This featurrette is the story of Kartikey Sharma – one of India’s foremost artists as narrated by him.
My story starts in the first grade where I would draw a little paper plane on the top left corner of the paper I was writing on. I have been an artist for as long as I can remember I just didn’t realize back then that art was going to save my life one day.
In 2009 (11th grade), when I was preparing to be engineering in Goa and was at the peak of my fitness and enjoying every bit of football that I was getting to play, I got diagnosed with a by-cuspid aortic valve in my heart and when my doctor asked me to give up on sports I felt like something very precious was taken away from me only to realize a few days later that the by-cuspid aortic valve was least of my worries. I got diagnosed with second-stage Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was only 17 years old back then and I didn’t understand what was really happening. All I was worried about was how will I give my Board exams next year and how will I get into a good engineering college.
While sharing a room with many other patients in the hospital I made a couple of friends, one of them gave me a novel to read and this was the first time that I read anything other than my school books. Little did I know that my journey into art had just restarted. Soon I picked up a sketchbook and started scribbling again remembering how I used to draw as a child.
I was declared cured in 2010, I also prepared and wrote my 12th-grade board exams and surprisingly secured 88% and 95% in Physics and Mathematics. This was my first victory despite cancer and I was only a little disappointed to not have made a 90% average. I was upset that I couldn’t get into an IIT but I joined Symbiosis Institute of Technology to pursue Mechanical Engineering in Pune that year.
The first year of engineering when everyone was finding their place in sports, robotics, or other workshops I discovered I wanted to paint a huge empty wall. I somehow convinced everyone that it was a good idea and we ended up painting an 80 by 14 feet wall for the college festival. Over the years this wall painting activity became a ritual and in 2016 my juniors ended up painting my face on the wall as an acknowledgment.
In 2013, I got a job as an intern in a core mechanical firm’s research and development department and when I started sleeping in the toilet of the office to avoid my boss, I realized that was not the place for me. One day when I saw an advertisement for an artist hosting her solo exhibition in Mumbai I couldn’t stop myself and immediately ran from the office and hitched a ride all the way to Mumbai to meet her. I begged her to teach me and guess what, I stayed at her house for the next 15 days, I ate her food, I wore her husband’s clothes and I learned everything I could from her in those 15 days. That was my first formal/informal art education.
I dropped out of engineering without informing my parents and decided to pursue a career in art. I decided to not take money from home and started looking for opportunities to make money and learn how to paint at the same time. I knocked on doors of every cafe and restaurant possible that might need their walls painted and didn’t really find any work for many months. I had to take loans from friends, I even couldn’t afford food on many days and would survive on just boiled eggs. Times were very tough and all this was taking a toll on me, but since I never had a backup plan I kept looking for opportunities. One day a friend of mine asked me if I would like to paint a wall for the brand Red Bull, those days I would do anything for money. They made a video of me painting the wall and that became my best portfolio to ask for work. That video came very handily in convincing clients that I was worth it. I found many opportunities to paint post that. I made my first commissioned canvas painting too.
It was the year 2016 and by now I had painted 50+ walls. Two gentlemen in their late 40s wanted to start an art company and they approached me to partner with them, I founded my first company called Jumbish Creations Pvt Ltd. on the 13th of February, and unfortunately the same day I got diagnosed with the last stage relapsed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was crying while signing the papers for incorporation of my company. I was immediately moved into the hospital for the longest 3 years of my life. The first year went in trial and error on me as the doctors couldn’t really find a cure. I wanted to somehow be remembered even after my death and hence I started sketching vigorously. I would make at least one sketch a day to document my journey. It was a tough year. I even got paralyzed twice and trust me that is the most helpless one can feel. I remember I wanted to speak and words just wouldn’t come out of my mouth and I would my tears falling in plain helplessness. Nights would go in screaming in pain and begging for help while my parents would rush me to the hospital to get me an injection.
In 2017 just after my doctors gave up on me, another doctor decided that I needed a Bone Marrow Transplant. For the next 9 months, I was isolated in a room and had an even more painful journey but I produced hundreds of sketches. By then, I was not scared of death anymore and I knew I would make it out of here and I didn’t want to leave empty-handed. Days after days I improved my skills, learned everything I could find on the internet. Read art history, watch biographies and just prepare myself for the outside world. Even when my doctors gave up on me I think the fact that I wanted to succeed as an artist one day kept me going. Bone Marrow Transplant was a phase of my life that I would not even want to recall. I would not wish that for my worst enemy. It is the hardest thing a human being can endure.
The Resurrection of An Artist
It was the year 2018, I finally hosted my first solo exhibition, I felt like my endurance paid off. I was even invited by TEDxGLIM to talk about being stoic. I was finally happy with myself. Life had other plans though. One day I just couldn’t walk. Yes, one fine day, very unexpectedly my legs just wouldn’t take my body weight. I got diagnosed with Avascular Necrosis which caused pain in my hips while walking. I wanted to desperately go back to painting walls and this happened. I didn’t lose hope. I learned to get used to the pain. I kept limping but I didn’t stop walking. I came back to Pune to get back at wall painting and join the office. Slowly but steadily I started painting walls again. I learned how to take breaks from painting, how to time my pain killers, and finally, after 3 years of being away from walls, I finally got a chance to paint a cafe. I was ecstatic.
In 2019 I started a campaign to paint the whole city of Pune. I started accepting sponsorship from local businesses to buy paint and called it “Clean and Paint Pune” where I aim at painting 100 walls in the city. By now I have painted 22 walls myself and two young painters joined the campaign and painted 27 walls for “Clean and Paint Pune”. The fact that I could inspire two boys to paint the walls of the city is my biggest achievement so far. 2019 and 2020 have been my comeback years. Despite the pandemic, I have painted walls all over the country. In October 2020 I drove across 15 cities to paint walls for different clients and living my dream of traveling by road and painting. I even got to paint my biggest mural this year for an organization called St+Art where I painted a four-story building in 10 days. Which by far was the most thrilling painting experience.
I have had a good life, I am thankful that I always had art by my side to keep reminding me of everything that I am yet to achieve. Today I have painted over 100 walls, hosted over 10 exhibitions, and have sold more than half of my canvas paintings. I have been covered by all major media houses and even got the opportunity to represent myself at ET-Now for a show called “Leaders of tomorrow”. All this was only possible because I refused to accept my life story to be just about suffering from cancer and its side effects.
I still believe the best thing happening to me at the moment is that I am alive and I can make the most of it.
Explore Kartikey’s Works
Home by Kartikey Sharma$6,700
Chairs by Kartikey Sharma$4,400
Mermaid by Kartikey Sharma$6,000
Rootless by Kartikey Sharma$5,300
Hollow Love by Kartikey Sharma$6,400
Transformation by Kartikey Sharma$5,300
Paradox by Kartikey Sharma$6,700
Fort by Kartikey Sharma$3,400
City by Kartikey Sharma$6,700