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Adding colour to publicity against odds

Petlee Peter

Fear of ban on graffiti and digital technology take the sheen out of their work

— Photo: K. Pichumani

CREATIVE TOUCH: Graffitist Senthilrajan painting on a wall in Chintadripet.

CHENNAI: These men are artists, politics is their primary theme and the outer walls of buildings make their canvas.

Meet the ‘wall graffiti artists’ of the city. The‘on road publicists’ for politicians.

Thirty-year-old T. Senthilrajan, a resident of West Cooum River Road in Chintadripet, uses fluorescent green and orange paint in his graffiti. He recently inked birthday wishes for a leading state politician on a wall on Bells Road, Triplicane.

“It’s his birthday on March 1 and his local party workers have hired me to wish him a healthy long life with bright colours,” said the graffitist, who started working when he was just 12 years old. He now runs his own firm named Muniyan Arts in Chintadripet.

Senthilrajan, who is primarily a wall portrait artist, can also paint letters with ease. Election season is carnival time for him and his fraternity.

“It’s lot of work and good money. At other times, we have to wait for politicians’ birthdays, party conferences and occasional sign board works,” says Mr.Senthilrajan, whose favourite leaders when it comes to illustration are former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. The artist’s toughest task was working on a political graffiti on a water pipe along the Adyar river and atop a tall water tank in Kotturpuram, both six months ago.

The walls are often ‘booked’ by party cadres on first-come, first-served basis. They later hire graffitists and buythem all the painting material. “We fix the fee according to the size of the wall and the percentage of artwork required,” says M. Radha Krishnan, an artist from Nungambakkam. For lettering art on a 25ft x 6ft wall, he charges around Rs. 600.

The colours for the artwork mostly come as powders. They are mixed with gum and applied to the wall to make sure they stay long and withstand rough weather.

Their work involves a lot of colour but, of late, their lives have turned bleak. “The Election Commission’s decision to ban all political wall graffiti before the 2006 State Assembly elections came as a big blow. We are all praying that the situation doesn’t get repeated for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls,” says wall letter artist R. Ramesh Kumar of R.R. Arts in Chetpet. Hailing from a family of wall painting artists, this 34-year-old says the advent of digital technology has also impacted their job opportunities.

Owners’ ire

The graffitists occasionally face building owners’ ire as they paintings are mostly done on private property. This could even result in the artists being pulled up by the police, Ramesh adds.

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