Ishrat Nawaz Ansari is 27 years old and paints shoes. “I use a pair of shoes as a canvas and work around themes like jungle, city, movies, etc. But it is the jungle theme that fascinates me the most.” Ishrat’s shoes make for fine installations for art connoisseurs and can also be worn by the stylish. I look at the pair he is wearing.
He stunningly captures a leopard waiting in the grass to prey on a deer with just the play of colours and strokes. “In this shoe, you see the skin of a leopard lying in the grass, directed towards the other shoe. And in the other shoe,” he points out, “You see the spots of a deer.” It is a treat to see how each shoe in the pair is differently painted but project one whole picture when put together.
To take some of his other shoes, there is this pair with the black stripes of tiger and zebra merging in one shoe, while in the other shoe, the black stripes appear with blood stains to indicate a kill. Drawn upon the city theme, Ishrat is now painting the city of his childhood. “One shoe will have water and a boat directed towards the other shoe, which, by the way, will have the ghats of Varanasi. From the look of it, it will be like a boat sailing towards the ghats.”
Ishrat’s shoes are spectacular. He uses mostly oil colour and dries them for 15 days after painting. To save them from water, he applies a matt varnish.
Reflecting on how it all started, Ishrat says, “About one-and-a-half years ago, when I didn’t have money to buy the shoes I wanted, I accidentally came up with this idea. I was in Mumbai then and checking out online stores for shoes. I saw that white canvas shoes were available at Rs 150. And I thought that I could convert them into something I like. I ordered six pairs and painted them all. Since then, I have been painting shoes for myself, for family, for friends, and for lovers of art.”
This self-taught artist admits, “I never decided to become an artist. I am still discovering myself. I have done jobs for survival in production houses and Bollywood, but it is painting that makes me happy. The advantage with paintings is that there are no censor boards, and nothing can be an offence in painting.”
As a little boy he used to paint car models in school. “Through sketches I used to modify cars and am inspired by racing cars. I started using colours when I was in the 6th or 7th standard. Around that time, I had drawn a tiger for a drawing competition and won the first prize. My family rebuked me for this saying that I shouldn’t be drawing living creatures. Anyway, I still am fascinated with the cat family.”
Faced with the rigours of living, Ishrat had almost given up painting until he moved in with an old artist friend in New Delhi. “Faizan reintroduced me to paintings. We started doing wall paintings and thereafter, I read up and watched movies on masters like Picasso, Rembrandt, M F Hussain, Monet, etc. I follow Fabian Prez and Sangeeta Roshni Babani though. Fabian’s realistic paintings inspire me and I like the way Sangeeta mixes colours.”
Ishrat has been travelling a lot and he has picked up a lot of inspiration from his travels. One such travel experience that he fondly recollects is that of Pushkar. “There are shops that sell painted t-shirts. They also have camel leather articles with Rajasthani folk art on them. It was one learning experience for me.”
Varanasi has also played an integral role in stirring the artist in him. The changing of colours during sunrise, reflected in the waters of the Ganga at Varanasi’s dusty ghats, is mesmerising, he says. “Then there are the colours of the old palaces and buildings in the city. Varanasi’s own brand of music through the Banaras Gharana reverberates in the air. One gets to see a mix of population in an intrinsically Hindu society. One just needs to go to Dharara on the ghats to see how a mosque sits perfectly pretty in the midst of all Hindu activities.” All of this makes for the character of Varanasi which, Ishrat says, is greatly inspiring.
It is the mixing of elements to give an impression of the whole that gets reflected even in Ishrat’s art.
His parting words are, “I want to reuse things and redefine their utility. Especially things that are dying out; like the calling bells of the past eras. They can be redefined and used for other activities now, say, as paperweights. I am also working on developing a project to paint and write about those writers whose books sell cheap at railway stations.” Unusual, thus, is the style of this young artist; the world definitely needs to see more of him.