#LookoutFor: The everyday inspiration

A host of art projects around the world are leading the way in making canvases out of common sights

Text: Sohini Sen

Image courtesy: Bollywood Art Project

Image courtesy: Bollywood Art Project

I am a want-to-be-artsy-but-lack-inherent-talent kind of person.

Growing up, I was surrounded by people painting with panache — cousins, aunts, and grandmother even — while my art would always have colours rebelliously running outside the lines, skies very suspiciously coloured green and purple, or (when particularly frustrated) be torn through from having coloured with too much strength.

As I grew up, I’d observe closely how people painted. Kolkata at that time was full of political graffiti on the walls, and I’d try copying those. Then, I’d also try to copy artwork from various book covers. I’d copy drawings from cartoons and attempt to paint them on blank t-shirts. I even convinced my grandmother to let me paint a part of my room.

I failed at each.

But with time I saw, met, and (thanks to my work, legitimately) stalked artists of a different kind: These were people who made art from and on daily, random things.  

The first was a street mural artist in Mumbai, who had painted the wall next to my then-house with a bright mural of Madhubala, the popular, beautiful actor of yesteryear.

His idea was to turn the city on its head, by picking nooks and crannies in which to pay homage to Bollywood, through the Bollywood Art Project. He would often paint personalities from the industry, who were termed as ‘iconic’ – actors Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna at Bandstand, director and screenwriter Dadasaheb Phalke at Bandra Reclamation, and actors Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu on Hill Road and most recently, and Sridevi on Chapel Road. 

“I have had wonderful people coming to help. It was never something I wanted to do for money, but to bring back the hand-painted poster styles of yesteryears,” Ranjit Dahiya, the man behind Bollywood Art Project had said when I met him in 2012. 

Then, there was UK-based Carl Pappenheim, who under his label Spineless Classics, was making art from books. (If you’re a bibliophile reading this, please know that no books were harmed in the making of these artworks).

Pappenheim’s artworks were the cut-outs of a singular theme or character from a book, silhouetted against a text excerpt from the same book. So, a Captain Hook may be standing out of a paragraph from Peter Pan, or the dragon Smaug may be shining bright from quotable bits of The Hobbit.

In USA meanwhile, Sophie Blackall  made posters inspired by the listings on Craigslist, the popular classified advertising website.

She read the massages left by readers from chance romantic encounters and gave them an artistic shape – a girl riding a swan shaped bike, a girl sitting on top of a staircase standing out only by the letter N tattooed on her arm, a lady carrying an octopus in her shopping bag. In reply to an email I had sent her back in 2009, she had explained how her sketches had often given people hope.

“Hope in kindness and intimacy between strangers, hope in finding their own true loves. Hope of connecting. Because for all the hopelessness in writing and posting a Missed Connection, for all the ‘You probably won’t read this’ and ‘This is a shot in the dark,’ there’s a 15-watt bulb of hope dimly glowing in each message.”

 Last month, I spoke to someone in Japan who collects origami made spontaneously in restaurants, out of chopstick wrapping paper. Yuki Tatsumi, presently a researcher in a Japanese college, was working in a restaurant a few years ago, when he noticed that while waiting for their food to come, diners would often scrunch up, roll and twist the paper envelopes that their chopsticks came wrapped in, shaping them as animals, birds and flowers.  

 “In Japan, the custom is to thank the restaurant, by thanking the servers and cooks as well. And if not in money, people do it in kind. While I always felt that the art of origami is dying in Japan, the project ‘Japanese Tip’ has made me realize that there are lots of people who are still making them, with whatever paper they find,” he said.

Why am I talking about these people? Because, none of their styles match. But, they all use everyday objects for inspiration, or they see others using everyday objects for creating art in their own way. Maybe that is what I need to realize too: That instead of looking to create art by mimicking what others are doing, I need to be more aware of things around me. Like little children who scribble shapes on fogged out windows in their cars; bored teenagers who draw doodles on the back pages of their notebooks; or women in Indian homes, who reuse every single ribbon they can find to tie up curtains, make fake flower arrangements for the side table, or spruce up their roughly made hair-bun.

Art lies in the eyes of the beholder too, doesn’t it?

A few of Sohini’s daily doodles


Sohini Sen has been travelling through the country to find stories to write about. She loves working out and making plans for everything.

Lookout Journal