A Portrait of Isha Gollapudi: Artist
May 18, 2023
The passage of time marked with penciled lines on the wall. Lines, drawn above children’s heads, climbing higher and higher with each passing year, with each growth spurt. Lines traced with a parent’s careful hand as a toddler, an elementary schooler, a teen waits.
Lines etched with pencils, with pens, with markers. The lower ones fading as the newer marks grow closer and closer together. Every line looks different, but each one’s purpose—tracking growth—is the same.
The Gollapudi household commemorates their daughter’s growth with lines of a different sort: lines crafted by Isha herself. Her brush strokes — in watercolor, in oil, in acrylic.
Gollapudi’s art over the last decade, she said, serves as “a very good marker for how much [she has] grown over time.”
What began as a preschooler’s joyful experimentation with color and paint has evolved into a passion — a passion that wouldn’t be possible without one encouraging mother.
Where other parents saw scribbles in their preschoolers’ pieces, Gollapudi’s mom saw an outlet.
“She took it seriously when I was in preschool,” Gollapudi said, “and really tried to help me express myself.”
Fridge to Frames
Over a decade later, the support is the same—but at 16, Gollapudi’s works are more than doodles drawn on printer paper adorning the family’s fridge. Her works today are pieces two feet, three feet tall, pieces which take up to 10, 12 hours to complete.
Pieces more suitable for display at the U.S. Capitol than the fridge.
Pieces like “Golden Repair,” Gollapudi’s personal favorite and most celebrated painting.
The painting, a portrait of a young woman pierced with golden cracks, won first out of 142 entries in the 2022 Congressional Art Competition—earning it a place in Congressman Darin LaHood’s office at the Capitol Building.
The piece draws inspiration from kintsugi — a Japanese technique for repairing broken pottery by filling the crevices with precious metals like gold, illuminating the jagged edges, deriving beauty from the flaws.
“You get this incredible, unique piece where the gold is lining all of the cracks,” Gollapudi said, “but it’s also sturdier than it was before.”
By bringing the traditional Japanese pottery technique to a new medium, a painting, “Golden Repair” reflects two driving forces behind Gollapudi’s passion: spreading awareness and spreading her wings.
Drawing on cultural influences from India to Japan, representation is a tenet of Gollapudi’s art. She wants everyone to “feel at least a little seen or represented” by her work, even if viewers cannot immediately understand her pieces’ full complexity.
While some works are designed to resonate with a specific community, like a portrait of her great, great grandmother that represents her own Indian family’s stories and traditions, others—“Golden Repair” among them—speak to a larger audience: humanity as a whole.
These pieces don’t just convey the messages passed down through families of the world, but the messages Gollapudi has learned through her own artistic journey.
Messages like how our flaws should be celebrated and embraced.
As the size of Gollapudi’s art has increased throughout that journey — first a sheet of paper, then an 18 x 24 canvas and now a mock-up for a sculpture in Beardstown, IL—so has her confidence.
A previous version of herself, an earlier draft of the artist, may have abandoned a piece after hours spent bent over a desk didn’t produce her exact vision, Gollapudi said.
But today, she finds value in her artistic trials and imperfections — an idea she draws on in her kintsugi-inspired Capitol art.
“Golden Repair,” while not a self-portrait, is a self-reflection — an image of a woman “with a few features similar to mine,” Gollapudi said, who remains a “strong and confident woman” despite her flaws.
“Although we sometimes break,” Gollapudi said, “the repair we go through only makes us more unique and better individuals.”
As Gollapudi becomes a better individual, a better artist, the scope of her art extends beyond a personal token of growth.
“My parents raised me [with] a strong belief that if you’re in a position to help people,” Gollapudi said, “you should.”
By auctioning off her work in the community, she has helped support the growth of others worldwide—raising $1000 to ship medical supplies to Ukraine and fund education in rural India.
Despite Gollapudi’s aim to impact everyone from the opportunity-starved to the underrepresented, a more personal motive keeps her behind the easel for hours each week: love.
Because to Gollapudi, a work of art is not a day of work.
As those linear marks of graphite slowly cease to appear on kitchen walls, a tradition lost as children become adults, Gollapudi’s lines of growth—her flecks of paint, her dashes of pen ink, her strokes of vibrant oil that take hours to form a single piece — show no signs of plateauing as life’s other obligations increase.
At the end of a long school day, art is the mode of relaxation, of self-care, that Gollapudi relies on to “keep that work-life balance.”
Just as balance is a principle of the arts, art will always remain a principle in Gollapudi’s life.
“I’ve dedicated so much of my life to [art],” Gollapudi said. “I can’t possibly imagine one where I don’t paint for a couple hours every week.”
Her ever-evolving art portfolio of lines, from sculpture sketches to pencil etches, will forever be what makes Isha, Isha.
To know her is to know the sketches that line the margins of her chemistry homework.
The Post-Its adorned with intricately-drawn flowers that she distributes to bored classmates during a lesson.
The hours she spends each week on her passion.
The passion she discovered with a paintbrush held in her tiny fist at four years old and continues to explore with every piece, every figurative tick-mark on the wall.