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Vivid wheels of colour with Varna by Varsha

Vivid wheels of colour with Varna by Varsha

16 Jul 2023 | By Naveed Rozais

  • Varsha Perera on Varna by Varsha

The beauty of art lies in its diversity. Anyone can make art; it is an expression of one’s self. For those talented few, the art they produce inspires and moves other people. One new Sri Lankan artist making a name for herself as a late-bloomer is Varsha Perera through her art business Varna by Varsha. New to the art world after a nearly 20-year career in marketing, Varsha re-embraced art after relocating to Sri Lanka following a 14-year stint in Myanmar and Hong Kong working with global spirits brands like Pernod Ricard. 

Inspired by the geometric symmetry of mandalas, since devoting her full energy to art eight months ago, Varsha has developed a powerful art brand that she can take global to showcase her art to the world. Technically, a mandala is a symbolic geometric design used for spiritual practices, meditation, and creating sacred spaces, representing a journey from outer layers to the inner core in various spiritual traditions. 

For Varsha, this largely holds true, though for her, mandalas also offer a calming influence, both while she paints using mandalas as well as when it comes to the final product, offering an ordered, geometric depth to her work.

An entirely unusual artist

Varsha’s move back to Sri Lanka was driven by a need to spend time with her family and inadvertently led her to her most unexpected career path yet – that of a full-time artist. 

“I had painted in school and as an adult as a hobby, but art was never a main part of my life, just something I was good at and had done from my young days,” Varsha explained, sharing that this casual approach to art changed when she moved back to Sri Lanka. “It was a stressful time, and I took to painting because of the stress. I began painting a lot more, almost as a form of therapy, and this was also when I discovered mandalas.” 

What makes Varsha unusual as an artist is her varied background. She has a degree in bioscience from the University of Colombo, a CIMA qualification, studied marketing management at Harvard, and most recently also studied neuro-linguistic programming (the connection between language, thought patterns, and behaviour for personal development and effective communication). She also has over 20 years of experience in marketing, most recently as Associate Director of Global Brands for Asia for Pernod Ricard.

Reflecting on this unusual professional journey, Varsha shared with Brunch that studying bioscience had been something she had done because at that point, it had been one of the few options available to a young person starting out. This was also why she pursued a CIMA qualification and she soon realised these two career options were simply not for her. “I knew I was not going to be happy sitting behind a computer as an accountant. I’m an extrovert. I love talking to people and marketing was really my thing,” Varsha said.

The creative bridge between marketing and art

As an artist, Varsha practises mainly with acrylic on canvas, incorporating mandalas into her work. Her art is based on her own experiences and emotions and looks to capture the connections and relationships she feels most intensely. 

“What really makes my paintings stand out is the contrasting vibrant colours I use. This is why the brand is also called Varna by Varsha (Varna meaning colour).” 

As someone with a wealth of marketing expertise, Varsha has also built a considered brand around her art. Her logo, for example, also denotes her love of colour, featuring red at the bottom, Tiffany Blue to communicate her brand’s positioning as a premium art product, and leaf green to communicate a new brand and a new beginning. This blend of art and marketing is something that Varsha feels gives her an edge over other artists looking to establish themselves in the art marketplace. 

Art and marketing go hand-in-hand and across her career, understanding this has helped her be more impactful. “The creativity and imagination you have in your head helps,” she explained. “I could always visualise how my campaign would look and how consumers would respond because of my creativity and that was an edge to have as a marketer.” 

The flip side is true as an artist. Varsha’s marketing expertise has helped her to more effectively position her brand and herself as an artist and reach the right kind of buyers. “It has really helped me to kick off my art as a business. I understand the business aspect, consumers and customer requirements, and how to reach these consumers – which mediums and platforms to use – and this has really helped me find opportunities,” she said. 

Being an artist in a digital world

Embarking on an art brand has also made Varsha better appreciate just how much the role of art and artist intertwines, especially on social media. “I wasn’t really into putting myself out there on social media, but when people buy a painting, they are also buying part of the artist. Artists themselves are part of their product, not just what they paint, but them and their vision too,” she shared, adding that this was where social media provided a unique opportunity for artists to build reputations and position themselves online to hit their markets better. 

The digital world is transforming how artists connect with audiences. The traditional methods of reaching audiences and buyers like physical shows, galleries, and collectors are still very much valid, but social media gives artists a lot more power to engage with people. 

On how social media and the traditional art landscape come together to create a market for artists, Varsha said: “Social media is how people discover artists now. Before, the galleries, curators and collectors were very important because they had the contacts with these individuals and could position you, but now art buyers also buy based on your popularity and how relevant you are online. It’s a part of you that they buy. Social media doesn’t give you the actual buyers, but it gives you the appeal to make buyers want to buy your work and this is why it’s important to use social media to your benefit. Almost all the opportunities I’ve received are through social media.” 

Further leaning into the potential of the digital world to amplify the power of her art, Varsha has also newly launched a collection of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs – unique digital assets that can be bought, sold, and owned, representing ownership or proof of authenticity for various digital and physical items) for international audiences interested in digital art to purchase. 

“I believe in using technology to help you stay relevant,” Varsha said of why she felt it was important to venture into NFTs. “What appeals in the NFT world is also very different. I’ve worked with NFTs before when working at Pernod Ricard, launching NFTs for limited edition collections with major brands and celebrities. The NFT market is more global and a powerful international platform.” 

What’s next? 

Varsha recently took part in her very first exhibition at Select Art 2023 | World Of Crete, an arts festival in Greece that took place in June. Her next big step is to put on her first solo exhibition in Sri Lanka, something she is actively working towards for the end of this year. 

Above all, she is thrilled to be pursuing art full-time. “It’s very liberating,” Varsha said of being a full-time artist. “Growing up, society tells you to fit into a certain box and do certain jobs that are the accepted norm. At the time you’re too young and pressured to make it in life by listening to that inner compass and doing what you like. There are only a few lucky ones who end up doing what they really like. I loved marketing; I did it for 20 years and didn’t think there was anything else I wanted to do. But painting is something I was born with. In the South Asian context, parents don’t really encourage you to take on art. I never planned on becoming a painter full-time and it is very liberating to be one now.” 

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