Frederick John Richards, son of John and Sarah Richards, was born on 26th June 1875. He was elected to Indian Civil Service in 1897 and served in the Land Revenue and General Administration of the British Raj. Though his name may not ring a bell in Britain of today, it is inscribed in the history of South India – particularly in Salem and Bangalore. FJ Richards worked in these places in various roles such as Assistant Collector, Collector and Special Settlement Officer to name a few. He also was instrumental in starting the Mythic Society in 1909 when he was serving as the Collector of Bangalore Cantonment District between 1909 and 1913.
Apart from all this, Richards Town in Bengaluru is named after him. Writing in “A Golf Story: Celebrating 125 years of the Bangalore Golf Club”, noted author Ruskin Bond writes that he “actually planned the layout of Richards Town, probably the most beautiful extension in Bangalore”.
Richards Town is also home to Paul Fernandes, whose whimsical and colourful art takes us back on a nostalgic ride to Bangalore of the yesteryears. Situated on Pottery Road, across the quaint Bangalore East railway station, aPaulogy is guaranteed to leave a smile and a chuckle on your face, even on the gloomiest day. Paul’s association with Richards Town goes all the way back to the year of India’s independence in 1947, when his father settled down in Bangalore on the same road as a medical practitioner.
Seventy years later, Paul also has a healing touch by prescribing a cure for our stressful, chaotic, and often angry lives by infusing humor and happiness. His work is not only an amazing kaleidoscope of colors reflecting the past but also bursts with happiness and joy. Apart from a variety of people, there are cows being chased across airport runways, hens scooting in alarm, dogs chasing cyclists, ducks crossing the road and crows stealing golf balls if you look closely at his artwork.
Paul himself is an unassuming person, down to earth despite the fact that his artwork is hugely popular and unique in many ways.
Click on each image above for a larger view
How does he do it? Where does he draw the inspiration? Whom does he admire? What does he wish to do in future? Read all about this and more, in his own words –
Why Curious Illustration?
My drawings usually recall an everyday scene but at the same time add a touch that makes it different. Therefore you relook at something that is very familiar to you in a slightly different fashion. That is what makes it interesting for the viewer and draws his attention and curiosity. He knows what he is looking at but he is still not sure. That is what I like to do – draw familiar things and yet in a way that is not so familiar.
How does it all begin?
I still go around on my bicycle looking for ideas. Nothing translates immediately into a picture. But it could be something that you looked at or a story that you heard or a wild anecdote that someone told you or even something you experienced in your old days. All these things are small triggers that could produce a drawing. But once you zeroed in on a subject of an artwork, there is much much more that one needs to put into the picture to make it work. So there are many small triggers, like going to the location of the drawing and spending a long time there, meeting people who lived there or talking to people of that time.
Does the art reflect your personality?
(with a twinkle in his eye and a big smile) Yes, my wife thinks I am a bit of cartoon anyway! But it is very important to lighten down and laugh at yourself and life around you. I really believe in the saying “Laughter is the best medicine”. So even in a difficult situation, if you can put in a bit of light heartedness and humor you can put across an idea pretty well.
Was art your first choice of a career?
I was not thinking of being an artist when I was a kid but it was circumstances that took me there. I was not good at some subjects in school and then chose art because I had some friends doing it. Then I discovered that this is what I really like to do. It was an accidental discovery and a very happy one.
My recall of Bangalore of the yesteryears was mainly my own experiences, so I found great pleasure in remembering and drawing things. At first I started drawing them for myself. Then people of my age and even those older started talking about old times when they looked at my drawings. Those in turn triggered more drawings.
I am still very active and put in about 14 hours a day and perhaps 16 on a good day. I feel lucky enough to be able to continue being active.
Which artist do you admire?
Mario has been a tremendous inspiration to thousands of artists for over 50 years. He made everyone smile in a diverse country like India. No language barriers
Right from the early days I have been an ardent fan of Mario Miranda’s work as well as other great Indian cartoonists. But it is not just the masters but you will learn something from everyone’s work. You can come up with new ideas and apply it to your own work. So I am a keen observer of other people’s work.
How do changing times and landscapes impact art?
With the city changing and losing some of its charm, one gets less ideas to pick on but I try to recall a more peaceful time and with a bit of nostalgia, for people to remember a gracious and peaceful city. If I have to draw today’s Bengaluru, I will have to do that thirty years later to draw it with the same nostalgia and memories. But I am not trying to draw today’s Bengaluru as I don’t quite understand it yet.
It will take about 30 years to understand a city and know what to draw. We have a history of thousands of years in India but a place like Singapore has very little history. But still people get nostalgic about something very recent – perhaps 50 years ago. We have so much to look back on which gives us more strength to go forward. I am positive that India has a long legacy and not easy to lose this or change the character of our cities.
How do people relate to your art?
Each of my drawings tell my story about a location. At the same time hundreds of people looking at it have their own experience at that location. I aim to present that location with very light-hearted humor. So the viewer can put him or herself into that situation and remember his own experiences.When you grow up in a place, you tend to remember certain people, what they did and their ways of life and you try to recall all of that.
What is it like to be an artist who is nostalgic and funny at the same time?
It definitely helps to be person who enjoys funny side of life to be a cartoonist. But once you have seen the funny side you get very serious to draw it. The humor is gone when you start to draw!!
It is serious work and sometimes very difficult work. Sometimes it does not work at all.
If I take 8-10 hours to think of an idea, I need much more time to actually draw it (unlike RK Laxman who said he spent more time thinking until he got the idea for a cartoon). This is because all my drawings are complete pictures and not just a cartoon. I take a lot of time to compose it, draw the right people in it. I also take a long time to study the architecture of the place.
All my work has two parts to it and I first understand clearly what I am going to draw. I cannot just sit down and draw on the fly. Once you understand all the aspects of the drawing, like what is the purpose, the scene, the characters and how authentic they should be, the drawing will be quicker and come together nicely. I have ten tables and one drawing could sit on it for a long time until I know how to proceed and what to do with it. I am not in a rush to finish it just because it is there for a while. I chose what I do and when. Some are in the garden, some under a tree and various places. Luckily there are no deadlines for my work.
Is there anything that is not known about you?
No, if there is anything then it is not worth knowing (smiles).
Is it more difficult to draw pictures without words and still be funny?
Not necessarily. It depends from one to another. Some work well without words and others work even better with words.
What is still on your wish list to draw?
You cannot keep someone like me quiet for a long time. I wish I can draw areas like Basavanagudi or Malleshwaram but need to spend a lot of time there to understand the place. I wish I can do that someday. It has been on my mind for a long time. The parts around City Market has a lot of history and character. Part of my long term plan is to walk down the Golden (Heritage) Mile from Tipu’s Palace to the Bangalore Palace. It represents so much of our city’s history and beauty.