Exploring Indian scripts and telling the stories behind them, Rajeev Kumar’s Akshar impresses with its colours and skill
f you consider calligraphy to be just artistic handwriting, Delhi-based Rajeev Kumar’s works will change your mind. Soon to be displayed in the city, each of the artist’s strokes and colours are deftly employed with an eye to bring alive the meanings of what is written or tell the story behind them. Take, for example, Apsara. Water (ap) and its flow (sara), which together form the word, are imprinted in blue and white. While this is done to personify mists and clouds, the curves that form the word in the Devanagiri script are indicative of the beauteous damsel the word refers to. The artist employs calligraphy as a means to convey deeper meanings, using verses from the Vedas and other sacred texts.
When the journey started, however, it was because his fine handwriting had made him popular in school, admits Kumar, who has been practising calligraphy for over 25 years now. “People would ask me to write their names on notebooks or pen short notes to send someone. The seeds for calligraphy were sown then,” he says. But it was later, around 1990, that his serious interest began. “Though not formally trained in arts, I used to do portraits. Then I chanced upon a book on contemporary calligraphy artists. Till then I thought calligraphy was about writing beautifully, but this book was an eye opener because the grandmasters had done full-fledged paintings,” says the 47-year-old artist, who was studying to be a mechanical engineer then.
With no calligraphy teaching in India, and scarce reference material, Kumar pored over all books he could lay his hands on. Self-taught, he spent the next decade learning and practising Western calligraphy. But then it occurred to him that most European languages were written in the same script, as opposed to Indian languages. So, since 2000, he has been focussing on our scripts.
Though India is officially home to over 870 languages (unofficial estimates peg it at 1,100), he observes that the documentation of scripts—numbering about 15—was limited. He started training in them and published works in almost all Indian scripts. Speaking about them, Kumar observes that ‘there is no direct correlation between a script and its language. You can write any language in any script.” His works—which are on large formats (some have scaled even 30 feet)—are always on canvas. He customises his paints, usually the acrylic used for walls and interiors—for the finish (glossy, matt) and consistency. “Calligraphy requires flowy ink, but it must be of the right consistency so that it doesn’t bleed,” he explains. He also makes his own qalam or pens.
Akshar, an exhibition of about 20 works, will be showcased at Apparao Galleries in February. Details: 28332226