Program, city lights creativity in student

Jagdeep Raina’s flight from Toronto to Detroit was delayed. He then missed his connection, forcing him to catch another flight, which lost his luggage. Finally, he arrived at his destination, where the train leaving the airport was out of order.

Sound like the start of the world’s worst summer travel nightmare? Not so.

“This was the best of experience of my life,” said the fourth-year Visual Arts student.

After all, his final destination this past July was Paris, France. The City of Lights would be his home for the next month.

And to think, this all happened because of a weary night sitting on the computer.

“I went home for Christmas break last year and I’d always wanted to go on a trip to Europe at some point in my life,” Raina said. “I was bored, so I literally Goggled ‘painting visual arts’ wondering if I can find any art programs and suddenly this Columbia program came up and I was like ‘Perfect, a month in Paris.’”

The Advanced Painting Intensive-Paris is an immersive four-week studio- and research-based program for intermediate-to-advanced painters offered by New York’s Columbia University. Raina emailed to ask if international students were eligible and, if so, what did he have to do.

“Once she said they do accept international students, I knew I had to do it,” Raina said.

Told from the start it was an intense competition, he sent in his application and hoped for the best. A few weeks later, the phone rang; he was in.

The excitement was quickly replaced by ‘How am I going to pay for this?’

“I used my entire savings; I got two scholarships from Western to help me out; I used part of my OSAP; and then I literally scrounged for every penny I could find,” said the 21-year-old Guelph native, whose biggest travel destination to date had been Cleveland. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I figured, when am I going to get an opportunity to do something like this again?

“I worked so hard to get here and this is an amazing program. I gotta go.”

Raina said the demanding studio program, with classes each day from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., was balanced by cultural studies engaging both historical and contemporary aspects of Parisian art, including late 19th and 20th century French art history, with additional references to music and theatre.

“It was a pretty intense and rigorous program,” said Raina, the only Canadian of the program’s 14 students. “We all had our own little studio within the classroom. We had Wednesdays off, but were required to go to museums and do research. Each week, we had to create work and would have had critiques from the professors and other students. They really wanted to push you and your ideas.

“It was overwhelming at times, but then again, you were in Paris and the entire city was your backyard. There were nights or weekends when you could simply explore the city and get to know it. And, let me tell you, I explored every inch of it.”

From main tourist attractions to small bookstores and out-of-the-way galleries, each found a way into Raina’s work. While a tad cliché, he even found himself grabbing a croissant, a bottle of wine and setting up in a local garden to paint.

The month wrapped up with a large exhibition of the students’ works, which included some of Paris’ top artists and critiques on hand to view.

“It was insane and scary to have these folks looking at my work, but I had to remind myself that I was in Paris,” he said. “It was just so surreal and an amazing experience.”

Raina enjoyed the experience so much he plans to move and live in a large city such as Paris, New York or London, now tops on his agenda. Whereas a year ago, he never would have even entertained the thought.

Raina would return home with $5 to his name and a lifetime of learnings.

“This literally changed my life. It was sad to have to come back and get back to work,” he said. “I learned not to let yourself be sucked back into everyday mundane life.”