Journeys and destinations with Jersey City artist Deb Sinha

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"Vermeer Project" Robotist oil on canvas by Jersey City artist Deb Sinha

Out artist

My Shadow - oil on canvas by Jersey City artist Deb Sinha
My Shadow – oil on canvas by Jersey City artist Deb Sinha

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” Perhaps the famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson best captures the art and life of artist Deb Sinha. A software engineer by profession, Sinha has always been drawn to art. He’s painted, on and off, as a hobby, for as long as he can remember, but never thought that he’d make a living out of it.

Yet, making art has kept him company throughout his life, even more so when, as an immigrant, he was “feeling lost” and yearned to become part of a community. Nowadays, when people ask him why he paints, Sinha jokingly comments that “art is the cheapest [form of] therapy” that he knows.

Years ago, he discovered “an excellent artist community” in Jersey City. It was here that he stumbled upon “a bar called Pint,” where he met amazing individuals, who welcomed him with open arms. Many of these individuals then became his friends. “I really feel blessed,” Sinha comments on the experience.

And so, he decided to make Jersey City his home. Then, in 2016, he started going to art shows and galleries while trying to get to know the city and its residents even better. In the process, he discovered the local rich and diverse artist community. He met artists and activists like Miguel Cardenas, Catherine Hecht, Beth Achenbach, and later on, artist Robert Koch.

“I love Jersey City,” the artist declares. His first series of paintings became his “ode to Jersey City,” because, “[the city] is a place that made me pick up painting and drawing. You don’t have to go to exotic places for inspiration; you can find inspiration [right here,] where you live.” And locals or those familiar with the city and surrounding area might recognize familiar places in many of Sinha’s art pieces.

Sinha’s body of work is rich, diverse, capturing life as a fascinating blend of reality and abstraction. In his paintings, he brings to life favorite and famous places, among others, the Freedom Tower framed by Jersey City lights, part of the City Lights series, or the Bethesda fountain statue in Central Park, part of the City Scapes series; in his Still Life series, the artist uses vivid colors to bring out the beauty of mundane objects. In his Figurative body of work, the artist dares us to take a good look inside through powerful portraits. The individuals brought to life in this particular series appear to reflect on their journeys through life thus far, hence daring us, the viewers, to do the same. For example, “My Shadow” captures a male, nude, looking at his reflection in the mirror, perhaps wondering about the person staring back at him, maybe wondering if he can still recognize this person, his life, or his dreams.

There’s a calming, meditative feeling that traverses Sinha’s entire body of work. Oftentimes, his images tell powerful, soulful visual narratives while using contemporary light. Sometimes, his images reveal aspects of life that many might feel hesitant about and uncomfortable to acknowledge.

A self-taught artist, Sinha is a contemporary oil painter whose work is inspired by the likes of Sargent, Degas, and in particular by Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675). Influenced by the Dutch painter, Sinha has recently started working on a new series—the Vermeer project series. Some of the art pieces included in this very recent body of work are also inspired by Sinha’s engineering background.

The artist believes that “there’s a story in any subject” no matter what that subject might be—a city scene, still life, or portraits. And he thinks about these stories as he walks around the city. Sometimes he sees the story he’s about to paint, in real-time; other times he makes up a story to paint.

While many artists use their sketchbooks to sketch out ideas, Sinha does the sketching in his head. “I paint in my head,” he says, explaining that a lot of his painting process and a lot of the related technical process happen way before he even picks up the brush.

City Lights IX Freedom Tower- oil on canvas by Jersey City artist Deb Sinha
City Lights IX Freedom Tower- oil on canvas by Jersey City artist Deb Sinha

Nowadays, he does all this necessary prep work on his iPad. The Procreate app on his iPad simulates the feel of a real paper on which then he “paints” using a pressure-sensitive iPad pencil, or iPencil. Many times, he also uses images stored on his iPad as references for his paintings. A quick browse through his Instagram page, @DebSinhaArts, shows that sometimes his iPad itself becomes part of his paintings.

The iPad does not only offer the artist the freedom to experiment, but it also helps him create “green friendly” artwork which is something he advocates for. “I use the iPad for reference,” he reiterates. “When I actually paint, I paint in oil.” He has been experimenting with various types of surfaces, including metal, but he favors panels and canvases. “Recently I’ve decided that I’m fighting with so many things [in life], I don’t want to fight with the surface, too, because a bad surface is really hard to work on.”

Brunswick Church and 99 Ranch store - oil on canvas by Jersey
Brunswick Church and 99 Ranch store – oil on canvas by Jersey City artist Deb Sinha

Ever since 2017, Deb Sinha’s artwork has been featured in various group shows, including the group show celebrating 50 years of Pride in 2019 and in art galleries as (the now closed) LITM, as well as the Art House Productions.
Sinha doesn’t only create powerful, soulful artwork, but he’s also involved with various charities, oftentimes using his artwork to help raise much-needed funds. As he explains it, while he’s “not driving” the process, he’s always trying to help, as much as he can.

Nowadays, Sinha has become an intrinsic member of Jersey City’s artist community. In many ways, his artwork captures the essence of the city and its residents. “I’m not an artist that makes art in isolation,” he said. “I interact with people.” Every time he shows his work, he engages with people and watches how they connect with his work. And that, in turn, influences his creative process and, hence, his future work, going forward.

Bethesda - oil on wood panel by Jersey City artist Deb Sinha
Bethesda – oil on wood panel by Jersey City artist Deb Sinha

“It’s not about the subject, but the process,” Sinha says. “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” It seems that that famous quote stands true. Whenever asked about “what’s next” in his life, the artist replies, “I honestly don’t know. I tell myself to enjoy the journey and not worry about where I’m going. I think that’s my philosophy.”

Artmaking is “a struggle,” Sinha said, “but you have to keep going, and you have to enjoy the process, and learn. It’s like [learning and knowing] a language to express yourself.” He adds, “Every time I [am interviewed], I learn more about myself, so thank you.”

Learn more about Deb Sinha’s art, by visiting his art studio at 150 Bay Street, in Jersey City, NJ.

debsinhaart.com

Alina Oswald, Out In Jersey Magazine Arts Editor, is a writer and photographer living and teaching in the New York City area. Published nationally and internationally, she is the author of "Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of award-winning photographer Kurt Weston," a member of the Undetectable flash collective, and also A&U Magazine Arts Editor.