Sheeba Khan Explains her Journey and what Kept her ahead of the Race …as an Artist in Life

Your journey as an artist is interesting can you share it with us?
There are two contrasting parts to my journey. My childhood, growing up in the jungle as a little princess. And a particularly dark period 7 years ago that actually awoke art in me, suddenly.
Let me take you back to my jungle. I spent the first ten years of my life in the darkest, deepest jungles in India with my family. My father, who was a close friend of the Nawab of Bhopal, bought 500 acres in the jungles, influenced by Nawab Saab’s constant pressure. I was literally like Simba and he was my Mofasa.
We were surrounded by leopards tigers and all kinds of wildlife. I guess the intricate textures and the vibrant colors in my work come from my time in the jungle.
Seven years ago, my husband left his job to try something on his own and he made some bad choices (trusting people he shouldn’t have trusted) and we lost everything. We were plunged into the darkest abyss. I would spent nights staying awake. The stress gave me extreme panic attacks. I would end up in the ER, in the middle of the night. My doctor prescribed an anti-depressant but warned that I would be hooked to it for the rest of my life. That night I made a hard choice. I flushed the meds down the toilet and decided to take my demons head on. Allah had other plans for me. And I suddenly started to paint. With absolutely no previous experience. I had never picked up the brush in my entire life before.
I started with little bottles and my husband was very supportive and kept pushing me to move to canvas. And the rest, as they say, is history.  This once shy, unknown housewife became an award-winning artist. A fact that still baffles me sometimes. LOL.
So the experiences that I have had. My fears, my hopes, my dreams, my doubts automatically emerge from deep within. I am an instinctive artist and my art tells stories through infinite shapes, layers and a myriad of colors. People who see my work and many who have bought my art love the stories. Some say they see something new and different everytime they look at it with new eyes. It’s like it shapes shifted overnight.

What’s your connection with  Bhopal and how life transformed from a jungle to big cities?
I was born in Bhopal and after having lived in the jungle for 10 years and being home schooled, we returned to Bhopal where I finished high school.

What made you choose abstract ?
I do abstracts because I love the freedom to express my self, my emotions in a million ways. Also, abstract art is open to a countless interpretations. I am not against realism, but if you paint a hyper realistic horse and show it to 100 people in a room, everyone will see the same horse. But with an abstract painting, even if there’s an accompanying back story, everyone sees something different. They have their own interpretation. Also, with abstract painting, there’s no reference, no picture to emulate. No reality to stay true to. It’s gestural, it’s spontaneous, it’s all natural and original. I guess when I started painting in that dark period, the chaotic movements helped me channel my emotions and then it became my signature style. My way of telling stories.

How has art changed your life ?
This question is perhaps the best of the lot. Art has completely transformed me and my life. Art saved me.  It gave birth to a whole new me. I was a shy, stay-at-home wife and mother of three who was only known for her cooking. Today, the world knows me as an artist to watch out for. Some have gone to the extent of calling me ‘the Jackson Pollock of our time”. One incident should sum up the change art brought in my life. In 2018, I went to Milan with my husband and kids to receive the first of my five awards. As I walked down the stairs of the stage with my award in this 300 year old theatre, I caught my proud husband crying like a baby. My kids were awestruck. Their ‘plain old mom’ had just rubbed shoulders with some of the finest artists from all over the world and picked up an award. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. The rave reviews, the comments and the response I have got for my work internationally is astounding. Being featured in a prestigious art book amongst 50 great artists in the world, having my work hang in a museum. It all sounds like a fairytale. So yes, art has transformed my life completely. You, for instance, would never have interviewed me for my biryani, I promise you. LOL.

How is life as a artist in Dubai?
I wouldn’t know about other artists, but I haven’t had a lot of success in Dubai. It’s sad, right? For someone who has done Dubai proud globally on several occasions, it’s surprising. I sell a lot in the US and Europe and in comparison, I have just sold about 4 or 5 in Dubai. The value of my art internationally has quadrupled in less than a year. But I wish I did better in my ‘hometown’. I would love to be represented by a good gallery in Dubai. I have been part of a few group shows here and people turn up, socialize, sample finger food and leave. Haven’t ever seen anyone actually buying art. I am just speaking from my own experience. I could be wrong. Maybe my style is more suited for the US and Europe.

What tools and techniques do you use ?
I mostly use palette knives (and sometimes brushes). I am into abstract expressionism and, as I said before, I paint from instinct. My moods, what I am feeling at that time, what I have been thinking of at the time of painting invariably finds its way to the canvas. I don’t always plan a painting. Sometimes I have a broad, sketchy idea of the subject matter. And then I get into a trance and paint like a crazy woman. I paint in multiple layers. What might look like a a good painting to my husband who watches me paint is just the beginning for me and I paint several layers over it until I am satisfied.  I have, on several occasions, repainted old work that began to look ‘ugh’ to me. The thing is, I paint every day. Non-stop. Even when I am very sick. Art is like oxygen to me. So when you paint every day, you keep getting better at what you do and you keep evolving and learning new techniques. And then you look it your older work and you are like “Nah! I can do better than that!” I have never been to an art school or ever been exposed to art history or works of old masters. In fact when people started comparing my work to Jackson Pollock’s, I had to Google him. I was stunned by the similarity in style. And even more surprised that it was a pure coincidence since I had never seen his work before.

What’s your message to the world?
My message to the world is very simple: Nothing in this world is impossible. If a simple housewife who always hid behind her award-winning creative husband all her life can do this, anyone can. Life is all about second chances. And there’s no age limit for greatness. You can achieve anything if you set your mind to it. So go for it. Never doubt yourself. And most importantly: NEVER GIVE UP!

What things do you want to change in society as an artist
If there’s anything I could instill in the society we live in, it would be compassion. And tolerance. Art has no boundaries. Through art, I am now connected to so many people from all over the world. Deep down, we are all the same. And I see that from the comments and reactions I get for my art. People really feel every little nuance, every emotion in the art they see. When they look at a piece of art, they get sucked in. That’s when they let their guard down, leave all the barriers behind, and start seeing things differently, even if it’s only momentary. If I can spread, happiness, compassion and a different perspective on life through my work and make people sit up and ponder for a minute, I think I would have done my bit.

Between love and art, what would you choose?
Love and art are inseparable. Without love, there would be no art. I love art with a passion and it shows in my work. Great art comes from pure, never-ending love. And when you have people in your life who support you, love you unconditionally, and feel proud of you it becomes a potent combination.

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