“Horn, OK, Please.”
Three words, twelve letters—the writing needn’t be in a familiar bold, graphic font for it to trigger memories among us all. As a child, one of my favourite games while on a road trip was spotting skulls on each truck’s fuel tank, meant to signal danger in case you missed the blaring red ‘Danger’ sign painted right under it. Whoever spotted a skull first, got a point. It was only after the first few rounds of this game that I noticed each skull differed from the other. A closer look during one of our many pit stops mid-road trip proved my brother right, each skull had been painstakingly painted on. Whether it was a sloppy skull or a smiley skull, or for that matter, even an incredibly detailed, gruesome skull, it turned out there was a whole community behind these pieces of art—an art that happens to be dying out in today’s world of stickers and pre-painted trucks.
Thankfully, truck art artists have their own saviour to thank; a man who’s now fighting to keep this dying tradition alive. Farid Bawa, owner of All India Permit, spoke to us in detail about the inspiration behind his initiative, which surprisingly even had a hand in his profession as a designer today, “My grandfather owned a transporter agency. As a child, I would go to work with him and watch these artists paint on each truck. These guys would help me understand the painting, teach me how to do fonts and graphics; that’s how I got into painting and drawing.”
Today, he works in Amsterdam as a senior designer but All India Permit continues to build momentum in India. “It’s so bizarre but their art has a purpose. Each truck is a story, it isn’t random! There’s a reason for everything on it. In fact, when I studied design, that’s when I began to appreciate it more. It was an incredibly different style that had people talking constantly,” says Farid. Truck drivers who would be on the road for days would often have certain items or typography painted on the truck to remind them of their village, home and family. With technology advancing though, it turns out that a lot of these artists no longer have a source of livelihood, letting yet another oddly colourful facet of India’s culture slowly die out.
Until of course, Farid decided to give them a whole new platform online, while maintaining their rustic aesthetic. “I reached out to six artists first after shortlisting them. A small team in Nagpur provides these artists with material—we tried paper at first but the feel and the art itself changed. Brush strokes differed because they’re used to painting on metal sheets, not paper. So we sourced Cold Rolled (CR) steel sheets for them, a material they’re familiar with.”
While the initiative only started two months ago, they already have around 20 art pieces ready, available for people to purchase on their website. “We’re already in touch with more artists as well. I’m planning to come back to India in some time and explore various corners of the country because each state has a different art style and form of typography,” says Farid. As of now, he is also in talks with people abroad regarding exhibitions for the same as social media has popularised this truck art collective. Farid attributes this growing recognition to the artists’ ‘bizarre’ colour combinations, “As designers we’re taught certain techniques and colour combinations; it’s fascinating because they’re self-taught and make their own colour combinations work.”
When asked about the history of Truck Art, Farid says he has several theories; his most popular one being that it all started as a way to differentiate military camo trucks and cargo trucks. These trucks were often painted colours that would reflect light in the night and from thereon, it began to evolve into art styles that also reflected a driver’s personality. India’s tryst with truck art became a mini art revolution of its own—which Farid is now making available to everyone on an international scale. If you’ve always wanted to own a little piece of India and its colourful culture, look no further than All India Permit.
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