The Weekend Artist
June 23, 2017 Smita Patil portrait by Saurabh Turakhia

The Bollywood Painter

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The inspiring story of a portrait artist, his 300 plus portraits of Bollywood celebrities and the tale about how his art helped him sail through tough times

When Saurabh Turakhia started making celebrity sketches years ago, one of the factors behind choosing to paint portraits of Bollywood stars was that their photographs were easily available, they were cheap and replicating them on a paper required little investment. Decades later, the activity he began as a hobby has become 37-year-old Mumbai artist’s identity. And besides the colourful encounters he has had with celebrities en route pursuing the passion, his art has helped him sail through some of the toughest times and ensured that the artist and his art become inseparable forever.

A not so uncommon beginning

Shatrughan Sinha portrait by artist Saurabh Turakhia
Shatrughan Sinha

“My fascination with art began in school — thanks to an artist neighbour and an aunt who paints. But what drew me towards celebrity portraits was the easy availability of their photographs in magazines and newspapers.

It, however, took a turmoil to transform the hobby into a passion. “In 2007-08 I went through a challenging period in personal life. Those were difficult times and I would find it awkward to go to friends and talk my heart out. As a result, I would have a lot of time. I decided to practice and further improve my art. Those tough times turned my hobby into a serious passion and I started disciplining my life around my art,” he adds.

Art supported him in tough times

Amitav Ghosh's portrait which appeared in HT Brunch
Amitav Ghosh’s portrait which appeared in HT Brunch
Sachin Tendulkar's portrait which appeared in a leading publication
Sachin Tendulkar’s portrait which appeared in a leading publication

Then working with Hindustan Times as a journalist, Saurabh recollects how he spent most of his week collecting magazines and photographs of celebrities and practised portraits over the weekends. It was during this period that he also launched his blog heartatart and started uploading his paintings on the blog. “Slowly, recognition and money started flowing in and that boosted my morale. I still remember when an FMCG company first used my portraits for one of their branding campaigns,” he says.

On his style of art

Contrary to the established technique, wherein artists use grids on photographs and papers to draw portraits, Saurabh prefers to paint directly on the paper. “Painting without reference marks on the paper gives me a creative satisfaction and induces that uncertainty and unpredictability in my paintings. I measure with my eyes and put poster colours directly on the paper. I still make mistakes, but then the urge to continuously raise the bar keeps me going,” he smiles.

Saurabh feels that he is not an “artist” in the conventional sense as his work involves “replicating” what he sees on paper unlike an “artist”, who translates his/ her “imagination” on the canvas. “In that sense, I am not a conventional artist because someone might say I replicate what I see. I guess that could be one of the reasons portrait artists are not taken seriously. Modern art fetches a good amount of money arguably because the artist is expressing his/ her thoughts. But here, one is reflecting reality and proportions,” he smiles.

Silver lining of the silver screen

Shashi Kapoor portrait
Shashi Kapoor

But replicating without a scale of reference and in shapes that appear easy to draw but are challenging to replicate is no easy feat. A line here and a dot there — and an Amitabh Bachchan ends up looking like Kabir Bedi and an Anil Kapoor like a Jackie Shroff — or worse, a guy next door. But Saurabh has mastered the art beyond doubt and has won accolades from the celebrities themselves. I am active on Twitter and I have approached celebrities and shown them my works. Amitabh Bachchan, Vidya Balan, Abhishek Bachchan have all appreciated my work – at times, if not directly, on social media or by retweeting the posts. Pooja Bhatt has appreciated my portrait of Mahesh Bhatt.

Raj Kapoor portrait
Raj Kapoor

From  Raj Kapoor to Ranbir Kapoor, from Nootan to Kajol and from Dilip Kumar to Shah Rukh Khan, Saurabh’s celebrity portrait collection is unarguably one of the most comprehensive in India. “Going ahead, I want to work towards raising bars — be it in terms of input by working on my art and painting more than just portraits — or in terms of proving that art can be a full-time career — I want to make a difference to the world of art. I am not a very ambitious artist. But I am a passionate artist. I may or may not gain materialistically out of my art, but I am determined to continue to paint, in pursuit of raising the bar,” he smiles.

Saurabh Turakhia at one of his exhibitions
Saurabh Turakhia at one of his exhibitions

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