A 7,948-mile journey from finance to fine art

by Len Lear
Posted 5/9/24

It's a long way from northern India to Chestnut Hill – 7,948 miles, to be exact – but Pragya Gupta has navigated the distance quite smoothly.

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A 7,948-mile journey from finance to fine art


It's a long way from northern India to Chestnut Hill – 7,948 miles, to be exact – but Pragya Gupta has navigated the distance quite smoothly. Pragya grew up in northern India, where No. 13-E, a corner house, was her world. She climbed mango trees, traded marbles and played in the street until her mother called her to come inside. 

That little girl from the city of Patiala never anticipated becoming an artist, but several decades later, Gupta’s paintings will be on exhibit at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center. The show, “As a New Leaf Trembles.” will be on display starting May 18 and, according to Gupta, will be open by appointment for at least a week, and perhaps longer.

Gupta came to Philadelphia in 2012 to study for an MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, but after working for an investment firm in London, she has spent the last five years transitioning from finance to fine art.

“I grew up in a small city in India and went to an academics-focused Catholic school that didn't have an arts program,” Gupta said, “so I did not have any exposure to the arts. When I was working in London, though, I went to the National Gallery in 2015 because it was free and right smack in the center of things. 

“And something struck me; I felt this deep curiosity to know how some of the paintings were created. I started getting up early before work and reading books about creativity. I read ‘The Artist’s Way’ and started free-writing ‘morning pages’ each morning. Writing gave me space to feel what I was really feeling.”

Gupta finally started painting five years ago when she was pregnant with her daughter, Althea. She now has a local part-time “day job” as a business school admissions consultant. “But a large part of my working time,” she said, “is spent creating or thinking about art. I have been reducing my hours each year and have been spending more time in the studio.

“On the switch to art, sometimes it feels like I didn't really have a choice. There was something strong within me pulling me towards painting,” Gupta continued. “It took a few years, but there came a point when my student loans were paid off, and at the same time the learning curve at my job as an investor at a large investment firm was tapering off, and the work felt less engaging. So I decided to take art lessons and slowly got more and more involved.”

Gupta admitted that her family was not happy, at first, about the dramatic career change. “Being an artist was unheard of in my family,” she said, “but they appreciated that I was an adult, married, and had been living in a faraway country and culture for several years. Also, I did give them a precious granddaughter, so that goes a long way. 

“Now they support it,” she continued. “My daughter loves to draw, and my parents encourage that; my mom even said that Althea has a gift when we sent back pictures of her drawings. It made me very happy to read that they now think of art as a gift.”

Although Gupta is largely self-taught, she has learned a great deal from books about art and has studied for three years with Chris Gallego at the Art Students League (of New York), developing a solid foundation in technique. Judy Glantzman, a well-known New York artist, taught Gupta “to follow my intuition in the studio without labeling it ‘right’ or ‘wrong.'”

Gupta's work has been in group shows nationally, but the show that opens on May 18 will be her first solo exhibit. “My desire to share my work has been stronger than my fear of rejection,” she said. “I've also come to understand that my work is separate from me. If a work is rejected at a show, it wasn’t the right fit. I am going to be doing this for a long time, and my work will keep evolving and taking on new meaning, so there's no sense in getting hung up on a particular piece or show.”

Interestingly, Gupta's husband, Michael Gallagher (they were married in 2016 in India), has also had a dramatic career change. Formerly a lawyer with the Dilworth Paxson firm, he is now a high school English teacher and writer. He recently finished his first novel, “Oddfellows,” and is now working on a short story about growing up in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia. 

The exhibit at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center opens on May 18 from 4 to 7 p.m. For more information, visit pragyaguptastudio.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com.