“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” quoting Picasso, Rocky gets candid about the story behind his लव MUMBAI art installation, first showcased & launched at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2016, that was petitioned to become the new symbol for Mumbai. Located at Bandra Reclamation, a mere 10 minutes away from us, we are proud to be exclusively licensing this artwork for sale. Read on to know more about Rocky’s journey.
KS: Tell us a little about yourself and your journey as an artist.
Rocky: It’s tough being raised as a kid in a middle class family when your father is a teacher with a dream that his kids will eventually become either engineers or doctors. As a child I was an average student but good at drawing. I always liked to write my name on books in decorative lettering so it looks different from the other kids in the hopes of impressing my teachers. When I was in class 8th, my elder brother used to go to an art class to learn drawing so my Dad asked him to take me along. The art teacher (Painter Umesh Mehta) was a very well known sign painter in my home town.
This was pivotal, as I found my Guru in him and that was the turning point of my life. From him I learned the basic techniques of drawing and I was very fascinated with type so he taught me calligraphy in Gujarati and introduced me to a grid system for latin type. I made lot of sign boards and number plates for different vehicles. In class 12th I couldn’t get good enough marks to fulfill my father’s dream and I decided to go to an art school (where I always wanted to go). I joined Baroda School of Art and majored in Applied Art. Baroda Fine Arts not only made my foundation strong but also imbued an understanding of Art aesthetics. There I learned to observe and visualize normal things that I would translate into art.
After graduating from there, I joined Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) and in few months I moved to Wieden+Kennedy (W+K), Delhi where I met another visionary: V.Sunil, the creative director of W+K, Delhi. From him I learned how to think beyond normal and how simple art direction could be very impactful. This was the time when I started designing my own fonts to use in my advertising work. The most interesting part of creating my own types was the liberty I took while designing to create completely new ligatures, unending alternates, swashes, dingbats and old style figures which sometimes you don’t get in the font you want to use. There I worked on some of the top brands like IndiGo Airlines, Royal Enfield, Incredible India, Coca-Cola, Nokia, Heineken, P&G, Oberoi Hotels, and HCL. But again advertising work is for a small period where you make a campaign which runs successfully for a month or two and then people forget it. Type design lives forever.
Just imagine, Garamond was designed in 16th century and versions of it are still in use. There is so much work that has been done in Latin type design but Indic scripts are still untouched – it’s a field where a lot of new things can be done. After spending five years at W+K I left both W+K and advertising, stayed at home without money, taught myself type design and got a job at Indian Type Foundry (ITF). I Joined ITF in April, 2014 and since then I’ve designed and released Brahmos (Devanagari), Quantum – Devanagari and Latin, Quantum Latin Rounded and Kunkun Latin in the retail category and have worked for Apple, Google and Samsung on custom typefaces. I have designed Laila (Devanagari) and Vadodara (Gujarati) for Google fonts too, which are an open source fonts.
KS: When did you first come up with the idea of this installation?
Rocky: This is a long story. As a type lover, lot of time I find my inspiration in hand painted lettering or sign boards. In 2009 when I was working at W+K, some employee got painted a small sign board in Devanagari lettering ‘लवली’ (Lovely). The painter painted a letter ‘ल’ (LA) with a perfect symmetry and I saw a heart form in it. The form of the letter ‘LA’ in Devanagari is such that deliberately if you join two terminals together, it becomes a heart with a shirorekha (top line in Devanagari script). That was the source of an idea and since then I always wanted to make an artwork ‘लव’ in Devanagari using ‘LA’ as a heart shape. From the roadside Romeo to Milton Glaser (the designer of ‘I heart NY’ logo), use the heart symbol to represent love. This powerful icon cuts across demographics and language barriers.
The idea was to incorporate the love symbol (heart) into Devanagari script. Instead of the Latin script, the transliteration of love ( लव ) in Devanagari adds a multi-lingual, fun aspect which imbibes elements from our Hinglish speaking generation and popular culture. In 2010, Aksharaya organized a type camp/workshop in Alibaug, Mumbai and they called different graphic designers from all over India to contribute. The brief was to create an artwork in 3D using only paper and I thought this was a good platform to execute my ‘लव’ idea. The mood of the photoshoot and style was the clichéd image of how love is depicted in Indian cinema.
