art:. Niyati Karwat, Canvassing in Color, Cafe Grumpy

Thought equals reality.

For Niyati Karwat, seeing art was believing. As artist since she was five, painting is something she’s always done. But, when she saw an art exhibition at her local coffee shop, she mused she could be just like that, exhibiting her works at a coffee shop she loved.

With each painting created in one sitting, a ‘Yes’ to her work, landed her an exhibition just two months later. We chat over coffee, about canvas and a lot of color.

smdlr: How are we here, sitting, talking about your art, on exhibition at Café Grumpy?

Niyati  Karwat: I guess it all started with just a thought.

smdlr:  What do you mean?

nk: An art exhibit opened at the Café Grumpy near my job. [She works at Tracy Reese as an Associate Designer for the Plenty Line in the Fashion District.}  And, I said I’m going to do that. I want to have some art there.  So, I bought the canvas’ and fashion week came and I got really busy with that.  But, then I said, if I want to do this, I’m going to have to start doing something. And, then I’d go home and paint every night.

smdlr: Just like that? How long did it take you to finish?

nk: I bought the first ones about 7 or 8 of them. Then, I painted them each in one setting and then I let them dry, which took about a month, there’s a lot of paint on them.

nk: Yes. After I made the first ones, I went to Café Grumpy and ask whom should I contact because I painted these with them in mind. They emailed me over that same night and said, ‘How about you do Chelsea?’ I was at work when I got the email and everyone is like screaming.

We laugh. 

smdlr: That’s awesome. Good screams. You went from having a few 8×10’s to how many?

nk: Twenty-seven.  When I came to the Chelsea store the space was so much bigger than the Fashion District Store. So I added different sizes and price ranges.  Since they needed a whole month to dry and my exhibition date was July, I knew I had to finish them by the end of May.

smdlr: You use a lot of paint. Can you share your painting process?

nk: I’ve always been drawn to color and textures. I want to paint I don’t paint objects, like oh here’s a coffee cup or a landscape or a portrait. I’ve been experimenting with a paintbrush, abstract color and different techniques for a couple of years.  This time, I wanted to experiment with a pallet knife, so all the paintings I’m using that instead of a brush.  I laid out towels, and literally painted them on the floor, each one in one sitting.

smdlr:  A pallet knife! What a cool experiment! When you did the first one what did it feel like?

nk: I was like, ‘Oh, I like this.” I enjoy painting and getting into it. It was all about color and how I wanted to feel, I was going for a mood, I wanted to feel happy.

smdlr:  How did you choose the colors?

nk:  It was super simple. I like these colors and looking at the colors makes me feel happy. I had some paint already, but I just bought every color and I knew how to mix them. And, I did one day by day.

smdlr:  You were painting in the spring. Did the season influence you?

nk: No, I just wanted brightness and fun. Once I had five or six done, I said to myself, “I like what’s happening here, it was bright and saturated. I made a point not to introduce grey tones. And, there’s no black, but white is in every painting, it makes the colors pop more.

smdlr:  There sure is a whole lot of pop.  Are there any artists that you love?

nk: Right now, I’m in awe of Zaria Forman. She does oil pastels. Its so mind-blowing. I spent a few hours looking at her work – her images were inspiring. And, she does it all by hand.

We pause and take a look at her work. Mind-blowing is almost an understatement.

smdlr: What made you use something other than a brush as your tool?

nk: With a brush you can have texture, but I want to have a carving effect, not a blended look, but crisp.

smdlr: You achieved it, there is so much more texture, its as if these strokes of color are raising themselves off the canvas, quite beautiful.  I haven’t asked, and I must, are you a coffee drinker.

nk: Yes! Her yes is so emphatic; I tell her I’m adding an exclamation point. I usually make coffee at home and take it to work in a thermos and drink it out of a mug at work.  I also have a coffee machine where I can do espresso and froth milk for a cappuccino; I usually do that on the weekends. But, when I’m out and want another coffee its Café Grumpy, its so smooth, rounded, I just think they are the best.

smdlr:  I must agree that Café Grumpy is unlike any other. I have a soft spot for them. Now that you turned your thought of creating art for the coffee shop, created 27 works in a couple of months and have an exhibition in Chelsea, what do you think the value of art to the coffee shop.

nk: I think people aren’t coming to the coffee shop to look at art. It’s not your main agenda. You’re here to get coffee to go or meet your friends.  But having art up is a conversation starter and it does subconsciously promote something.

smdlr:  Can you explain that idea more?

nk: If you just need coffee and see something pretty on the wall, it helps you look and think about something else. And, not everyone can be in a museum and have an exhibit. I didn’t jump through a million hoops to get into a gallery, I just sent an email and now I’m here.

You can see Niyati’s work at Café Grumpy Chelsea. For inquiries – she’s not on social media – you can email her at

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