January 22, 2013

The painter of banners


Some friends were organising  an exhibition to promote genuine handloom, and asked me for help with their promotional material. Being a dedicated fan of handloom, this assignment interested me. I took on the job of finding the words for, and working on the execution of banners for the exhibition. Another aspect that interested me was that my friends agreed that the banners could be painted and not printed. And they gave me the most beautiful handloom cloth I had every felt for the banners to be painted on.

A small aside to make this interest clear. Ever since I saw an article on a New Delhi-based artist called Hanif Kureshi, who is trying to keep the profession of street painters alive (in this day of digital printing), I have been wanting to help painters, but never got a chance to do so. This was my chance, at least to give one of them a job.

This is what Hanif Kureshi wants to do:

"HandpaintedType is a project that is dedicated to preserving the typographic practice of street painters around India. These painters, with the advent of local DTP (Desktop Publishers) shops, are rapidly going out of business with many of them switching to the quicker, cheaper but uglier vinyls. Many painters have given up their practice altogether.
The project involves documenting the typefaces of road side painters across India and digitizing it so that it serves as a resource for present and future generations.
HandpaintedType is a collaborative project. If you’d like to contribute or collaborate, please get in touch."

I have been wanting to go around and meet painters and do this for Hanif, but caught in the whirlwind of everyday life, I haven't been able to get down to it. So here was my chance to get to know at least one painter and try to get him to document his font and send them to Hanif. And so I went to "Balu, Artist", who has a hole of a shop two streets from where I live. Long, curly hair gave Balu a 'hatke' artistic look. He agreed to paint the six banners for me in two days. I was very happy...it seemed do-able, and I told him I would come and proofread every one of them.

I discovered that Balu painted English banners, but he could not read! So he called the chalk/pencil lettering he did "sketching"! He recognised letters but words did not have much meaning for him. I also discovered he took on my work but did not have the time to do it because he was busy with various things, including bringing his children back from hostel from another place. I had imagined that he would be overjoyed that I gave him six banners, but he seemed like he was perfectly happy without my sudden appearance at his shop! I also discovered that I had to proofread very carefully after he 'sketched' the lettering, and invariably he got a few words wrong. However...being an editor, I must say I was very impressed at how few words he had got wrong...and he always knew how he could correct them, even after he had painted them.

Many rounds to his shop and back on my Vespa later, Balu painted only two banners out of six (they were perfect!), and as my deadline was approaching, he told me I should have gone to him with two weeks and not two days before me! I told him that when there was work, he should take it even if it means working through the night, but I got the feeling he did not live his life like that. He did not look regretful when I took back the four unpainted banners from him.

I need to get over my disappointment before I can get myself to go back to Balu to get him to paint his fonts so I can send them to Hanif Kureshi. But go back to him, I will...watch this space!

And do check out Hanif's amazing website: www.handpaintedtype.com, and think about contributing to his noble cause. 

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