Pooja Chatterji always wanted to be an artist. One of her earliest school projects was recreating Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting using strands of colored rope. She did well in school, and by age 16, had to decide if she would attend art school, or not. “I had some trepidation about pursuing art school and an art career,” Chatterji said. Many in her family are physicians, including her father, uncle, and brother, but medicine was not her goal as a teenager. She also didn’t want to study engineering or science, so she chose economics with a focus on statistics and accounting. It would be decades later that her children and husband would give her the encouragement she needed to return to painting.
Chatterji was born in Pune, India, a city in the western region of Maharashtra. As a child, pursuing higher education was expected for her future, as both of her parents were well-educated. Her father is a retired pediatric physician, and her mom, an educator. “My parents encouraged me to work towards becoming self-sufficient, independent,” Chatterji said. “Getting married was not the primary goal for me at the time.”
Her parents are Punjabi Hindu refugees from Pakistan, having fled their home country in 1947 during the violent Partition of India, whereby the British changed the political borders to create two dominions—India and Pakistan—and then departed from its rule. This partition caused large-scale loss of life, warring, and massive migrations.
“My parents, both teenagers at the time, left with their families,” Chatterji said. “They left behind everything, and only took what they could carry on their backs. They sewed small valuables into their clothing. This caused life to become a hand-to-mouth existence, one that took great luck and perseverance to survive. It was a horrifying experience that lives on in their psyches. They started over in western and central India, where they were educated, and after meeting through family friends, and got married and had two children.”
At age three, Chatterji’s family moved to England, where she attended elementary school along with her brother. The move was prompted by her father’s desire to pursue advanced medical training and specialization in pediatrics. Her mom taught at a state-run school.
A German couple taught at the private school that the children attended. Voracious reading and learning how to advocate for yourself were part of day-to-day life.
The family spent several years there until Chatterji’s paternal grandfather fell ill, and her dad would need to take over his medical practice in their home country. At age 9, Chatterji was back in India. There, she did well in school and chose to forego her childhood interest in making art. At her high school, age 16 was the time to decide your future studies. She set out to study the field of commerce, focusing on accounting and statistics in her undergraduate years. She thought about becoming a banker or accountant.
It was Chatterji’s brother who wanted to go abroad first and move from India to the United States for his undergraduate degree. This laid the seed for Chatterji to look into further studies in the United States. With encouragement from their parents, Chatterji decided to also make the move, but her studies were now at the graduate level, and she had earned a scholarship to attend the University of Cincinnati for economics; the financing made it possible for her to go. There, she earned her Ph.D. in Economics, specializing in “International Economics”, which would become the foundation for a job in teaching.
It was in Cincinnati that Chatterji met her husband, Raja, who was studying for his Medical degree. The two met by chance at a welcome party for international students. Their fate was quickly sealed, and in time, the two returned to India to be married. While her husband was in Residency in New Orleans, training to become a OB-GYN with a subspecialty in Urogynecology, Chatterji taught Intermediary Economics at Southeastern Louisiana University.
Pooja and Raja Chatterji enjoyed visiting Chicago several times and decided to move there, looking to the suburbs for a home. Having earned his Medical degree and specialization, Dr. Raja Chatterji started in Elgin at the then-St. Joseph Hospital. The couple had two sons, and while a busy mom, Chatterji also taught Executive MBA and International Economics classes at DePaul’s various campus locations. They lived in Lake in the Hills at the time. Eventually, Chatterji left her teaching job to run the family medical practice for a few years.
In 1999, the family moved to South Barrington as they both enjoy nature and the outdoors. The thriving, culturally diverse community in South Barrington was welcoming to the Chatterji family. The Barrington 220 School District also fostered a strong sense of community, especially through student sports and book clubs. Chatterji volunteered at Hough Street School and Rose Elementary School. She also was the president of the student-focused Barrington Council for the Gifted and Talented.
In her early school years back in India, Chatterji won awards for her artwork on state exams. But her painting was left behind until only a few years ago, when a friend gave her some art supplies while she was pregnant with her first child. “I didn’t even know where to buy art supplies,” she said. Before picking up her brushes, Chatterji says she found joy by expressing her creativity through family events and decorating her home, yet she felt like she was missing something.
It was her husband and children who encouraged her to go back to art. She painted at home for a while, but happened upon an art school in Lake Zurich, where she found an art mentor and another teacher who taught technique. The Main Street Gallery Art School has been Chatterji’s weekly go-to for several years. There she paints with fellow students and her skills continue to evolve. “They allow you to flourish in your own unique way, while still teaching you technique and experimentation.” She recently attended a painting workshop in Seattle with renowned artist Michele Usibelli, who helped Chatterji improve on starting her paintings using a subject’s focal point.
Once you see some of Pooja Chatterji’s oil paintings, with their vibrant colors, textured paint applications, and engaging subjects, you’ll recognize her work anywhere. You’ll get to know her palette. Each painting is completely unique, as she will not repeat her subjects. On a recent trip to Arles, a city on the Rhône River in the Provence region of Southern France, she saw the world as Vincent van Gogh did. “He always fascinated me,” she said of van Gogh. “You can see his brushstrokes, feel his colors. I call him an expressionist, as he used his style of color and technique to express an emotional experience. “
Chatterji travels the world with her husband and takes photos that will later become the subjects of her paintings. She enjoys capturing and sharing her adventures through her oil paintings, and believes the effort opens the soul and helps bring the world closer together. She also believes in the healing power of being an artist.
“I feel very happy when painting with color,” Chatterji says. “If I am feeling stressed, just lifting my arm to a canvas will calm me.”
As Chatterji looks to the future, her artistic goals include doing more art shows and competitions where she can meet other artists. “I’d like honest critiques of my work, and to be part of a larger art community,” she said.
In her official artist’s statement at a recent show, Chatterji shares her passion. “I literally dream in color—one brush stroke at a time. My passion for travel has given me endless references for my paintings. Even on the dreariest of days, I feel surrounded by vibrant colors. I hope you enjoy a sample of my artwork, as much as I have relished my time at the easel.”
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