Art in the times of IPL: Digital sketching takes inspiration from tradition and sport

A fusion of traditional arts from different states of India with cricket stars led to a collection of unique digital art posters. Sriram Sabhapathy of LastBench creative studio tells us all about it

The Indian Premier League (IPL) is a feast for cricket aficionados, and this year, despite the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions, the excitement has not waned.

Adding to the anticipation and buzz around the sport, a creative studio called LastBench launched a folk-art project to commemorate the IPL this year.

The team of LastBench: Sriram, Raaj, Shashank, Nikhil and Niranjan

It began by imagining cricketers as mythical characters and soon the project was on a roll. The Bengaluru-based company created an interesting array of folk-art posters where traditional arts from different states of India were fused with their respective cricket players and IPL teams.

In an interaction with YSWeekender, Sriram Sabhapathy, co-founder of LastBench, speaks about the intricacies of creating digital folk art, and about their upcoming projects...

Edited excerpts from the interview:

YS Weekender (YSW) Can you tell us about your work on digital folk art for the IPL?

Sriram Sabhapathy (SS): We are a creative studio and digital sketching has always been an interest since the beginning for us. However, creating a new form of art on a digital medium was something that happened as an experiment.

Our last project was Hangout (an animated short film) and we were brainstorming on possible ideas for the next few months. That’s when it occurred to us that IPL was round the corner and we could use the IPL wave to ride on an interesting idea.

As we began imagining cricketers as mythical characters, we came up with a sketch of Kohli as a Gombe Aata (puppet show) character. The idea started getting a better shape from there and we decided to fuse traditional arts from different states of India with their respective cricket players and IPL teams to create folk cricket.

Rohit Sharma, inspired by Warli art

YSW: How do you go about creating this art and how long do each of these pieces take?

SS: We first identified a list of art forms native to eight different states taking part in the IPL. Later, we shortlisted the art forms that we could adapt to a visual form of sketching.

At the same time, we also identified one player from each team whom we could sketch. Once the art form was validated, we went about sketching players in these avatars. Each piece takes between 10-12 hours to complete.

YSW: How did you customise your art to suit different states and the art forms they are famous for?

SS: We essentially try to adapt the player to suit the art form of the state. For instance, if you take the team KKR, it is from Kolkata. The art form we chose was Kalighat Painting, which has a distinctive style. Our chosen player for the adaptation was Andre Russell.

We started sketching a Kalighat Painting in its original form, but also kept in mind Andre Russell’s features. Sketching the face was the trickiest part of all, as it is really difficult to adapt an art form and create an exact facial replica of a person.

YSW: What are some of the folk-art images you have done so far?

Sanju Samson, inspired by Phad art

SS: We have created Rohit Sharma in a Warli Painting, Virat Kohli as a Togalu Gombeyaata puppet, Dhoni as a Bommalattam puppet, and Rashid Khan as a Cheriyal character.

My personal favourite is M S Dhoni in Bommalattam, primarily due to the fact that it was the first full-fledged folk art we produced and came about after many iterations.

M S Dhoni, inspired by Bommalattam

YSW: What is the vision of creating art like this, and how do you plan to build on it and monetise it?

SS: Our vision is to throw light on all these traditional art forms in the country and sensitise people towards them.

These native artisans have suffered hugely during the pandemic and their recovery is perhaps the toughest. The only way, organically, the situation can improve is when people start recognising these art forms and buy local stuff - be it clothing, upholstery, art pieces, home décor, etc.

So, with folk cricket, we already notice people recognising these different art works and noticing their beauty. Our hope is that this appreciation translates into action eventually.

Given that this is a passion project of ours, we haven’t planned on monetising this. However, there has been an increased interest from our social media followers asking us for merchandise - posters/mugs/t-shirts, which we are looking into.

YSW: Can you tell us about your earlier projects during the lockdown and before it?

SS: Our animated film ‘Hangout’ was done online, remotely, with over 1,200 individual frames combined to create a motion graphic video. The film is our take on the pandemic and how we saw it unfold.

YSW: Do you think the pandemic has dampened the spirit of the fans this year?

SS: We believe the pandemic has actually made people a little more excited about the IPL. There has been no bigger entertainment to people this year than the IPL.

Rashid Khan, inspired by Cheriyal painting

YSW: Have you received any appreciation from the players themselves whom you have been inspired by?

SS: People have found the concept of fusion unique and refreshing. We have started publishing our art on social media and the response has been very positive.

It has caught the attention of a few cricket team fan clubs like The Rajasthan Royals Team, Radio Partners of CSK, and so on.

While we haven’t had a player to comment on them yet, the Rajasthan Royals team has reached out saying they loved what we have been doing and have sought one of our videos on the RR poster for their social media handle.

YSW: What are your plans for the future? Will you continue bringing out more art or find another medium with a message?

SS: Folk cricket has set the bar high for us and has also opened a new avenue to look at other forms of art and fuse with them. It is possible we might work on a few more ideas that have been brewing on the art front.

Currently, besides folk cricket, we are working on a documentary on one of Bengaluru’s iconic landmarks, a legendary book store. Stay tuned to know more about it.

(Images credit: LastBench team)

Edited by Megha Reddy