Against the backdrop of the World Chess Championship in Chennai, T. Krithika Reddy examines how the simple black-and-white checkerboard has inspired the world of art and design

They see the squares through different perspectives. Design ace Marc Jacobs loves playing with black-and-white checks on pencil skirts, dresses and jackets. Miuccia Prada’s Miu Miu came up with a Fall line of shirts inspired by the checkerboard. The chess grid is a recurring motif in famous French minimalist Daniel Buren’s works of art. Furniture designers have used the black-and-white checked patterns on side tables and couches. Tile designers can’t resist using repetitive two-tone checks to create a retro look. And it’s not unusual to spot them on accessories — think mobile phone covers and tablet cases. It’s amazing how a simple grid of squares can inspire so much creativity.

With the city celebrating chess this season, we look around for artists, fashion designers and interior experts who have been inspired by the graphic charm of the checkerboard. It’s classic, abstract and dramatic. But above all, the checkerboard pattern lends itself beautifully to varied creative forms and mediums. All that’s needed is a dash of imagination.

A chess-based theme encouraged the grand master of cinema sets and veteran artist Thota Tharrani to explore Cubism. “I’ve always been fascinated by the impeccable checks and tried to translate them into subtle colours on my canvas.” Tharrani had created a limited edition of works celebrating chess pro Viswanathan Anand’s amazing win last year in the World Chess Championship. “He’s a Chennai boy, so I wanted to pay an artistic tribute to him. I even presented him a painting,” beams the artist, whose works, including some from the chess series, were on show in the city recently. “The paintings have the ubiquitous checks with images of Anand floating about. It’s a Cubist take with abstracts, interlocking elements and dimensions coming into play. The floating nature of the works is a throwback to my Symphony series.”

He goes on with spontaneity, “I admire the chess pieces too. Whether it is the majestic king or the unassuming pawns, no other game has such decisive characters. I used to play chess as a kid, but not anymore.”

Check mates in fashion

The clean vibe of the checkerboard has inspired the world of fashion too over the years. Designers explain that it adds an interesting dimension to any creation — it can dress up or dress down an outfit. Whether it is woven, printed or hand-painted fabric, checkerboard patterns have perked up many wardrobes. Say design trio Ashish, Viral and Vikrant of Studio Virtues, “By working on a universal colour scheme like black-and-white, you can create clothes that appeal to everyone. Rarely do you come across a combination that is classic and contemporary at the same time. Our Autumn-Winter collection has a feel of the game. We have used woven strips of checkerboard motifs. It was difficult and time-consuming to get perfect checks with alternating colours schemes woven.” They make for interesting accents in yokes, necklines and borders of sumptuously-styled anarkalis in the design label’s Autumn-Winter line that was unveiled in Collage recently. Not just in art and fashion, the checkerboard has permeated our interior spaces in surprising ways. According to Garima Agarwal, who designs furniture, home accessories and beddings for kids, “Chess is such a ‘wow’ theme. Most designers love to play with typical chess colours. Imagine floor mats with checkerboard borders or a chess-inspired clock in the kid’s room. Bed linen sets, throw cushions and sports bags based on the chess concept are other ideas I’ve worked on. Curtains, Roman blinds, ties for little boys and bar stools for a sports lounge… You can conjure up so many designs based on the versatile grid.”

Retro feel

Adding a touch of elegance and drama to haute spaces are checkerboard-inspired flooring. At Amethyst, on Whites Road, the corridors make a dramatic statement with the black-and-white checks complementing the charming ambience and framed by a lush garden. “It has its roots in tarot and Kabbalah and is seen in many stately homes. But the playfulness of the patterns comes from our association with chess. There’s a universal appeal about these checks,” says Kiran Rao of Amethyst.

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In literature and films too, chess is a metaphor that lends itself to different interpretations. Whether it’s T.S. Eliot’s A Game Of Chess in Wasteland, absurdist Samuel Beckett’s chess-inspired title Endgame or our own auteur Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players), ironically, the logic-based game has a special place in creative minds.