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Calligraphic Fashions


What is calligraphy? I asked several people and got a number of answers: “look like a cryptic crossword,” “it’s a piece of objective art,” “it’s a mystical painting.” There was no consensus.

Perhaps calligraphy is all the above statements – an art which makes one feel centred; the creation of which leads to inner growth and maturity. The Chinese raked it an arat above painting – over 2000 years ago, and the Persian painters elevated it to a semi-mystical status in Islamic painting.

The dictionary meaning of calligraphy is the art of decorative handwriting. The literal translation from Greek means beautiful handwriting – a communication of ideas aesthetically. The aesthetics of graphics at the cost of clarity if necessary. To my mind it is to the eyes what music is to the ears and as someone put it – “Calligraphy is to writing what eloquence is to speech.”

Over the centuries calligraphy decorated books and manuscripts, buildings, wall panels and works of art – paintings and murals. In recent years calligraphy has also been adapted to textiles.

Dress designers have used calligraphy to perpetuate messages in a simple language. The aim is social reformation. One such message reads ‘Dope is evil’.

In India as well designers have employed it as a medium of communication. They have used it to express their thoughts, their ideas. Calligraphy today is being used on textiles, fabrics, ready to wear clothes and accessories. Satya Paul, a leading Indian designer compared in the international design world with Zandra Rhodes, Yogi Yamamot, Issey Miyaki, Ralph Lauren, began his work in 1966 and has touched the nerve chord of designing – creating a sensation.

“Designing” he says “ is a medium of expression involving the mind and the heart. Calligraphy is an intense graphic art. Every stroke and letter has a graphic beauty and form. His calligraphic designer sarees and fabrics area rage worldwide. Using this art form with tremendous flair and beauty his work is intriguing and interesting, a visual delight.

He began with the idea that clothes should become living experience of an inner growth and journey.” For him art and fashion have gone hand in hand and he has elevated calligraphy from the platform of art and aesthetics to the platform of objective art. Perhaps the balance of art and fashion is beginning now.

The emergence of calligraphy is like an economy chart from pictograms to ideograms to phonograms. From the human desire to express, grew the need to give sound a structure and shape. Picture writing was the first step in the long evolutionary process which ended in the formation of the alphabet. The script of the world in their earliest forms date as far back as 20000 B.C. when they were scratched or painted on rock, wood or bone. However modern calligraphy is done with a broad edged, square cut pen held art angle. This produces thick descending diagonals and thin ascending diagonals known as curves.

How did man first create calligraphy? What instruments did he use? For centuries the European have used the quill as a writing tool. The quill has such finesse and is so flexible that it responds to the slightest touch. Quills are made from the feathers of the primary flight of swans, turkeys or geese for large writing; the duck and raven for normal writing; and crows for fine work.

The Chinese artist used the same brush for painting and calligraphy. It consisted of a wooden or bamboo handle with bristles of animal hair arranged to form an extremely fine point. Their writing was mainly black – the ink made of pine root and glue. In many cases these inscriptions consisted of a poem along with a description of the circumstances under which the painting was created.

In Islam along with illustrations of flowers, artists used geometric patterns. The human artist formed the lettering initially with a brush and then called a craftsman to cut it. This style reflects the intricacy of the use of chisel more than the writing. The chisel starts at the surface and goes into the material to form a deeper channel of the main stroke. The best example is the quadrate at the foot of the Emperor Tryans Column in Rome made in A.D. 114.

There is an architectural geometrical quality within the quadrata style accounting for the harmony created when lettering is used on stone. The dimensions and proportions of height and width are of great importance – the best example of this is the Taj Mahal where the Holy Koran is written all along the front portal.

When adapted to textiles in India calligraphy ahs been used in several forms. The Roma, the Hindi or Sanskrit, the Persian, the Chinese, the geometrical and the numerical patterns have been used to give the fabric a unique touch. The designer sarees by Satya Paul have become a rage in the cities. There is a fusion of art and the creation of a new trend is on the horizon.