Advertisements for products, announcements by local brands and cultural paintings adorned the walls of many Delhi streets during my childhood. Street art is therefore not a new concept, but the art form has achieved greater popularity today, due to the emergence of young artists who have made public walls their canvases for self-expression. Mukesh, who has been a street artist for over 30 years in Delhi, explained that the key to finding inspiration for such work lies in communication.
During the early days of his career, Mukesh used to paint street walls as per the design brief given by his customers. “My canvas is not a standard art canvas but goes beyond that to encompass walls of temples, schools and shutters of shops,” he said. Based on a conversation with the client, Mukesh usually draws what he visualises in his mind. “I would always try to tell the story of the area where I am painting and bring out its local nuances.” He explained that in the early days, people would communicate with artists and designers to flesh out ideas which would then be rendered on walls of public schools, busy roads or local fairs in the signature style of the artist. Instead of a fresh perspective, what you see today are often regurgitated references from Pinterest or Instagram, which mark the end of collaboration and innovative design.
“Earlier, clients used to look at our previous works to understand our style and give us work. But in modern times, clients are more interested in making things based on the references they find on the internet.”
With the introduction of flex printing in the market, Mukesh’s business has been gradually disrupted due to falling demand. “Before flex printing, I was very occupied with orders and clients but now it is very difficult to even find work,” he said. With people moving towards print-based posters, handmade banners barely generate any interest today and seem to have been relegated to the past. This shift has forced him to move and look for alternate employment in the city.
Mukesh now paints very occasionally, instead relying on his online business selling groceries to make ends meet. With a deep sigh of resignation, he said, “Painters, who were once highly valued for their craft, have become minors in the city.”