Swathi Konduri finds community in Austin art markets and unlocks creativity through her craft.
By Samantha Greyson, Photos courtesy of Swathi Konduri
After taking art classes as a child and doodling in her notebooks throughout college, Austin artist Swathi Konduri picked drawing and painting back up during the pandemic, when she lived alone in a 400-square-foot apartment and desperately needed something to do.
“I took art lessons from when I was about 11 to 18 and I was bad during all of it—let’s be clear—and I really hated painting,” Konduri says. “But during the pandemic, I was so bored. I [thought], ‘Let me paint this stupid bookcase, I guess.’ That’s what got me back into painting. So it was just the boredom that made me retouch all of my old hobbies that I had neglected in college.”
Though she doesn’t describe herself as having natural artistic ability, through practice, Konduri’s artwork became a unique mixture of everyday occurrences with otherworldly vibrance, like that of a Dr. Suess book. Her style is fantastical yet realistic; it takes the seemingly mundane and transforms it into a memory. A good memory, like driving in the car with the sunroof down and feeling its warmth.
During the pandemic, Konduri was able to create a strong internal validation system for her art, because no one was there to tell her it was good or bad. She knows her art is good, and that is what matters.
“Once I started showing my art externally, it’s great when people love my art, but it doesn’t affect me that much, and it doesn’t affect me that much if people don’t like my art. I created this because I wanted to, and I love it,” Konduri says.
Konduri first discovered Austin’s art market scene while working at a tech company pre-pandemic, making cold-calls to individuals who didn’t always give her the most positive feedback. She began selling her art in these markets a year later after falling in love with the community she found.
“I’m calling people who say, ‘Oh, unsubscribe,’ like I’m not a human,” Konduri says. “I didn’t really mind; I was getting paid to do it. But, yeah, rejection. As opposed to in the art space, where people are coming up to me because they like my work so much, and they’re treating me as a subject expert.”
The art markets were a stark shift from her corporate job, where she experienced sexism and was one of few people of color in her workspace. When she attended an art market, she was surrounded by strong, kind and talented women of color who worked to make her feel included.
“It’s nice to be in a community of people just like me, instead of being the only person like me,” Konduri says.
In July 2021, Konduri left her job to solely sell at the art markets. She has since continued to create art and has also tried her hand at web design, including one instance where she redesigned the website for Dee Dee, a local Thai food truck.
Konduri describes her art as surrealist. One of her favorite practices is using colored pencils to draw over a photograph she has taken and make small tweaks, such as enlarging the sun or enhancing the color.
Color becomes a character within Konduri’s paintings. It is at the forefront, and it makes her pieces feel like they exist in a dreamworld. Konduri creates art from her experiences, and hopes that these little glimpses of her own life will inspire others to think about their own. She describes her art as an extension of herself; it’s personal.
“I love evoking strong emotions in other people,” Konduri says. “Like nostalgia, I just want all of my pieces to connect to a personal memory for the viewer.”