In the Hands of Artist V. Balu, Waste Paper is Not Wasted

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

TUBES of paint can be expensive, especially in a poor country such as India. But there are still plenty of opportunities for an artist to find expression by using paper. Just ask V. Balu, an artist from Bangalore in Southern India.

Mr. Balu uses paper to form collages. He salvages waste paper, old magazines, chocolate wrappers, almost any kind of paper he can get his hands on. He finds papers with subtle pastels, somber browns, and intricate details. He estimates he has used at least 3,000 different types of paper and still has 4,000 left to try. Some of his creations use thousands of pieces of paper.

"Why should people go to expensive paints when the modern advances in technology and printing give you such a variety of hues and colors, shades and tones?" asks the artist during a visit to the United States.

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Collage, of course, is not new. In fact, while digging through his grandmother's steamer trunk, Balu found some exotic paintings, dating from the 1880s, of Indian gods and goddess with cloth and baubles stitched onto the artwork. He argues this is the earliest form of collage.

In the West, collage is most closely associated with Pablo Picasso. In 1912, Picasso began experimenting with collage, using newspaper clippings, pieces of debris, and stenciled words. Other artists such as Braque, Gris, and Matisse expanded on the technique.

What distinguishes Balu is that he usually works totally in paper, not mixed media. With a large collection of scissors, he carefully cuts the paper, glues it to a backing, and uses a wooden roller for a seamless look.

The self-taught Balu sort of backed into the art world. He had written some stories for the Indian Express, which did not have an artist to illustrate them. The paper asked him to illustrate them himself, which he did. He became more deeply involved in using art for communication and 35 years ago began producing collages.

Balu has used the collage method for a variety of themes. He has done a series of collages based on a Kannada (South Indian) poem, "The Unhoused Consciousness." He has used the medium for series on horses, science and technology, spirituality, and philosophy. "I can express any theme I want with this medium," the artist says.

He is most proud of his collages based on the concept of peace. He began his peace works about 11 years ago and has since done about 60 works on the theme.

"They explain the mystique of peace, its different manifestation, the attempts of people to obtain external peace, nature as a teacher of peace, the views of different messengers of peace, and the difference between the Eastern and Western approaches," he explains. Last May, UNESCO featured an exhibition of his peace collages.

Balu's unusual technique has resulted in some commercial uses of his work. A department store in Denmark printed one of his collages on its plastic bags. Reader's Digest featured his work on a cover. There is also a Balu collage on an Indian first day (postage) cover.

Balu, who is a publicist in India, encourages the commercial efforts. "I want to popularize this medium because it is so simple," he says. No expensive paints - just paper.

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