I look around my art studio and I see over 40 canvasses with familiar faces gazing intensely back at me. Sometimes I have a hard time believing that it’s only been three years since I started painting Star Trek portraits. And that, beyond the images amassed, there are still so many more I’d like to paint. After all, I am a life-long fan and, for me, there is still so much left to explore.
The collection of art was never meant to be this large. Rather, I was driven by the desire to paint one specific image: a portrait of Spock, as played by Leonard Nimoy. Spock has always spoken deeply to my sense of what it is to move through the world as a noble person, and I wanted to express that visually for myself. When I approached the canvas, however, I found myself at a loss as to how to express everything the character meant to me in a single piece of art. The solution to my dilemma became the origin of the Star Trek Painting Series.
When I began, Spock was the nucleus around which everything revolved. Each painting was an exploration of his struggle for nobility in the face of his more egoic drives. Over time, however, my contemplations began to expand. I started considering the philosophical struggles of other Trek characters; the difficulties of the roles they had chosen in their lives, and their own strivings to live up to the internal forces that drove them. With this inspiration, the painting series began to grow.
I’m often asked how long each of these portraits take, and my response is admittedly somewhat vague. Each piece of art simply takes as long as it needs to take. My portraits are living entities and I’m not in control, entirely, of their development. I see myself as being a conduit for the message that portrait wants to communicate, not necessarily as being the one dictating the conversation. For some, that’s a difficult concept to contemplate, but it's the truth of my experience as an artist.
My paintings always begin with an essential question: ‘Who?’ If I’m choosing to paint a particular character, they need to be meaningful to me in some substantive way. I have to have a real philosophical connection with them, empathizing with the life that this character would have lived. It’s even better if I find philosophical connection and empathy with the actor who plays the character as well, much like I did with Leonard Nimoy.
Once the question of “Who?” is answered, the hunt for the perfect expression begins. Depending on the character, I can spend hours, days, or even weeks searching through photos from Star Trek episodes and movies. Truth be told, for my very first Spock piece, this took me over two years! I’m looking for a facial expression that speaks to the heart of the conversation I want to have about this character and sometimes it takes a while to find it— that perfect look. But as soon as I find it, the drive to start painting suddenly appears!
Striving to capture the look of a character is very important to me, so I always start with a good pencil sketch on the canvas before paint ever goes down. But I’m not just after a perfect replica, what I really want is to capture the soul of the character. These characters have deep meaning for myself and other Star Trek fans. If I and the viewer can feel like we’re each having a private, vulnerable conversation with this character then I’ve achieved my goal.
So many Star Trek fans have told me that they love the unusual use of color in my pieces; the fact that my characters look real, but their skin shows purples, reds, yellows, blues, greens etc. Using the full spectrum of color in this way reflects what I see. I have a very analytical mind, and I’m constantly interested in what makes things look the way they do. I see the subtle undertones, changes, and reflections of color upon my subjects, and my mind is fascinated by them. Though it’s served me so well in this series, it actually took me years to realize that this focus on color wasn’t a weakness, but a huge strength in my painting.
I often integrate patterns, shapes and other drawn elements into my paintings. These elements are all part of the conversation. For me patterns are particularly emotive, and I often use a geometric pattern to express emotional tensions or to speak to my subjects’ way of thinking. My drawn elements are often times expressive, but at other times can serve a literal purpose in my work. For example, in my “Edge of Forever” piece there’s a mixture of literal tube amp circuitry drawn into the painting to speak to Spock’s difficult task in that episode, while the freeform lines around and within Spock’s face and hat are purely expressive.
The Original Series is most definitely my first love, and Spock remains the character most meaningful to me. However, my focus continues to expand into additional characters as they all have something valuable to say and connect to. I even have plans to paint Star Trek characters outside of TOS in the future, but I won’t say what comes next just yet!
While my series originally started as a personal conversation for myself, there’s been such fast-growing interest by fans who would like to own my pieces that I decided to make them available across the world through Retrospect Studios as officially licensed and signed Limited Edition Giclee prints. I’ve been handpicking specific pieces and releasing them in “seasons” for Star Trek fans. Season one is comprised of six different Spock prints which were released back in February 2019, and these prints now hang in the homes of Trek fans across Canada and the US, in Finland, Germany, Australia, Costa Rica, Scotland, and England. Season two, which features Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, and a few new Spock images, was released this week, on October 7, 2019, once again through Retrospect Studios. It’s been a personal joy being able to share these pieces with other dedicated fans around the world, and I can’t wait to see where they continue to boldly go!
Kavita Maharaj (she/her) is a prolific fine artist who has become internationally known for her Spock Painting Series, based upon Star Trek: The Original Series.