Kafeel’s once “colourful” life turned bleak two years ago. For almost a decade, this street painter sat idle at his shop in a narrow lane near Jama Masjid in the Walled City. Kafeel who once painted banners, shop signs, hoardings and messages on trucks had lost most of his customers over the past decade, who dumped his art for cheaper, printed vinyl banners.
For the past year, however, Kafeel has been getting a new kind of customers at his shop: foreigners who commission him to write banners for various festivals and exhibitions abroad in his unique typographical style using bright fonts that have three-dimensional effects. He has had clients from Finland, Holland, England and elsewhere.
Last month, Kafeel’s multicolour fonts were used in the design of the logo of RUNG, a South Asian Heritage Day — an event held at the Royal Ontario Museum in Ontario, Canada. Besides, his fonts have also been used on covers of books.
“Recently, a woman from abroad asked me to paint the words Time After Time in 10 different styles on canvas. I was paid R10,000 for each canvas. Foreigners pay me R5,000 for a banner that will only fetch me Rs. 500 from a local customer,” says Kafeel sitting in his small shop, full of banners, portraits, and landscapes, painted by him.
He has recently finished painting a 20ft-high shutter for an upcoming Heritage Transport Museum in Manesar. He has painted messages such as Horn OK Please and Buri Nazar Wale Tera Mooh Kala, writings you often spot on trucks.
Kafeel’s growing popularity can be ascribed to a project called HandPaintedType launched by a Delhi-based graphic designer Hanif Kureshi. The project, launched two years ago is aimed at documenting, preserving and popularising the art of street painters.
Few takers remain for their art - shop signs, banners, hoardings and writings on trucks -- that has been parts of street culture in cities for decades.
“Their art is fast becoming extinct. The idea behind the project is to digitise the typefaces of street painters across India so that it serves as a resource for future generations and to find a new market for their art. All of these painters have their own unique typography style, with a raw street-feel,” says Kureshi, who quit his job at an advertising agency to be able to spend time with street painters.
His project involves getting street painters across the country to draw letters from A to Z, digits from 0 to 9 and all keyboard symbols and characters on canvases. Then he gets the fonts digitised and puts them up on the website of his project where they can be bought for $50 (around R2,960).
Many artists and graphic designers are collaborating with him on the project.
“They find a good painter in their localities and get him to do a banner in his own style. They send these works of art to me,” he says.
So far, the project has on board about 50 painters working in Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati. Many of the fonts Kureshi collected have found favour with designers and museums, both in India and abroad. “Designers from the US, UK and Australia have bought the typesfaces. They like the rustic feel of the fonts. A part of the proceeds of the sales goes to the painters as royalty,” says Kureshi.
Other painters who have contributed to the project hope that foreign clients could help save their art, which Kureshi feels is part of the country’s popular culture. “Few appreciate the value of painted banners. Schools thankfully still do,” says Malviya Nagar-based painter Umang, who spends at least two days to write a banner.
Walled City-based 76-year-old painter Charan, who says he has created a “fruit juice” font of seven colours, hoped: “I am sure that people will tire of vinyl boards and returned to painted signs.”