Mumbai-born Janavi Folmsbee Offers a New Set of Wonderfully Watery Works

Janavi Folmsbee

SOME ARTISTS GREET you at their studio dressed in sweat-stained, paint-splattered clothes, hair hastily pulled back and in need of a good shampoo. Mumbai-born Janavi Mahimtura Folmsbee is not one of those artists.


Still beaming the morning after a press conference at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, where it was announced Folmsbee would be designing a public installation for the 240-foot tunnel between Terminal D and E, Folmsbee is back in her studio, putting the final touches on Calm Water Color Storm (Feb. 26 – April 2 at Heidi Vaughan Fine Art), an ambitious exhibit of painstakingly created paintings, sculptures and lenticulars inspired by the shapes and colors of underwater marine life.

“It takes a lot of time to make a body of work like this, and to do it right,” says Folmsbee, whose confident glamour belies a laser-like focus on the business of making art.

Those familiar with Folmsbee’s public art, such as Rail to the Sea, a gorgeous 4,200-square-foot mural located at 1505 Sawyer St., might be surprised by the intimate scale of Calm Water Color Storm. But as it is with her murals, the disarming beauty of Folmsbee’s fine art is the result of months — even years — of meticulous, obsessive attention to technical minutiae. This is an artist who literally makes her own paint, using custom-made pigments from laboratories around the world to create otherworldly colors that recall the Hindu and Zoroastrian rituals of her youth and the tropical fish she has studied up close while scuba diving in the Indian Ocean.

“When I’m diving, it’s like being in a sculptural garden,” says Folmsbee, who collaborates with several marine organizations to help preserve the planet’s oceans. “It’s immersive. That’s why my art is this way.” Her upcoming installation at IAH, titled Aquarius Art Tunnel and scheduled for completion this summer, will emulate the experience of an ocean dive, and celebrate Houston as a globally connected community, since this is the tunnel Folmsbee navigates when catching a flight to Mumbai.

With a maquette of Heidi Vaughan’s gallery close to her brushes and paints, and a Jeff Koons purse adorned with Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe resting on a small teal couch, Folmsbee’s studio is both a sacred and sensual space, a place to get things done.

“If you can envision it,” says Folmsbee, “and you put it out to the universe, anything is possible.”

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