In December 2015, Hanif Kureshi, the founder of St+art India Foundation asked me to collaborate for Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2016 (KGAF). St+art India Foundation was looking for a typographical installation, a symbol to represent the city of Mumbai. We decided to use the same design and to give ‘लव’ concept a bigger platform. Earlier idea was to write लव MUMBAI in a straight line but the given space for an installation at KGAF was small, so Hanif and I decided to make a ligature of लव and MUMBAI to save space and increase the total height of the sculpture. We wanted the total height of the sculpture to be 7 feet tall so people can interact with it. Since the heart form is a symmetric shape so while designing the Latin companion of MUMBAI type, I tried to keep it very generic and as neutral as possible so it compliments the लव type treatment and doesn’t overpower it. I chose red for लव because it’s the universal color to depict love/heart while white was intentionally used to create a strong contrast. The installation is now 20 feet in length, 7 feet in height with a depth of 1.5 feet.
KS: For the installation – tell us about the the process of translating it from an idea to an actual physical work of art.
Rocky: As a type designer we always work on the screen or on paper and test our fonts if they are working well in a small point size. Type design is always in two-dimensional space where you clearly evaluate in terms of the positive and negative space. But for this installation, I had to judge it in 3D. When you make type in 3D you have to be very careful with the depth because less depth will make the structure too flimsy and more depth might make it illegible from certain angles. Another important point was to make it large and sturdy enough to support the weight of people interacting with it – if people lean on it or kids want to climb on it. We used thick marine plywood which is specifically manufactured for marine applications hence is completely waterproof. After polishing it was coated with paint courtesy our sponsors Asian Paints.
I was sure that it would appeal to people because when I first made the attempt to create लव in three-dimension with paper at an Aksharaya workshop, it was pretty well received and this one was larger than life and interactive which people always likes.
Hanif helped me to select the right design with a ligature while St+art India Foundation helped take care of the production. Asian paints pitched in for the fabrication and KGAF2016 provided the space.
KS: Did you have any qualms about giving up your art to the public. Tell us more about how it came to become a permanent installation at Bandra Reclamation and the new symbol for Mumbai.
Rocky: When I was pursuing Fine Arts in Baroda I noticed that the city had a culture of having art installations at all major traffic signals. Mostly all of them by artists who studied at the Baroda School of Art. Apart from being a great platform to showcase your work, what I really like about public art is that it involves and engages the viewers in an open, easily accessible manner which seldom happens in a gallery space. For me public art breaks that convention of the so called ‘high-art’ that is reviewed, analysed and written about within the confines of a gallery.
This is a not-for-profit art project for St+art Foundation and I did this for the sake of art rather than money. Like Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” This is my small contribution to beautify the city and I would be happy if my design makes people happy and puts a smile on their faces. This is India’s first typographic art installation to represent a city and I hope it’s the first of many more to come.
After installing at KGAF, in just one day people started talking about it and it was everywhere from social media to the newspapers. People of Mumbai just loved it so much that Humans of Bombay started an online petition to make the installation a permanent part of the Mumbai landscape and St+art India put in a request to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to give it a permanent place in the city. People showed their love for the installation and it got 1620 votes within a few days. Even Aditya Thackeray, head of the Shiv Sena’s youth wing supported the petition and the whole idea of having a typographical installation which represents the city. On the 16th of March, a Wednesday, the ‘लव Mumbai’ installation was set up at the Promenade at Bandra Reclamation. This public installation is devised as a monument of love dedicated by the citizens of Mumbai to the city as a mark of their undying love for each other. Love Mumbai and Mumbai will always love you back.
KS: What next? Tell us about any projects in the pipeline that people can look forward to.
Rocky: The current ‘लव Mumbai’ installation is temporary but soon we have to make it in a solid, concrete material and in a slightly bigger size, so that is in the process. लव is a part of larger series of installations across metro cities in India, with the idea of giving each city it’s own icon in it’s own script. So we are working on Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad at the moment. As a type designer I’m working on few interesting projects which should be out soon. TYPO magazine is featuring my typeface – Quantum Devanagari to showcase in their annual book ‘Typo 365’ – Vol. 2, so I’m waiting for that too.
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