Do you know about Chennai-based artist Varuna Sridhar’s now-famous painting of a coffee cup?
The reason the coffee cup looked so realistic was that Varuna is an exponent of a genre of art called hyperrealism
Going viral is easy when technology and social media come together. Early this year, Chennai-based artist Varuna Sridhar’s now-famous painting of a coffee cup created quite a stir. Was it a photograph? A Photoshop filter rendered on a photograph? Or was it a true enchilada? The art work was so realistic that people kept looking for more. So, is she a one-painting sensation? Though she is painting more of them, the 21-year-Varuna is in no mood to upload them yet. Food is her muse, and making it visually palatable is her experiment. She says, “Yes, I am focusing on different types of food, but I have chosen not to upload them for now. I am building my private collection.”
The reason the coffee cup looked so realistic was not for any of the above reasons. Varuna is an exponent of a genre of art called hyperrealism—an American art movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s—in which the artist creates the illusion of a high-resolution photograph. It is a level up from photorealism, where a photograph is projected on a canvas, which the artist airbrushes to duplicate the same effect on another medium. Both related genres include sculpture, which is rendered from photos.
Varuna’s intuitive interest in visual reality can perhaps be traced back to her degree in Visual Communication and a diploma in cinematography, but she has had several artists to turn to for inspiration. Her idols are Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso, and Leonardo Da Vinci. Closer home, she looks up to artists such as MF Husain, Anjolie Ela Menon, and SH Raza. It was one of artist Noah Verrier’s paintings online that drove her to paint the coffee cup.
Though the gastroartist, if one may call Varuna that, isn’t done with sending her creatives into the digital space, she is posting her experiments with packaging design. “I work with watercolours, acrylic, digital, and graphite on landscapes, nature, food and portraits,” she says.
To give her digital coffee cup another dimension, she recreated it in acrylic on canvas. “Despite the popularity, I got trolled because people said my coffee cup was only realistic because of the digital medium. I felt they were invalidating my talent. I wanted to prove them wrong and recreated it all manually,” she says. After that, she posted many paintings of food—idlis, dosas, and other South Indian fare—and got trolled worse. “Now, they kept pointing out minute mistakes like the painting was not like a photograph. It was pretty frustrating.”
Varuna started early. She was certified the Youngest Certified Corel Designer in the Asia-Pacific region at eight. She has participated in 13 exhibitions since she was aged four, at venues in Chennai and Mumbai. The show in Mumbai had digital paintings which dealt with outlier ideas like “what if fish lived on land or if a house had wings. I chose themes which inspired me at the time”, she says. Her future plans? “I love exploring different cuisines and want to paint more food. I want to go down in art history like Picasso.” Now, that is a hyperrealistic ambition.