Meet the artist who uses nails, not paintbrushes, to create his artworks

Dusted in muted blues, yellows and pinks, the staccato, precise lines on canvas can be mistaken for wood carving from a distance, but Shekhar Joshi uses neither a chisel nor a brush. The Uttarakhand-based artist uses nails as a tool for his art, including portraits of legends, architectural wonders like the Qutub Minar and more abstract portrayals such as ‘Mother and child in space’ and ‘Blue love and anger’.

“I have devoted myself to this nail art and been doing this for the last 25 years or so. I wanted to create a unique visual vocabulary on the canvas, so I chose this form of expression,” said the 56-year-old. The Almora-born artist, who also paints and sketches in the conventional style, said he has now nearly abandoned the brush for his nails.

“Eighty-five per cent of my work is now nail art, but I also paint in oil and acrylic. I now want to fully devote myself to this crazy art form.” Joshi, a professor of visual art in the Nainital-based Kumaun University, has travelled to various parts of the world and “nailed”, as he puts it, foreign landscapes and landmarks.

“Among Indian monuments, I have done Red Fort and Qutub Minar, and in Canada I sat in front of the iconic C N Tower to capture it in this style. In 1992, I visited Seoul as part of a global fellowship of the Korea Foundation, and adapted the art form of that country into my own later,” Joshi told PTI.

A collection of 56 of his works made in the last two years are on display as part of a solo exhibition at Delhi’s All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society. The exhibition ends tomorrow.

“The theme for the exhibition is ‘see our motherland’ and I have tried to span the prehistoric to the contemporary era. So viewers can see the nail art version of the iconic dancing girl of Harappa, sunrise landscape, Kedarnath shrine scenery, as also abstract themes and human emotions such as love and anger,” he said.

Explaining the painstaking process behind his artworks, Joshi said he uses a “small padding coin” held near his nails, first creating an embossed surface and then filling it with colours, all natural. On an average, each canvas takes about two to three hours of concentrated work.

His works appear like bas-relief art with his signature “Shekhar” seemingly scratched on the surface. The artist has also authored several books, including “Tribal Arts”, “Art and Craft of Uttarakhand” and “Art and Communication”.

He gifted the late president A P J Abdul Kalam a nail portrait and has also done a similar portrait of Mahatma Gandhi. “I now want to do a series on monuments and heritage buildings of India, old landmarks like colonial-era stations and schools, colleges and hospitals, architectural wonders, iconic worship places and famed institutions,” he said. Asked how much he feels he has accomplished as a practitioner of this unique art, he said with a smile, “I have just scratched the surface.”

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