Creative spaces Art

Where alphabets speak

Artist Bhattathiri at his creative space

Artist Bhattathiri at his creative space   | Photo Credit: S. MAHINSHA

Calligrapher Artist Bhattathiri finds inspiration in the wee hours of the day to give free rein to his creativity

On the first floor of his house at Forest Office Lane, Vazhuthacaud, Narayana Bhattathiri, better known as Artist Bhattathiri, is at work on his computer. It’s his office where he and his team design magazines, posters, publicity materials, book covers and more. As I watch him designing a poster for a jewellery shop using his pen mouse, he says: “My heart is in calligraphy.” And so we move into a dimly-lit room inside, his creative space, where letters of the Malayalam alphabet become artistic creations and emojis in his hands.

Books are stacked on the shelves and there is a lot of clutter. “The space is always like this!” Bhattathiri says with a laugh, tying his long hair. A sturdy, wooden table is the centrepiece in the room. The custom-made table built with a large angled work space is high enough for him to stand and draw. “I had severe backache because of sitting for several hours in front of the computer while doing my design work. So now I stand and draw,” he says.

Close by is another huge table overflowing with the tools of his profession. Ink bottles, calligraphy pens, papers, books, brushes and bowls for mixing colours... He then takes out a bunch of white chart paper cut into equal sizes on which he makes new designs every day.

“I get up at three in the morning and draw the designs. I make two designs every day. Then I take a photo of them on my phone and post it on my Facebook page. That has become a routine for me,” he smiles. The number has crossed 520 and still counting. He shows me the designs stacked into bundles, with each paper stamped ‘Bhattathiri’ on the left-hand corner.

It takes less than half-an-hour for him to create a design. The silence of the wee hours of the day and the glow of the tubelight are more than enough to work with.

“I don’t wrack my brains for ideas, they just come. A reason why I do this is that I am scared about losing my touch with calligraphy because I have my hands full as a designer. I rarely get a chance to incorporate calligraphy in my designs since a lot of clients don’t seem to understand what I am trying to convey. So, this is the best way to satisfy and hone my creativity. In fact, whenever I feel bored, I just come into this room and start drawing. That is refreshing for me,” he says.

This room has been his creative space ever since he bought the house 17 years ago.

“I have lived in many rented houses in Vazhuthacaud and I always worked from which ever home I stayed in. I don’t have a 10-to-5 job and so that arrangement was comfortable for me. Everywhere I ensured that I had a space to do calligraphy,” says the artiste who has been experimenting with the Malayalam alphabet for nearly 35 years now.

Although calligraphy hasn’t evolved much in Malayalam, which is a matter of concern for him, Bhattathiri seems to be collating information from all kinds of sources. It was after attending a workshop organised by Aksharaya, a Mumbai-based organisation that works with Indian scripts and letterforms, that he got to know more about calligraphy tools. “Now I buy calligraphy tools online,” he says showing us calligraphy pens with nibs of different sizes and ink brushes among other things.

Inspired lines

Going on rewind mode, he remembers getting inspired by the type faces in a catalogue he saw at his father’s printing press. Growing up in Pandalam, he loved to draw and paint.

“I tried writing my name in different ways in my notebook,” he says.

He moved to Thiruvananthapuram to join the College of Fine Arts. While studying he used to work part time as an artist. That eventually led to his association with S. Rajendran who took him on as his assistant in Kalakaumudi. “It was Rajendran who gave me the title of calligrapher. My job was to write the title of the story. On several occasions I didn’t even know what the story was about or who wrote it. I just went by instinct,” he says.

Eventually, he brought in a calligraphy culture in Malayalam, giving a new visual language with the twists, turns and innovative characteristics in the way he used to design the title of a piece or book. That is one of the reasons why those titles are now part of Malayalam literary history — Pravachakante Vazhi, Randamoozham, Neermathalam Poothakalam, Daivathinte Vikrithikal, and Bhagavathichoottu, among others.

Artist Bhattathiri with his works at an exhibition in Thiruvananthapuram

Artist Bhattathiri with his works at an exhibition in Thiruvananthapuram   | Photo Credit: S.MAHINSHA

It is not just about artistic lettering, the execution also involves reflecting the meaning of the word. The artist, now working on Poonthanam’s Jnappana, has lost count of the number of titles he has drawn. “When compared to Bengali, Urdu, and Devanagari, calligraphy hasn’t evolved much in Malayalam. That’s why I try to reach out to the new generation through my Facebook page and my exhibition series, ‘Ka Cha Ta Tha Pa’. I am happy that many people have started taking an interest in it. I am ready to teach anyone...,” he signs off.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 4:38:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/calligrapher-artist-bhattathiri-on-his-creative-space/article19377545.ece

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