Berkeley Tax Lawyer Started Painting and ‘A Lightbulb Went Off’

Emily S. Mendel, Berkeleyside, 13 October 2021

Amrita Singhal’s third solo show, “Seek, Memory,” is on view through Oct. 23 at Berkeley’s Shoh Gallery.

Amrita Singhal, a former lawyer and emerging artist, is enjoying her third solo show at Berkeley’s Shoh Gallery this month. Her work is a fascinating combination of colorful acrylics/oils and meditative Hindu monotypes. Two of her pieces are in the Berkeley Art Museum’s permanent collection.

Amrita Singhal has made many journeys in her lifetime. The first one was from her home in northeast India to Berkeley at age 11. Her Indian parents “couldn’t quite understand Berkeley’s Willard Junior High curriculum,” she said, so they sent her back to India to attend a rigorous all-girls boarding school.

After high school, she journeyed back to her parents’ Berkeley home and enrolled at UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley. Law school in Colorado followed a gap year in Europe. “I have loved French literature and the world of ideas and art since I was a child,” she said.

A successful career in tax law, securities and business immigration law was its own passage, as was marriage and children. She always supplemented legal practice with music, poetry, ceramics and photography “kind of obsessively,” she added.

With notable modesty, Singhal said she was a “decent” tax lawyer but stopped practicing law in 2005. She didn’t see a career in painting at first. “Everyone in my family and everyone I know are doctors, lawyers, tech people. For them, painting is just a hobby.”

But when she tried painting, she said “it was like a lightbulb went off in my head.”

“I have never done anything in my whole life that allows me to focus just on the moment as much as painting. Finally, I found something where my mind doesn’t wander,” she said. “I love the physical aspects of painting and printmaking.”

Singhal’s current gallery show, Seek Memory, combines memories of India with modern colorful imagery. For example, the affecting Funeral Pyres, a color-filled oil on wood, conceived in response to the pandemic, shows a cremator standing like a medieval knight amid the dead.

The meditative and reflective Rama Prayer Series, on the other hand, contains muted monotypes, etchings, and paintings trimmed with gold. They have the words “Rama Rama” (the Hindu deity who embodies spiritualities and morality) written repeatedly on several layers in each work, in a spiritual exercise to strengthen one’s mind.

The Coming Night, an oil and mixed media on a panel, harkens back to Singhal’s childhood memories of sleeping on her grandmother’s lawn as night and raindrops approached.

Although not a trained artist, Singhal is studying drawing and art history in the atelier of the 92-year-old Louise Smith. “She’s an unstinting taskmaster, who teaches me how to see, not how to paint,” she said.

Singhal has several commissions in process and plans to work on a digital art project with a sound and light component. “I’m praying for 30 more years of painting,” she said. “I want to go out doing this.”