Fine lines between real and unreal

Paintings are costly affairs, and when they belong to another era, there is no dearth of art collectors willing to shell out astronomical sums to acquire them.
Representative image
Representative image

Signatures are like fingerprints — no two can ever be alike. Take a look at the abundant sizes and shapes strutting around. They occupy all the available and non-available scraps of paper that shape your lives. Their omnipotent presence determines your past, present and your future, too. The properties that beckon you, the marriage vows you wish to seal, the cheque that ensures your monthly existence — they all eventually await the benevolence of those indecipherable scribbles that proclaim names that can decide your destiny in more ways than one. Certain situations have led desperate seekers of this benevolence to forge these endorsements and clear all obstinate hurdles. However, other than relatively harmless attempts at fooling the school headmaster with copied parental signatures on grade sheets that mark your failure, many of the other endeavours at duplicating have landed devious schemers behind the cold bars of a rotting prison.

As much as these technicalities may seem like oxymorons that have accidentally lost their way when one considers their place in the world of art, these signed proclamations are, on the contrary, uncrowned sovereigns in the artistic universe. It may be true that masterpieces do not need these scrawls to adorn it, for a work of art must surely speak for itself. Any brilliant creation definitely stands on its own merits but it is the artist’s signature that gives it the stamp of identity that reassures us with its traces of familiarity and often, determines the material value of the work too.

It is then, only to be understood that the world of art too must have counterfeit signatures running amok. Paintings are costly affairs, and when they belong to another era, there is no dearth of art collectors willing to shell out astronomical sums to acquire them. Add to this the fact that these artists have been dead and gone long before their lives and biometrics were digitised, and you have all the reasons for plots and counterplots.

Forgery in art is an art. There have been world renowned art forgers in history who have produced innumerable paintings that passed off as the works of acclaimed artists. Replicating their unique styles and strokes and topping it up with their famous signatures must have taken decades of practice. Yet, they chose to take the easy route to money rather than use their precious years to further their originality. The German artist, Beltracchi and his wife, imitated 20th century luminaries for years and earned themselves the distinction of being the most successful art forgers in history, besides a six-year term in prison.

Microscopes and art scientists have all been deceived, time and again, by perfectly copied strokes and signs. Still, the practice continues unabated and will do so, till there comes a time when the human species is replaced by machinery from Mars. Until that apocalypse, signatures will always remain an extension of our identity and as long as it does, the scramble to replicate it for personal or impersonal gains will lead to new methods by smart fraudsters to outsmart scientific testing. You can confidently sign a bet on this!

Talking Art

Jitha Karthikeyan

(Jitha Karthikeyan is an artist and curator, passionate about making art accessible to the larger public)

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