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Hide and Paint

Graffiti artists Daku, Rush and Treble at Hauz Khas Villege in New Delhi. Photos: Sushil Kumar Verma  

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They do break a law, but does that make them criminals? Three graffiti artists tell Shailaja Tripathi that their expression on the city’s walls is as much for its residents as it is for them

Theirs are faces you wouldn’t have seen and probably never will. But some of you know them through their writing on the wall, in the literal sense of the phrase. When most of us are getting back home, they are heading towards their destination — a dilapidated building, an abandoned plot or just any other wall in a plush locality — to splash it with colour. They might not be celebrated but artists they indeed are. They are graffiti artists or graffiti writers whose canvas is not a cotton or linen fabric stretched across a wooden frame but the entire city. Street art has been inherent to our cityscapes — slogans, announcement of rallies, posters and funny one-liners — but graffiti art, in the strictest sense of the genre, hasn’t had much of a tradition, but of late the graffiti scene has registered increased activity.Meet three witty, enthusiastic and cool graffiti writers who have been painting the town red for some time.

Daku

Probably the biggest name on the circuit right now

Once caught painting on a wall in South Delhi, he was asked to pay up Rs.2.5 lakh by two cops. Finally the deal was settled at Rs.2,000. The next time it happened, “The cop asked me to pay Rs.50,000. They look at your expensive spray cans and the fact that somebody is daring enough to do that in the middle of the night, and conclude that either you or your father has a lot of money. Anyways, we finally closed it at Rs.200,” quips Daku, one of the most active graffiti artists in the city currently. The 29-year-old, who studied visualisation at M.S. University in Baroda, works as a graphic designer during the day but darkness renders him another identity, that of Daku. “What does a daku do? He comes out at night and robs people. I do the same but I don’t rob people, I rob walls.”

Growing up in Gujarat, Daku, mesmerised by typography and street art, wanted to be a street painter but couldn’t become one. So, instead, he became a graphic designer and graffiti artist. He came to Delhi from Mumbai in 2008, and that’s when he did his first piece at South Extension in an underpass, which is now gone. The city, particularly South Delhi, is full of his marks or signature, or ‘tag’ as it’s known in graffiti lingo. ‘Daku’ written in different fonts and types has endeared itself to the city and its inhabitants. “I did a Daku at a Saket crossing while some construction work was going on. I am sure they wouldn’t have been able to decipher it at once but when they did they must have smiled; they must have wondered who could have written it. Daku is like a brand... there are different brands you see across the city and they get registered in your mind… Similarly, Daku can also get there. The whole exercise is to make people think.”

At times, his art is immersed in his surroundings, like the one he did at ITO when Anna’s agitation to bring in the Lokpal Bill was in full swing at Ramlila grounds. “People didn’t know the cause… some were just going there for fun, so I made a piece called ‘Blind Protest’ depicting a blindfolded protestor.” There are no fixed patterns or timings. Daku paints when he is restless, he paints when he is high. “Most times we have to finish a piece in 15 minutes. And sometimes you have to leave your work incomplete and come back some other day because defacement of public property is criminal. It is so strange that peeing on walls is not a crime in this country but graffiti is.”

On his run-ins with the cops, he says he has always managed to wriggle out. “And the funny thing is, they haven’t been able to figure out that I am Daku. The high stylisation makes it difficult to read and sometimes I act as if I am peeing. Once Zine, another prolific graffiti artist in Delhi, Bond, a German artist visiting Delhi, and I decided to paint a wall in Nizamuddin. We did it and it remained there for a year. We then went back and saw somebody had written ‘Chalo Ramlila Maidan’ on it. Suddenly, these two cops came up and said, ‘You are the one we have been looking for since two years… you have written this…’ I tried explaining things to them but they wouldn’t listen, and that’s when I had to pay up.”

Dare him to come to the VIP area of Parliament Street and Daku promises he will, someday. “I have tried in much more dangerous places, like Germany’s metro trains, where it is a serious crime. Their technology is so high-end that they can easily catch you. I almost reached there but couldn’t do it.”

His pieces can be seen in Malviya Nagar, Saket, Dwarka, Old Delhi and near the airport.

Rush

One of the few women graffiti artists on the scene.

