Jasmin Pannu: The Toronto-Based Artist Who’s Creating Waves in the Art World

We had a chance to sit down with Jasmin Pannu, a Canadian artist who is taking over the art space! Her unique mural style has led her to have exhibits at the Royal Ontario Museum and the Happy Place installation in Toronto. She has worked on numerous incredible projects, and so, an exclusive tête-à-tête was completely warranted!

Jasmin Pannu
[Jasmin Pannu stands proud in front of Drake’s lyrics that she painted on the wall for the Happy Place Installation.]

1. How did you fall in love with art?

I fell in love with art from a very young age. In fact, two of my earliest memories involve art. In one, the family that rented our basement invited us downstairs for our weekly Hindi movie night. The aunt applied henna on my hands with a toothpick and I remember being so mesmerized! In the second, I was sitting on my grandma’s kitchen table as she taught me how to fabric paint and showed me beautiful table cloths, hand-painted by family members, that she had kept for more than a decade. These early experiences showed me how art could be a part of identity, beauty, and culture, and I loved that.

From there I started drawing often, to later picking up henna, hand-painting shoes and clothes, teaching art classes, painting murals, and today, being a professional artist.

Jasmin Pannu

2. How did you turn art from a passion to a career?

I think it’s important to say here that I didn’t always set out to create art into my career. After university, I worked in corporate marketing for about five years before leaving to become a career artist. And prior to that, even though I started making money from art from the age of 15-16, I didn’t consider it as part of my plan.

Here’s why: I didn’t think becoming an artist was possible/practical, so in spite of making good money from it and loving it, I chose not to claim it.

The predominant narrative was that the Arts were not lucrative, it was a ‘hobby’ and could not support a lifestyle—plus it didn’t help that there was very little representation of South Asians. On the other hand, corporate jobs were painted as cushy, dreamy and the ultimate goal. So, a part of why I tell my story is to help change this narrative.

Having done both now, I can say out of the sheer experience that the Arts can and support a lifestyle. My career in Marketing was going well and at the point that I chose to leave, I had worked for some really big names and been honored with a few awards, but ultimately, my passion won out. When I chose to leave corporate, I was only a year and a half into my mortgage—so becoming an artist was as much about building a lucrative business as it was about living a life aligned with my talents.

To this day, when I hear people discourage their children from taking up Art in academia, or use terms like ‘starving artist,’ I cringe. But, I have no regrets that I went down the conventional salary-job path because I can now say without a shred of doubt that becoming an artist is esteemed, lucrative, and one hell of a lifestyle.

Jasmin Pannu
[Brown Girl Jessie Brar (L) got a chance to see Pannu’s art in person at the Happy Place Installation in Toronto.]

3. How was it received by those around you? Did you get pushback or a lot of questions?

When I first left corporate to become a career artist, I didn’t tell anyone except for one other person for about two months. I wanted to make for certain that I could make it work—I had a mortgage after all. So, when I did end up telling my family and a few friends, I told them the news with the caveat of all of the little wins I had since making the switch.

I don’t think it caught anyone too off-guard. I had been entrepreneurial with my arts since my teens and had maintained art as a side income. The only difference was this time I was ready to go all in.

Of course, there were still well-intentioned questions, but everyone felt a little bit more at ease. And those who really knew me recognized that it was the right time.

Jasmin Pannu

4. How did the happy place come about? Tell us a little more about the project.

My big project with Happy Place came about because of Instagram! I received a DM one week, and the next week I was painting six murals for the massive pop-up experience!

The really cool thing about working with Happy Place was how creative and efficient the whole crew was. Happy Place opened on November 1st, and we all arrived in the second week of October. That meant that the crew put the entire thing up in about 3 weeks, and if you’ve been you know how impressive that is!

I had other mural bookings and commissions already on the go, so I had just a handful of days in those few weeks to create what became a total of six murals and two other works of art.

It was an awesome experience and I can’t thank Happy Place enough. They gave me lots of creative freedom and I ended up creating some really cool things—from hand lettering Drake’s lyrics onto pink brick to a massive coloring book-page in the front foyer.

As a bonus, the pop-up gained so much attention, that I ended up getting featured on Breakfast Television, CBC Arts, and Brown Girl Mag (woo-hoo!), just to name a few.

Jasmin Pannu

5. What are some cool and exciting things we can look for in the future from you?

Almost immediately after I finished painting for Happy Place, another career milestone happened: I exhibited my art and created an installation for The Royal Ontario Museum!

The ROM is the biggest museum in Canada, I was super excited and honored. The awesome organization that is Zista Arts (a non-profit for the South Asian Arts) reached out to me about a Friday Night Live event at the ROM.

It ended up being the last FNL of the season with a theme of ‘Its Lit.’ So we decided on creating a Rangoli experience (playing on Diwali’s month, November, as well). I was originally just supposed to create the rangoli, but if I learned one thing from my career as an artist and entrepreneur it was to make the most of every opportunity. So, in the final week, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work on a few more additions to really engage the audience.

To complement the rangoli (made of flowers, glass, candles and craft paper), I created a 4-foot interactive board where guests could grab a marker and answer the question ‘What Lights Up Your Life?’ I brought two of my original artworks to display on easels— Sybil the Elephant and Royalty the Horse—both created with over 50 South Asian and African patterns. And finally, I hand-made a 6-foot wide pair of wings for people to take photos with.

The whole week was a bit of a blur and a huge mess in my living room as I put on this arts-and-crafts marathon. But the event went so well that I had about 600 business cards go, and we had several hundred people visit the Rotunda where I exhibited my art in just a few hours.

I was invited back to the ROM the following week with Zista Arts for a Family Fun experience where I once again created an interactive display—this time for the kids.

As for the future, I won a grant from the Emerston Group and will be using it in 2019 to put together an art project to benefit the community. I’m still working out the details but I’m looking to build a resource of sorts to help aspiring and career artists continue to thrive. I believe that a big part of success is sending the elevator back down, and that’s now my responsibility.

I’ll continue to work on my 2018/19 ‘Cheat Codes’ series and hopefully see the new collection in galleries by early Spring.

I’ve also made some pretty ambitious New Year’s goals for my business. I won’t go into too many details, but you’ll be seeing a new level to my career. I’m very excited!

You can check out more of Jasmin’s work at @JasminPannu and www.JasminPannu.com.

By Jessie Brar

Chocolate Lover – Bollywood Dancer – Bhangra Enthusiast – Mental Health Advocate. Jessie Brar studied psychology at Queen’s University and … Read more ›