Have you ever stopped for a moment to look at the murals in the Delhi Metro? Most of us have, but with the rush of the underground and of life itself, it’s not a space in which you stand and stare.
Which makes K. Rajesh’s brief clear: he must produce large artistic impressions that capture the ethos of the context in which a particular station sits, along with larger-than-life ideas and execution that gets people to pause, take a look.
“Themes vary,” says the soft-spoken man. For instance, at Kailash Colony station he has explored the idea of yoga and spirituality, in a nod to the sudden spurt of activity around it, with yoga studios springing up all over south Delhi. Digitally printed polycarbonate sheets were used; that were later hand-touched by artists.
There are trees and flowers at Akshardham: roses, orchids, tiger lily, (he was given just two days to complete this), to bring alive the walls for the Commonwealth Games, welcoming its participants who may have been able to pick out at least one flower from their home country. At Vaishali and Kaushambi, the theme is peace and unity, a message to people, in an area where law and order is a concern.
Of his works in 26 stations, there are several that have history-led murals depicting mostly Mughal-era monuments like Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort, Purana Quila, Jama Masjid, Safdarjang Tomb, and even earlier ones like Agrasen Ki Baoli, and the Qutub Minar. “I have a fascination for monuments built in Delhi, during the reign of Mughals. Delhi is dotted with these – they convey our syncretic culture,” says the artist, who last project was at I.P. Extension.
The man behind the art
Rajesh is a shy, reticent artist, originally from Thirvananthapuram, Kerala. He grew up in West Delhi and even today lives and operates from Dwarka. His take on art is philosophical as well as practical. “Art is a creative language which an artist uses to articulate his or her beliefs and emotions.” But work is not a luxury, and the DMRC has deadlines they must meet.
“At times, when I embark on a project, I realise that I have to start two or three days late as another party has not finished its job. This means that I have just a day to complete the work. So meticulous planning has to go before I start work,” he says.
The biggest achievement he says was the artwork at Tri Nagar metro station (rechristened Inderlok metro station). “We completed the project within two months. It involved 15 artists of my company. It was a big project and a lot of tile work had to be done in an 800-square-feet area.”
Before his work with the Metro, Rajesh worked at residences, in the early 2000s. Creatively satisfied, he was however, never paid in time, or “money came in dribs and drabs or was below the market rate or even below what we’d decided upon. Once I wrapped up a project but was told bluntly that I could either accept the money or leave the house.” Feeling both disillusioned and cheated, he decided to approach corporate clients to get his due.
A bond with people
Each time Rajesh gets a project, he knows he has to keep in mind a few thing: his subject should allow for bold strokes and bright colours, so they catch people’s attention. Sometimes commuters reach out to him with words of appreciation, and he’s seen many bloggers show off the art as one of the attractions of Delhi.
A part of his team are batchmates from the Rajasthan School of Art, in Jaipur. “I like working with like-minded people. So when I set up East Craft Designs in 1997, I made sure that they were there. Nine of them assist me as artists and sculptors.”
He now has his eye on a Guinness World Record for doing the most number of art works in metro stations in one city. “I need recognition,” says Rajesh.