Hailing from Manipur, Rush has been actively painting since 2010. She tags and also makes cartoon characters from Dexter’s Laboratory. Of late she hasn’t been very active because of the two guys, who would accompany her and keep tabs while she would paint. “Those guys aren’t around so I am not really active these days,” says Rush, who has done five pieces in the city till now — at IIT, Hauz Khas, ISBT flyover and even in Chanakyapuri, a highly sensitive area. How did she manage that? “Being a girl has many disadvantages but it also has many advantages. I smile my way through. I do some sweet-talk and manage. But going alone at night can be dangerous. I didn’t really go that late, though I always took these guys along. They would alert me if they saw a cop coming.” It happens that they have had to leave their work incomplete and come back the next day. “It’s so difficult to leave your work unfinished. I can’t sleep those nights. Graffiti gives me a rush and that’s why I call myself Rush.”

The city is full of scope and opportunities for a graffiti artist to paint. “Because there is lack of vigilance. I come across so many potential spots and I resolve to do a piece there.”

Back home, people were critical of her fondness for graffiti. “Graffiti is a part of hip-hop culture, so people assumed that without understanding and adopting hip-hop culture completely I have just taken to one part of it. But that’s not true. I am not obsessed with hip-hop culture, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand it. I like it.”

Nowadays, Rush is concentrating on playing with words. “Cartoons are there but I am focussing on how to write my name differently. There is a lot of colour in my pieces but the most dominant is pink. Politically, I am quite aware but I haven’t really reached that level, so I am honing some basic skills. Also, the idea is to give visual pleasure to people. I want to communicate with people through colours… just one look and they should know it’s Rush.” Visibility, the colour of the wall and its condition, she says, are the deciding factors for a graffiti artist.

Treble

At 15, he is one of the youngest graffiti artists around

Treble is one of the basics, any piano player or lover would tell you. He was named after one of the two clefs — the two signs, Treble clef and Bass clef — which basically tell you whether to play high notes or low notes. Treble plays the piano and was named so by his best friend. Treble plunged into the scene two years ago and the first thing he did was to paint the roof of his house in Gurgaon. “I was mesmerised by this art form when I went to New York. I came back and started doing a lot of cartoon characters, like from South Park. Now, I am focusing on creating my original style and tag. So, in a way, my style is still evolving. I talk to fellow graffiti artists and gain so much from these discussions. In fact, Daku has really motivated me during our jams when we have painted together and will be doing so in future,” says Treble, whose favourite combo is black, light green and pink.

Not much known in Delhi, Treble informs us that his scribbles in Phase I, II and III of Gurgaon have earned him recognition. But that doesn’t mean everybody in his school or class knows he is the one who is Treble. “Very close friends know the secret, though people know I am into art,” says Treble, who uses both spray cans and wall paint to make his pieces.

After Gurgaon, his next aim is Delhi, and he has already done three works here; one at Malviya Nagar, another on Prithviraj Road, and the third one on the boundary wall of a metro station. What a braveheart to have attempted Prithviraj Road! “I was with my parents and we were crossing that area and we saw an abandoned building. My parents dropped me there and I did it. When I saw somebody coming, I scaled the wall and ran off. I do parkour, which helps.”

A good graffiti, according to the rising star, should express feelings through bold and bright colours.

MORE ON GRAFFITI

Graffiti is considered an offence under the West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1976. The abundance of poll graffiti in the elections held in 2006 in West Bengal led this act to be implemented seriously. And was later extended to other States as well. Section 3(1) of the Act provides that whoever defaces any property in public view by writing or marking with ink, chalk, paint or any other material except for the purpose of indicating the name and address of the owner or occupier of such property, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to Rs.50,000, or with both.

The urban planners of Johannesburg commissioned an American graffiti artist to spray-paint a giant mural on the wall of Jewel City, an important place in South Africa’s diamond trade. Told to paint “Diamonds are a woman’s best friend”, he added on his own, “And a man’s worst enemy” which created controversy.

But the freshest controversy in this field has been generated in London where four graffiti artists have been arrested by British Transport Police over allegations of criminal charge, some of which date back to 2007.

Back home, earlier this year, an image of Mahatma Gandhi stencilled on the wall of a public toilet in Hauz Khas Market had created a furore. Said to be done by an anonymous graffiti artist, it was seen as an insult to the Father of the Nation.

When a graffiti is painted over an existing piece and is not better than the earlier one, in the lingo of graffiti world it is called a toy.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2017 12:40:41 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/hide-and-paint/article3661829.ece