Along with the street signboard artists, bold typefaces are fading into oblivion. Vishnupriya Bhandaram walks the city looking for a few of those remaining in the profession

Growing up, it was not easy to ignore caricatured versions of Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan painted on barber shop walls but today it wouldn’t be all that difficult to overlook digital ‘flexi’ banners comprising cut-outs of actors from ‘Glee’ or ‘Gossip Girl’. Remember the autorickshaws’ warning: ‘four capacity’, adjacent to the sketch of a small family. Mother, father, daughter and son are now replaced by glittery light reflective radium work. What about the ‘horn ok please’? On some trucks it looks imposing, on some it looks like a sweet request and on others, funny. Traditional hand-painted street art in India is rather omnipresent; but it would be wrong to think that the street-artists are a thriving lot. You’ll know this for sure when you visit B. Krishna of Anita Arts in Ramkote. His ‘studio’ is an enviable space, the exteriors of which reflect an artist’s presence. Slowly eating away into the reproductions of Ravi Verma’s paintings are poorly mounted flexi banners with ‘photoshopped’ pictures and boring old text. “I didn’t even go to school. All I know is how to paint. Back in late Nineties, company people used to hire us to paint for them. Cloth banners, kindergarten walls — you name it,” says Krishna. He strongly resents the entry of digital machines, primarily because they crushed his manual skill but also because the machines are expensive and unaffordable. “I need to survive and I know that I need to step into this but I cannot afford to shell out Rs. 20 lakhs. Flexi is cheap for the customer” he says.

When you’re walking in the old city, you’d come across paintings of muscular men with bandages for the bone setting shops. Notice the roadside juice stalls with all kinds of fruits flying about and an imposing typeface that reads, ‘Best Juice’; it has become an anomaly of sorts today. S.K. Basha, a painter from Maharashtra has been painting in the city for over 25 years. He recalls of the times when there was more work than he could handle; he gently dips the brush into bright green paint, and quickly makes a swift motion on the cloth, “60 ml.” it reads on a cloth banner meant for liquor stalls. Basha doesn’t want to get into the flexi banner-making business; “Work has considerably reduced but I don’t want to compromise,” he feels. Mohammed Syed in Punjagutta has moved on too, he has in-fact found success doing DTP and flexi-banner work but in the small crevice of a shop, a portrait of Gandhi that Syed painted almost 40 years ago gathers dust reminding Syed of changing times.

Preserving the art form

Hanif Kureshi’s website handpaintedtype.com is dedicated to preserving the vanishing form of street art. “The aim is to digitise the typefont, so that it lives online,” he says.

How does it work?

Look for hand painted signs in your area. In the right hand bottom corner of any hand painted sign are the signatures of the artists. Once you get in touch with the painter, have him draw all the letters from A to Z as well as all the digits from 0 to 9. If possible, also get all the symbols and characters that are used in keyboards.

Why is he doing this?

Hanif believes that there are not many of the street artists who are left and their children might also be less inclined to get into the professions. “I feel like there should be something done to link the painter and the art before the painters vanish from the streets,” he says.