heila Arora believes in allowing her feelings to guide her paintings. “My artwork is very emotional,” the downtown Chicago-based artist says. “My whole process is extremely intuitive. I like to be very internal, and I let that come out in the paintings.” Inspired by her metropolitan surroundings, Arora’s abstract pieces enable her to express the soul of the city. “My paintings tend to have a lot of energy even if they’re neutral,” the artist says. “The city is always in the back of my mind when I paint.”
Within this city, Arora leads what she describes as a double life, balancing two contrasting careers–one of an artist and one of a businesswoman. The free-flowing approach she takes with her paintings is the antithesis of how she performs her day job in finance. Arora followed up her economics degree from Princeton University with an MBA, concentrating in finance at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business–an education that was anything but intuitive. “It was about working in Excel spreadsheets and a lot of analytical work,” she says. “Business is very logical.” Her art provides an escape from crunching numbers. “I try not to think at all when I paint. I want to feel everything. It’s a release.”
But Arora’s paintings weren’t always a visual stream of consciousness, so to speak. In fact, throughout high school and into her grad school years, the artist’s pieces skewed representational. “I was taught that you paint what you see,” she says. “There’s very little left to the imagination that way.” It wasn’t until several years ago that Arora was introduced to abstract painting. “It opened up a whole new world for me. I felt so much freer and able to express myself.” In retrospect, the evolution had been in the works for quite some time. “Looking back at my figure drawings and my other work, I could see that I was trying to express myself by adding bolder, more vibrant colors to every painting,” she notes. “Each one was still traditional in its scope, but I definitely was beginning to take some risks.”
Today when Arora paints, it’s with tools that are purposefully varied. “I’ll use anything I can get my hands on,” she laughs. While her work is primarily acrylic on canvas and mark-making on paper, she loves to explore other mediums. “I do use mixed media–oil pastels, China markers, graphite pencils, neon-colored crayons. Some are traditional, some are not. I will quite literally try anything and everything when I’m painting.” The combination of different materials and techniques gives each piece a layered look, providing depth and interest–every time you look at it, you see something new.
Represented by Thomas Masters Gallery in Old Town, Arora is currently working on a new large-canvas series entitled “Imaginary Spaces.” Like all her work, this series is a result of Arora following her instincts when she paints. “I feel like these paintings create worlds where you can enter and explore,” she says, “always finding something new in the shapes and spaces.”
PHOTOS: BRYAN DERBALLA
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