Paul Fernandes has found his muse in the city of Bengaluru, painting it with a deft hand and infusing rib-tickling wit into his watercolour cartoons of the City as it used to be in the 60s and 70s.
If you are new to the city or even if you have grown up in Bengaluru and wondered what it was like a few decades back when the blitzkrieg of globalization had not hit it, the paintings and sketches of Paul Fernandes would provide you with quite a few answers. He is an unabashed lover of the City’s glorious past. The labours of his love are displayed at a quaint gallery, wittingly named Apaulogy, located at Richards Town just opposite to the Richards Park.
A glass window showcases watercolour cartoons in different moods, splashed with a good dose of humour. Inside, the gallery is tastefully decorated. Vinyl records sit atop a Yamaha piano and all around are illustrations and paintings that invite the visitors to take a close look.
When a young Paul drew a caricature of his teacher in the classroom, attracting guffaws from his classmates and a detention from the subject in question who was not at all amused and set him lines, little did he know that his love for sketching would one day inspire him to blend nostalgia for the bygone days with witty and clever drawings of the city. “I wrote a 100 times that I will not draw funny pictures of my teacher. I think that was the first time I realized that a picture is worth a thousand words,” he jokes.
Growing up in Bengaluru has definitely made a huge impact on his work. Paul’s father decided to settle down in the City. “I grew up in the cantonment area with nine other siblings just down the road from this gallery.” At any given point of time, the house used to be filled with the friends of Paul and his siblings. He still cherishes memories of his mother making sandwiches for all of them.
It was this house that played a role in gifting the artist with his muse some 15 years back. His ancestral home was being brought down to build a modern apartment complex. It was a difficult emotion for Paul to process as nostalgia competed with present day realities. He had beautiful memories of the house and it saddened him in no small degree. Instead of just reminiscing about the good old days with his friends and family he started taking a much keener note of the changing cityscape. His observations took shape of witty drawings of Bengaluru as it was in the 60s and the 70s. Be it a clever take on the Parade Café at the Koshy’s or a satire on the epithet Pensioner’s Paradise that Bengaluru of that era had earned, Paul has drawn and painted the City in different hues.
“Bengaluru is a very interesting subject. I wanted to capture the good old days. I was lucky to find the subject and I love doing what I do.” The artist sounds as if he wants to capture a slice of time that he longs for, but cannot recreate.
The walls of his art gallery, lined with watercolour cartoons are homage to this longing and speak to the old and the young alike. “People of my age or older people come here and identify themselves with the stories that these paintings tell. On the other hand, when the younger generation comes here, they are fascinated to see the Bengaluru in which their parents went about their lives.” He calls it a ‘gratifying experience.’
The comradery that both the younger and older generations have developed with his drawings and paintings began with the establishment of the art gallery. Interestingly, Apaulogy which has now become a landmark at the corner of the Richard’s town was supposed to be a week long experience. “I began drawing and painting at home. Once I had 30-40 of these, my wife suggested that I display them. Fortunately this space was empty.” The display proved to be a success with people flocking in to get a taste of nostalgia laced with the artist’s brand of wit.
Since then, the brand Apaulogy has ventured into merchandising. Mugs adorned with India Coffee House, bags and spectacle cases flashing a rainy day in the City, laptop bags featuring the Only Restaurant and much more call to the collector’s tantalizingly from their corners. The idea for merchandizing had come from his son, an economics graduate.
For Paul though, digitizing his work for prints has not changed the way he works on a piece. “For me much of the thinking and work happens much before a painting is digitized. I draw and paint every day and then to make it accessible to a large number of people, I digitize it.”
Interestingly, the sense of humour that he infuses in his drawings and paintings, mesmerize people as much as his art. Paul considers it a very important ingredient of life. He uses humour effortlessly as an ice-breaker. “Humour does not lessen the seriousness of what you have to say. All you need to do is to have clearly defined boundaries so that it does not offend people’s sensibilities.”
Paul’s professional background certainly seeps into his present day engagements. He went to Art School at M.S. University in Baroda and is clearly nostalgic about the City. “Baroda was a different place in those days. It was heavenly. I am talking of Baroda of the 70s.” Clearly, the past holds a sway over the artist’s imagination. After completing Art School, Paul joined the world of advertising and designing in Mumbai, after which Bengaluru called him home and he was happy to heed the call.
He leverages his artistic and professional background to give his pieces emotions as well as finesse of technique. Research, as Paul points out forms a very significant part of any drawing. “To do these drawings you really need to get into the subject. You have to figure out angle and light, who are the people you want to put to in that drawing, what will they be wearing and a number of other tiny details.”
Ideas for Paul flow from different directions. Sometimes it is as mundane as peeping out of the car’s window while travelling and at other times, it is a conversation he had with someone. There have been incidents where people have walked into the gallery, admired his caricatures of the yesteryear and given him ideas for his next drawing.
“Whenever I am searching for inspiration, I have always found out that the information I need has already been planted at some point of time in the bed of imagination and then it sprouts when the time is right.” Over the years, the artist in him has learnt not to rush the work. Paul feels when an idea is rushed it almost inevitably results in a bad drawing.
While working he has several workstations. “If I get bogged down by one idea, instead of losing time on it, I move on to the next workstation. Drawing multiple things at the same time provides me with flexibility in terms of both time and concept.”
Diversity inspires Paul and sets the creative flow for him. His quest for new ideas has taken him to the west coast of India. At present, he is working on a series of drawings in Mumbai, Goa and Kerala. He calls them a ‘light hearted take on life while carousing through the west coast of India.’ Besides creating a tableau of the cities and lives therein, music is something that is close to Paul’s heart. He plays the piano. That explained the vinyl records and piano in his gallery. “Music is a part of our household. My father used to play the violin and he made sure all of us learnt an instrument.”
Apart from the loss of the myriad landmarks of the City, what bothers him is the way the lakes and greenery have become a casualty of the changing times. It is one thing that he strongly believes should be brought back. Yesteryear fascinates the artist in him as is evident from his watercolour cartoons of Bengaluru. He lends a voice and tells the story of long lost landmarks that are often buried somewhere in the deep recesses of people’s memories. In visiting his gallery, Apaulogy which features his work in both framed prints and merchandise, a visitor is very much likely to find a time capsule, which when unearthed provokes a wistful longing and a sense of discovery at the same time.