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Strokes and swirls: When ink pen does ballet

Antonio, 43, is a London-based artist and one of the scribes working in the Crown Office

mumbai Updated: Sep 27, 2018 04:29 IST
Krutika Behrawala
Krutika Behrawala
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Paul Antonio,Mumbai,Crown Office
Calligraphers Paul Antonio and Achyut Palav at Tao Art Gallery in Worli. (HT Photo)

Watching Paul Antonio at work is akin to watching a ballet performance. Except here, it’s his deft fingers doing the dancing. Delicately holding an ink pen with a sharp nib, the calligrapher creates strokes and swirls on paper to form the phrase ‘Let all that begins end in beauty’.

“Calligraphy requires a lot of concentration but when you spend time with it and enjoy the strokes you’re creating, it’s almost a meditative practice,” he says.

Antonio, 43, is a London-based artist and one of the scribes working in the Crown Office. He handwrites some of the laws that the Queen signs as well as the official documents when people become ennobled. He also recorded Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding in the royal register.

“Working for the Crown Office is intense. With the laws, you have only single scrolls and really expensive stationery, so you can’t afford to make a mistake. The work is also demanding because the language is archaic and written in tiny lettering – only 2 mm high,” says the artist, who is in Mumbai (his maiden trip to the city) for an exhibition titled East Greets West, which opens at the Tao Art Gallery in Worli on Thursday.

The exhibition features 14 artworks created by Antonio in collaboration with Indian calligrapher Achyut Palav. These showcase Sanskrit verses and chants like ‘Om’ penned in Devanagari by Palav. They are mirrored in English text by Antonio. The works use red, black and gold ink; one also features 24-carat Indian gold leaf.

“The idea was the create a conversation between two people who belong to completely different cultures, through calligraphy,” says curator Tapan Mody of the design studio and artist incubator Yes Yes Why Not?

Both artists worked together on each piece. “We were keen on blending both scripts together rather than overpowering one another,” says Palav.

A native of Trinidad, Antonio took to calligraphy when he was nine. “Growing up in a developing country, I didn’t have access to the right tools. So, I would often make quills out of turkey vulture feathers I’d find on the beaches.”

He moved to the UK in the mid-90s to study heraldic art and later set up a calligraphy studio in London for clients that include the supermodel Kate Moss and the design house Versace. This week, Antonio has been conducting workshops for art students;
a talk on calligraphy in modern times is on the cards at the
gallery.

“India has a rich history of calligraphy and a wealth of indigenous scripts. The idea is to get budding calligraphers to explore them,” he says.

First Published: Sep 27, 2018 04:29 IST