Shyama Golden’s designs defy definition
08.04.21 Interview by Hannah Valentine

Shyama Golden’s designs defy definition

From her powerful portraits to her beautifully intricate patterns, the American artist has a style that is entirely her own
08.04.21 Interview by Hannah Valentine

Shyama is one of those artists who seems to be able to do just about everything. From her home in LA, she regularly illustrates for magazines and newspapers such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bitch Magazine, and The Atlantic, as well as for brands such as Apple and Red Bull Music, using Procreate on her iPad to create her digital designs. Having studied Graphic Design at Texas Tech University, she has a strong grasp of what makes an image compelling, and her past experiences in designing everything from typefaces to apps to the perfect GIF is evident in her irresistible aesthetic.

Alongside her editorial and advertorial illustrating, Shyama keeps busy painting murals, designing wallpaper and animating her own illustrations. She frequently exhibits her oil and acrylic paintings at galleries and art spaces, and she is designing and illustrating her own children’s book. Her subjects include portraits of famous figures, mesmerizing repeating patterns of plants and animals, and, occasionally, a yeti made up entirely of cats. Her style is hard to pin down, but across the range of her work, her designs are beautifully intricate, with a hypnotising detail which means that there's always something new to notice.

We talk to Shyama about her unique style, about taking leaps of faith and how she finds the fantastic in the mundane.

Tell us what a typical day looks like for you? You must have so much energy to do everything you do – what's your secret?
My typical day involves procrastinating and doing unimportant things till about 5pm and then just getting going, and finally reaching a stroke of brilliance around midnight. There’s no secret, everybody who knows me knows I’m just tired all the time!

Your work covers so many different mediums and methods. How would you describe your style?
I would describe my style as Shyamavision. I’m notoriously bad at describing my own work, but it’s a reflection of how I see the world. There are a lot of contradictions. There’s an aspect of cuteness to my work, but there’s also an element of dark humour, for example the uncanny nature of the portraits can be seen as a little creepy.

My work is also simultaneously simplified and insanely detailed. It’s far from photorealism—that’s the simplification—but there’s a lot of storytelling going on—which is the detail. I am drawn to finding the fantastic in the mundane and sometimes the mundane in the fantastic. These contradictions balance each other out, making it all a bit confusing and drawing the viewer in. I love to confuse people in good ways. In all my work though, I want everything I create to have that spark of life. That’s always the goal.

It seems like you've been featuring more portraits and human figures in your work recently. What's this move about?
It’s about making the images I want to see, and what I’m drawn to most of all is human figures and faces. This is the subject that always has more to explore for me. Even when I’m drawing creatures and plants, it’s usually about people and how we relate to each other.

What personal projects you're working on at the moment?
I’m working on paintings for a new solo show which will happen in Autumn 2021. I’m also going to have works displayed at the Hotel Figueroa in downtown LA from March to December, which I’m excited about because it’s a long-term installation and it’s such a great space.

Shyama Golden
"I would describe my style as Shyamavision. It’s a reflection of how I see the world. There are a lot of contradictions. There’s an aspect of cuteness to my work, but there’s also an element of dark humour, for example the uncanny nature of the portraits can be seen as a little creepy."

Those sound great. And what about client projects – is there something you've particularly enjoyed working on recently?
I recently finished a "video print” collaboration with a company called Infinite Objects. It’s a customized object with a thin screen embedded in it, forever playing a looping animation. I designed an animated miniature painting based on archival images of South Asian women that would play in the screen, mimicking a transmission from an alternate dimension.

What's the project that you would never have predicted being asked to work on?
I got asked to make portraits of Regina Hall as her character Jordan for the set of the movie Little (2019). I was travelling at the time, but I was able to paint them on my iPad, and the day after I finished them, we had them printed and framed at the set in Atlanta. They were prominently featured in the film and trailer. It was surreal and such a fun thing to be a part of!

Finally, this past year has created a sense of uncertainty for a lot of people. How do you cope with unpredictability?
In 2020 I played it safe by working for others, but this year I’m focusing on personal work. Things are never certain in life but they feel particularly unpredictable for me right now. I am learning to be braver, to take more risks and trust myself more. I’ve found that nothing good ever happens without taking a leap of faith.

–––––––––––– / @shyamagolden