Artist Manuja Waldia Builds a Practical Utopia

Manuja Waldia in a dress she helped design (Manuja Waldia)

Should artists toil away, making “art for art’s sake,” potentially forgoing money for the purity of their art? Or do they climb the corporate ladder, making art for bigger and bigger clients, risking the chance of never finding their voice?

It’s a conundrum that comes up often when speaking with acclaimed painter Manuja Waldia, who lives in Portland, Oregon with her cat Crookshanks. But Waldia’s advice isn’t to choose one of the two; instead, she talks about how to live with money’s immense presence in our world and take the middle ground, whether it entails holding a full-time job that gives you enough time to create art, or balancing freelancing projects on the side.

“Initially, after college, I was naive and idealistic about landing my perfect design gig, and having this big studio or renting a loft,” she remembered. “That’s rarely how it goes, and it was a shattering of delusions.”

Waldia’s paintings are intricate. Barefoot women with long necks, their hair wavy and loose, share bread, host potlucks, apply face masks, shop for groceries, clean up kitchens, drink beer, cut each other’s hair. She doesn’t acknowledge it, but this is a tremendous feat, to wrap up her nine-to-five remote job for California-based company Genesys and pick up a paintbrush.

"The Moon" (Manuja Waldia)

“I’ve always h

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