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Discovery in nature: The art of Bhavani Krishnan

Like a lot of people who move to Oregon, Bhavani Krishnan found herself drawn to the natural beauty that surrounded her.

Though Krishnan has always felt connected to nature, growing up in Pune, near Mumbai, India, the outdoor lifestyle so common here was considered unusual.

It was not that common for people to go hiking at that time and none of my friends did. But I felt compelled to do it. I sought out groups that would go hiking and kind of begged and pleaded with my parents to let me go,” Krishnan recalled.

As a teen, she and a group of like-minded nature lovers would travel by bus to the Sahyadri mountains in southern India.

Oftentimes we would go hiking during the monsoon so it would be raining. And I remember there being lots of waterfalls and we would just not worry about anything, and jump into the water ... . It was a lot of fun.”

After earning a master’s degree in computer science and working as a software engineer in Atlanta, Krishnan was invited to come to Portland to interview for a job at Intel.

“I saw Mount Hood from the plane,” Krishnan remembers. “I kind of almost instantaneously fell in love with it.”

Krishnan said she immediately embraced the local lifestyle, spending weekends and vacations hiking and exploring scenic spots throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“I was born in Switzerland, but we moved to India when I was 2 years old, but I always feel like my love for mountains comes from me being born there. I don’t know if it makes sense, but I just feel that,” Krishnan laughed.

It didn’t take long for Krishnan’s exploration of the region’s natural splendors to lead her to uncover yet another passion.

“I was visiting a friend who’d taken up painting. And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I used to like this.’ I just thought I’d give it a try again,” she said. Krishnan picked her old hobby, combining it with her love of the outdoors to produce plein air paintings of her favorite spots in her spare time. Her plan was to really dive in after she retired.

“I never thought of painting even as an option for a career. It just never occurred to me because, in India at that time, if you did fairly well in your academics, there were only two options. Either you go for engineering or you become a doctor. So, I just never considered anything else.”

But three years after picking up her paint brush, Krishnan found herself looking for a way to do it full time.

“At that point, I was just thinking, ‘How many people get to find their true passion?’ I felt very lucky that I did; I just felt like I had to go for it,” she said. “I had to give it a shot.”

And while she hasn’t looked back, her painting has evolved.

“I used to paint very realistically when I started, and then gradually I’ve transitioned to being more loose and painterly. And now, more recently, I’ve been trying to go just a bit further, in trying to say something that’s a bit more than just what I see.”

Krishnan also became fascinated with how to create a resonant impression of her subject with as few brush strokes as possible. One area where this shift is evident is in her portraits.

“Painting a portrait is really exciting because there’s a living, breathing person,” Krishnan explained. “I love trying to capture something about their personality.”

Krishnan brings the same spirit of exploration to her still lives and plein air paintings of iconic Oregon landscapes; her work is widely collected, has won awards in several plein air shows and was juried into the American Impressionist Society national show in 2018 and 2019.

To celebrate her adopted home, Krishnan has curated a collection of her favorite plein air paintings done at beloved Oregon locations. The collection is called “One Touch of Nature.”

“I would hope that people would have an emotional response to my painting because when I look at art, that’s what I feel,” she said. “I’m moved by paintings that make me feel moved and invigorated. And that’s what I hope to transcend into my paintings.”

"Autumn Valley," a plein air painting by Bhavani Krishnan.
Courtesy of Bhavani Krishnan /
"Autumn Valley," a plein air painting by Bhavani Krishnan.
Artist Bhavani Krishnan's early paintings emphasized realistic, three-dimensionality.
Courtesy of Bhavani Krishnan /
Artist Bhavani Krishnan's early paintings emphasized realistic, three-dimensionality.
Artist Bhavani Krishnan's style evolved from realistic to more impressionistic.
Courtesy of Bhavani Krishnan /
Artist Bhavani Krishnan's style evolved from realistic to more impressionistic.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting