Anastasia Keriotis turned an artistic predicament into an opportunity.
Having graduated from the California College of Arts in 1996, Anastasia Keriotis centered a good part of her life around her studio practice. Experiencing some success, she was represented by multiple galleries, even having a solo show at the La Cruces Museum of Art in 2002. As an abstract painter and photographer, her canvases were characterized by long, colorful strokes and simplified forms, while her photography was moving toward documentary realism with a focus on underprivileged areas of Oaxaca, Mexico. But in 2005 she was tiring of the constant hustle of restaurant work, along with teaching occasional college classes, just to make ends meet apart from her creative ambitions. She was also moving into a season where being able to generate income from home looked more and more appealing.
“At that time, I had gotten married,” she said. “I knew I wanted to have a family and I thought, ‘OK, how can I be a stay-at-home mom, still be an artist, make art affordable,’ and so I started exploring.”
In school she had studied painting, photography, jewelry and printmaking. “I’m an artist but I’m not just interested in one thing,” she said, “I like the ability of working with my hands.” This penchant for variety would play an essential role in the solution to her dilemma. A couple of years before, she had started a greeting card company, and people began to ask her for those same images on shirts. Listening to this feedback, she came to realize she could turn her art into a series of products she felt she could believe in. This led to her founding Dharma Love.
The idea was to take imagery from her own painting, photography and printmaking, and to reproduce it onto cards, bags, clothes, hats, and wallets. She wanted the reproductions to look as close to the originals as possible.
“That’s where heat transfer came in,” she said. “It was before all this digital stuff.” Doing hand-pressed heat transfers with eco-friendly, water-soluble inks, Anastasia began taking her creations to farmers markets. They took off. Not only were people buying, they were also requesting all kinds of new things. Her customer base grew. Soon, stores were reaching out to carry her line.
Along with an aesthetic vision, she also had a social vision for her company, and these original premises and ethics have defined Dharma Love ever since. Her inks and dyes are water soluble and eco-friendly. Her materials are ethically sourced.
“I’m not supporting products if I don’t know what their criteria is,” she said, “and I have been with those products for 17 years now. … I have people who come to me and say, ‘I still have the first bag you sold me.’”
Anastasia has been practical with her approach to Dharma Love. She has come to terms with the differences between a pure studio practice—where intrinsic, personal motives reign—and a commercial practice, where awareness of demand is more important.
“I can’t be digging my heels in too much, and not wanting to just do fine art,” she said. “You have to bend a little bit, as long as it doesn’t compromise you as an artist.” When she relocated to Santa Cruz for a time, she had no qualms about making sea life imagery in her studio to use for Dharma Love. Getting input from customers and stores has played a role in what she makes. For her, personal business relationships have always been important, and because her products are more local, she keeps in close contact with the people who put her items on the shelf.
As with any entrepreneurial venture, her business has gone through ups and downs. She had to close her South Lake Tahoe brick-and-mortar store during the pandemic. She also took hits when some of her retailers were bought out by multinational companies, finding out the hard way those kinds of corporations often cut local goods first. Through it all, however, she has made Dharma Love a way to sustain herself economically and artistically. While Anastasia hopes to eventually segue back into the fine arts side of things—selling her paintings and photos in galleries—she’s had the opportunity to broaden her audience while exercising creativity both inside the studio and outside of it.
Anastasia Keriotis’s Dharma Love bags, hats, accessories and other items are available on the Dharma Love website and at Raley’s in South Lake Tahoe.
Photos courtesy Anastasia Keriotis/Dharma Love.