Broken Brushes

With the onset of digital platforms, most of the painters and the artists who would draw signpost, business hoardings and road milestones have gone out of business almost completely, reports Parrey Babar

Art by Majeed Lone

One of the oldest tools of understanding the ancient cultures is to read and examine the engraved stone and wall carvings, perhaps the basic art form. It remained unchanged for millennia till digital platforms took over. Interestingly, the change had its own costs. It has hit hard the artists who would manage their lives by writing sign boards, road mile-stones, hoardings and drawing fascinating sketches to market products. Now machines do it.

Mohd Yaseen, 55, has been an artist painter for 37 years. Lack of appetite in the market for his work has left him heartbroken. He belongs to the category of artists whose creativity was on display on roads where thousands would appreciate, unlike art galleries. “In the age of computer and the printing machinery, there is no value for the human art,” Yaseen said. “We used to paint with our soul and creativity, and painting was a way of communicating ideas, feelings.”

The new generation, he said, has also grown impatient. “People come with a demand and want the final products in minutes,” Yaseen said. “In most of the cases, they come with their own idea after surfing the net.”

This era is dominated by people who are self-made digital artists. In handmade artworks, even for commercial activities like a signboard or a poster, the artist would take his time, use his mind, match colours and finally use the brush. “Now the computer gives you all that, free of cost,” he insisted.

As these painters were trying to get relevant to the market in a changed world, the investors jumped in, spent good amount and brought bigger plants. This has replaced this lot of artists.

Abdul Majeed Lone, who was known by his initials ML 87, lives in south Kashmir Islamabad. He was in huge demand for his creativity in painting Bollywood posters. “I had made ten movie poster in the eighties and an advertise boards for Cavender cigarette,” Lone said. The film-poster was supposed to be clean, erotic, colourful and huge in size. “I painted Dilip Kumar of Kranti and Mazdoor and also Laila Manjun of Rishi Kapoor, besides film Shaukeen that starred Mithun Chakraborty.”

The rise of militancy witnessed the closure of the entertainment sector completely. No cinema halls operate in Kashmir since 1989. The gradual takeover by the cable TV and later entry of the private TV filled the void created by the cinema ban as people would manage news and entertainment within the confines of their homes. Now nobody seems interested in reinvesting in cinema as all the earlier talkies were either converted into garrisons or hospitals.

But the closure of cinema has not helped Lone to forget his heydays, when week after week he would play the brush on canvass, painting the prettiest faces of the tinsel town and the rowdy villains too. Unlike mainland India where Hindi was the preferred language, these posters would require small one-liners that would sum up the film and these were supposed to be the best lines of calligraphy.

“The canvas poster would be 4 x 3 ft and for each poster or board of that size, I would get Rs 250,” Lone said. “That was a substantial sum then.” Now Lone is drawing boards of government projects or the foundation stones.

Lone said the digital world has taken over the market at a huge scale. Now it is very difficult to get work, Lone said.

The other crisis affecting the handmade art – calligraphy, sketching, was that the government stopped hiring an art teacher for schools. In private schools, there is still a glimmer of an encouragement without teachers, however. This is one of the key reasons why the wrong Urdu on signboards and the road milestones makes news quite often.


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