Life behind bars sculpts artist out of daily wage worker

Unknowingly I had bought it and after a brief use, I sold it to another person as I needed money for my wife’s third delivery.
N Rajkumar has designed and crafted ornamental decorative sculptures for several customers in Coimbatore
N Rajkumar has designed and crafted ornamental decorative sculptures for several customers in Coimbatore Photo | S Senbagapandiyan, EPS

COIMBATORE: A spark is what sets off a fire. N Rajkumar of Thimmampalayam near Karamadai realised he had a penchant for fine arts when he was cooling his heels in jail. Arrested in 2009 in a bike theft case, Rajkumar was imprisoned for four months. He started drawing pictures and illustrations on the prison walls to while away time. The incarceration made the daily wage labourer realise his talent in arts and start a new life.

“In October 2009, I was arrested in connection with a bike theft case by Katoor police. A bike which I had bought from another person was a stolen vehicle. Unknowingly I had bought it and after a brief use, I sold it to another person as I needed money for my wife’s third delivery.

A few days after I sold the bike, police arrested me suspecting that I was a bike lifter. I spent at least four months in the Coimbatore Central Prison. Though I spent days behind bars, somehow I impressed the prison authorities with my drawing skills,” Rajkumar told TNIE.

Investigation officer Srinivasalu, who came to know about his talent, suggested his name for drawing wall paintings across the city ahead of the World Classical Tamil Conference held in June 2010. By then, he was out on bail. After getting acquitted from the case in 2011, Rajkumar joined an advertising firm as an artist painting wall advertisements. And the rest is history.

Rajkumar turned a self-taught sculptor and has designed and crafted ornamental decorative sculptures for several customers in the city since then. “Drawing is my strength and I learnt 3D painting on wall paintings. One of my friends helped to get work at a leading construction firm in Coimbatore where I joined as helper to design murals and sculptures.

There I learnt carvings and sculptures using construction materials. I used to replicate different concepts in the sculptures, and the owner of the firm suggested I take a sub-contract. The firm is known for installing theme-based sculptures on their projects. So it gave me a strong platform for my work. I have a seven-member team and no one learnt it from professional courses, all are trained themselves through experience,” he said.

Creativity and hard work have made Rajkumar a successful businessman and he owns the firm Art Cholas at Kavundampalayam. He has designed sculptures, front elevations, arches and fountains at commercial and residential locations in the Coimbatore district. The district administration has awarded the contract to design and instal two sculptures at the new entrance of the Collectorate.

“I submitted several few models and the officials chose two sculptures. One is a boy reading a book sitting on the books and a girl trying to fly which replicates the importance of education. Those who study well will reach great heights in life and education would open their mind like flying in air. The other sculpture is designed on the theme of protecting Mother Nature,” said Rajkumar.

Both sculptures measure around 16 metres in height and are made using concrete and steel. “Based on the assessment of my work, I got this opportunity to design creative sculptures and it would be an attractive place for visitors,” Rajkumar added. The sculptures weigh around 1.5 tonnes each. He has a team of seven artists working for him. It will take at least 20 days to complete a sculpture, he said.

Rajkumar said prison life, though it was for a short period, brought a changeover in his life. “If I had not been arrested, I would not have become a sculptor and continued as a daily wage labourer,” he said.

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