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April 01, 2014

Working all the time

Artist, academic, publisher Rit Premnath reflects on his CIA experience

Working all the time

It becomes abundantly clear from even a brief encounter with Sreshta Rit Premnath ’03 that he is not content ‘just’ to excel as artist, although he certainly does that. His work is shown in exhibitions around the country (San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, among other cities), and around the world, including his hometown of Bangalore, India.

And, he earns accolades from the most prestigious sources — including multiple ‘picks’ since 2008 in the influential contemporary art journal Art Forum. Most recently, his solo exhibition, Knot Not Nought, which wrapped up at the Kansas Gallery in Tribeca in March, was described as a “mind-bending exhibition” by critic Murtaza Vali.

Still, those artistic accomplishments are just the tip of the iceberg. Premnath is a teacher— assistant professor, actually — at Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia, where he passes on many lessons learned at CIA to the next generation of artists.

“I try to tell my students,” says Premnath “If you’re lazy and unmotivated — no matter what, you’re not going anywhere. There’s nothing I can teach you. The people who are going to be doing something are the ones who are working all the time.”

It’s a work ethic he learned — and practiced — with long days and nights in his painting studio at CIA. “We would wake up in the morning, and pack lunch and go to the studio and we would spend the entire day — eat McDonald’s or whatever — until late at night, and go back to the apartment and then the next day wake up and come back to the studio.”

Premnath reflected on his undergraduate experience after the March 6 alumni event in New York City, his adopted hometown. “Many of the faculty really forced us to think about life after graduation, and kind of raised the bar in terms of what we should expect of ourselves.”

He helped a gathering of high school students think about their futures in 2012 when he served as a panelist at NEXT, CIA’s day-long event to educate teens about career options in art and design.

Unsurprisingly, adding teaching to his professional pursuits was not sufficient to satisfy Premnath’s drive to continue stretching himself. Just a year after he graduated from CIA, he launched a publication called Shifter, which takes a multimedia, multiple format approach to examining the intersection of contemporary art, politics, and philosophy. Shifter incorporates print and online content, public dialogue, and exhibition. In short, it embodies the scope of modern art, both examining and extending its reach further into society.

“Through Shifter, ” says Premnath, “I’ve met a lot of other artists and curators, who have expanded the art world for me, beyond the people I’ve studied with. It wasn’t something that I planned on, but I think it ended up being a really good side project.”

‘Side project’ is a notably modest way of describing a decade-long venture involving dozens of artists and over 20 individual publications, in addition to group shows, performances and readings.

But, while Premnath may sometimes take a ‘less is more’ approach to describing his own accomplishments, he has no tendency to downplay the role CIA played in his evolution.

“For five years that was my world. What did I get from it? Everything.”

For more on Premnath and his career, visit sreshtaritpremnath.com.

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