KOCHI: Imagine painting a galaxy on a helmet, dark skies with hues of purple dotted with twinkling stars. What if an unrelated design is mixed with that of the celestial beauty? For example, the “Green hell”, the famous German Grand Prix track where the rider Niki Lauda’s fiery accident happened, or elements of a chronograph with the Madras motor race track. What comes to mind is a totally chaotic image.
Thiruvananthapuram-native Nihas Salahudeen is busy creating such surreal experience with wholly unconnected and chaotic imageries using an airbrush and automotive paints. His canvas is custom helmets, superbikes and bikes, especially used by race car drivers and bike riders.
Nihas clubbed both his interests, automobile and art in 2011. He is now the owner and lead artist of Colour Me Crazy Customs. For a motorist, Nihas never knew ‘helmet painting’ existed when he was in college.
“Even being a fan of several motorsport racers, I didn’t know that there were a set of professionals who design helmets exclusively and have taken up helmet painting as their career. During my studies in Singapore, I came across a uniquely designed helmet. It looked more like iron man’s mask. This made me want to explore the art more,” says Nihas.
Kickstarting his journey by taking orders from South-East Asian racers, Nihas never found a space in the Indian market until the Volkswagen champion Ishaan Dodhiwala trusted him with his helmet. “There are hobby artists, but helmet painting is still not treated as a profession in India. The racers often send their helmets to UAE and UK to get it done. It took me five years to realise my potential and to accept helmet painting as a long-term career,” he adds.
It has been over a decade since Nihas took a leap both personally and professionally. The 34-year-old has rendered his artistic services to some of the popular names in the game,including, Narain Karthikeyan, Mira Erda, CS Santosh, and many more.
Nihas admits helmet painting to be an expensive affair. The helmets that reach him have undergone FIA scrutiny. “The artist can pour in the clients’ ideas in whichever way they want, there is no restriction. But these helmets are made adhering to FIA standards,” says Nihas.
But why do the riders spend so much money to get their helmets done? “When the riders leave the pitlane, the helmet is the only companion they have. Helmets are the extension of their thoughts, and in fact, it is their ‘buddy’ on track,” quips Nihas. “Whatever happens on the track, be it an accident, overtake, a ruffle with the other rider, it is their helmets which listens to their true emotions first,” he continues. This reason is what keeps Nihas curating something special for the driver which they’ll treasure.
For every motorsport rider, helmets are a part of their identity as well. His punk, colourful yet potent designs are filled with never -seen-before vibrancy, intricate detailings, mismatches and one of a kind fusions. Miami Blue, helmets showered in nardo grey and doodles, abstract flow pattern, old school American rock and roll, fluorescent shades topped with geometric pattern in ghost effect and many more are part of his repertoire.
These designs which are approached meticulously are inspired by speed and emotion. “My approach is emotional. I tend to give in to an aggressive and sharp style. Even if the patterns are subtle, floral, retro, stripes, I make them look fast,” he says. The youngster’s dream is to fill the Indian race tracks with CMC labelled helmets.