintegration, I studied, deconstructed, and questioned the solidity of real-world phenomena, ultimately seeking to make "liquid paintings." This series is part of my movement away from using line and shape to convey a sense of meaning. Rather, my goal is to let color and texture blend to communicate what a painting is about.

Rao dicusses

Rao discussed his current exhibition on ETV, one of the largest networks of satellite television channels in India. His series of 10 paintings will be on display until August 4th. On a superficial level, objects in the real world seem to have specific, certain, fixed shapes. Still, inanimate objects appear solid and static. But the atomic truth is that electrons are spinning around nuclei; everything is perpetually shifting, moving, and vibrating. In my work, I question whether things that appear solid are really solid. Essential Disintegration is one such expression, utilizing fluid media and depiction to illustrate the uncertain, shifting nature of reality.

Rao discusses Disintegrated Spiderman

Describing Disintegrated Spiderman (above), Rao says: "Between the ages of seven and 11, I was really into collecting comic books. After browsing through what I had left, I was motivated to deconstruct a Spiderman comic book cover. You can see his red, black, and blue costume, the yellow logo, and his web." I separated each theme into its constituent colors and textures, hence the title. For instance, I broke Spiderman down into his characteristic red, blue, and black costume, web, and yellow-colored "The Amazing Spiderman" logo. I used black permanent ink, which disintegrates when combined with water, to emphasize the fluidity, randomness, and change that I was inspired by, and the surface tension that holds a liquid together. I painted on a wet canvas using acrylic paint mixed with large amounts of water. A one-millimeter thick layer of viscous pigment covered each finished canvas. The drying process let water evaporate, leaving behind pigmented impressions of the themes' colors and textures.

My approach was mostly influenced by action painters like Jackson Pollock, Barnaby Furnas's work, Philadelphia artist Elyce Abram's show Long Distance, and an Indian artist I recently met, Vijay Shekar. To me, these artists seem to have very little control over the direction of their work, and rather seem to they let their work create itself. Adopting a similar technique gave me a release from the stress of college life.

Rao on Disintegrated Fireworks

On Disintegrated Fireworks Display: "Every year, a huge fireworks display happens on the East River outside my window in New York. Since I missed it this year, I wanted to recreate it on canvas and capture the loudness of the explosions, how they light up the night sky, and the red, white, and blue colors that dominate." While at Swarthmore, I studied abroad at Oxford for a year to pursue development economics, modern Middle East history, and classical Persian literature. I took foundation art at Swarthmore, but it was really my study of Persian poetry that unlocked my creative interest. I was particularly interested in themes of love, intoxication, and ecstasy in the poetic and scholarly works of Rumi, Hafez, and Omar Khayyam.

When I returned to campus for my senior year, I felt like I was in a creative lull. But painting and photography allowed me to express my creative energy, bring out my subconscious emotions, and to let go. I believe that art calmed me and helped me to be more at peace with myself and the world. I also felt happier academically when I was creatively engaged. I thank my professors Stephen Golub and David Huffman in economics and Steven Hopkins in religion for encouraging my creativity in their courses.

Rao first solo show

Rao's first solo show, Vague Reality and Dreams From Another World, took place at the Kitao Gallery, Swarthmore's student art gallery, in May 2009, and included his works (from left) Kaleidoscope and Hands. I might very well be the only artist working at a mergers and acquisitions group, but I hope that my creativity will be an asset in the field. I also hope to find artistic inspiration in finance and will apply for grants and fellowships in the fine arts to allow me to express it. Eventually, I hope to work in a creative field where I can bridge my interests in business, economics, and art on my own terms.

Title graphic: Disintegrated Burnt Paper