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Janet Pancho Gupta: A journey from DH to artist

29 April 2016

By Vir B. Lumicao
Janet Pancho Gupta

There is something strangely mesmerizing and deeply religious in the works of Filipina nature artist Janet Pancho Gupta, whether they are her meticulously done watercolor paintings or her nature and street photographs.
Connoisseurs and dilettantes alike could not help but stop and take a longer look at each of her unique work to discern the philosophy behind them – from her watercolor painting of a fern bud furled in fetal form to her photo of a hibiscus silhouetted against a bronze sky breaching the sun’s rays at dusk.
The former domestic helper artist came to Hong Kong in 2000 but started painting just eight years ago. She is known for the fine details of her subjects and the deliberate hues and tones with which she addresses them to bring on the mood that she likes to impart to the beholder.
Like the subjects of her masterpieces, Pancho Gupta prefers to be inconspicuous, focusing on her creations to give them the depth and mystery that keep her followers in awe, rather than being seen in the company of other artists.
Lately, too, her art pieces have begun to transform, she explains, reflecting her perception of herself being walled in after years of boundless freedom in the Saikung countryside.
Replying to an online friend’s comment about the pixels in her new works, Pancho Gupta replied: “…Personally the bold colors, lines and patterns are something to do with my emotions. I was not so happy moving in the city but then lately I taught myself to visually color my surroundings. Haven’t you noticed the city’s color is always gray and black? I’m surrounded with all those and when the day is dull and cloudy…the scene shouts for emptiness.”
Janet Pancho Gupta's
painting “Unburden Me.”
The 39-year-old Pancho Gupta says she has done almost 100 paintings over the past eight years, 90% of them in watercolor. She has also tried oil, pastels, graphite, “everything except acrylic.”
She says she chose to start with watercolor for discipline.
“The reason why I started with water color is, they say if you can do watercolor, you can do everything,” she told The SUN in a recent interview in her home in Tin Shui Wai.
A self-taught artist, Pancho Gupta tried to go to art school in Hong Kong just so she could have formal training, but she stopped after experiencing discrimination. She recounted how one of her art tutors had boasted on Day 1 that his students included famous people in Hong Kong society, as if implying she was in the wrong place because she was a Filipina and a domestic helper to boot.
On another occasion she was in another painting school and a western female student obviously didn’t like seeing the professor praise Pancho Gupta’s work. On her way out after the session, the woman stopped in front of the Filipina’s desk and said spitefully:  “One day, I’ll be a better painter than you are.”  The artist just smiled.                                                                                                                
The leaves of art grew naturally in Pancho Gupta. She said she came to draw naturally while still a child, and she just “drew and drew”.
In the classroom she drew all the people around her. “If there’s something that I need to say, it’s part of me, I draw without even thinking. I never even appreciated it as a talent,” she said.
The artist said she lived for a long time in Bethune House, a refuge for domestic helpers thrown out or maltreated by their employers, and she had friends there and they “never knew that I know how to draw.”
Reports say it was during her stay in the shelter that she discovered her talent for painting.
She is versatile and strong in portraits as well as in nature paintings, and her surreal portrait of an Indonesian rape victim in watercolor, titled “Unburden Me,” is both touching and infuriating.
Pancho Gupta read a lot of books on painting, but the further she went, the more she found herself “like a lost child” afraid of how her reading might influence or change her. While about to give up, she was accidentally brought to her senses by a colorful coaster dropping to the rug, emitting a lovely burst of blue colors and a trace of lace as it reflected the sunlight.
“Suddenly, oh my Jesus, I shouldn’t worry anymore about what people think; the most important thing is that I paint consistently, continuously, and that’s just the beginning, when I found out the contrast of two colors was yellow and blue,” Pancho Gupta said.
Enthralled by that spectacle, she immediately went to work and finished three of her paintings that afternoon.
Her husband, journalist Mukul Munish of the South China Morning Post, encouraged Pancho Gupta to paint when he found out she was a natural-born artist. He told her to just draw, draw and draw and helped her find the art materials she needed, telling her that his own father was a master artist so he could help her pursue painting.
Pancho Gupta has branched into nature photography and, lately, into street photography. In both recent activities, her works exhibit the same depth, the same soul of the artist that she reveals in her paintings. Because she says her artworks are her own self.
On May 12, Pancho Gupta will open her first solo photo exhibition, “Finding Inner Space,” at 15 Elgin St., SOHO, Central. The show will run from May 9 to June 5.
“Finding Space is a documentary walk around images captured by a woman, mother, wife, and painter who found solace in photography from her daily chaotic life and routine,” the event invite states.

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