‘Hand-Painted Type gives a city its unique look’

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WHO Hanif Kureshi is an artist who utilises typography, graphic art, environmental design and mixed media. A graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda, he now heads the creative department of advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy in New Delhi. Kureshi promotes Hand-Painted Type, a dying art form that used to be visible on the back of trucks and on hand-painted billboards.

Hanif Kureshi
Hanif Kureshi, 30, Artist

Why are you reviving the Hand-Painted Type?
As I was growing up, I often saw the work of local street painters/artists lining the lanes of my city. I collaborated with a few of them and thereon I knew I wanted to grow up and be a Hand Painted Type (HPT) artist. Hand-painted form was once a commonplace occurrence on boards in marketplaces; they gave different cities unique visual looks because no two painters thought or painted similar typographies. You could tell Mumbai’s marketplace from Bengaluru’s. It’s not just the visual art that needs to be revived, but also the distinctive city landscapes.

What are the challenges in digitising a hand-painted font?
A hand-painted font is designed by a painter for artistic purposes. Thus, Indian hand-painted fonts use over six to nine colours in a single character. When it comes to digitising such a font, individual layers for each colour have to be laid one over the other. Each individual vowel or consonant is laborious.

How are Indian language typographies complex in comparison to those of the English language?
The English language has limited number of characters as compared to Indian regional languages. For every half letter in Hindi or even a matra, a separate character needs to be designed. Thus a regional Indian language font can be as complex as 600 individual characters. Additionally, there needs to be a script designed to run a regional language font on an English language keyboard.

Do you feel the HPT receives enough importance in the art circuits?
Although in art circuits abroad HPT has received notable recognition and we have showcased the work of Indian typography street painters in the Centre Pompidou, Paris, and the Helsinki Exhibition, the response from Indian counterparts has been slack. In India, the font is treated more as a ‘cool’ design to be placed on customised gift items. This art form in India is grounded in usability rather than pure appreciation.

Esha Vaish

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