Published: 03rd February 2021
Seven-year-old Jahan Joby's artwork graces the cover of this year's Kerala's budget speech. Check out his story
Jahan Joby's artwork was chosen to feature on this year's Kerala's budget speech cover. We speak to the 7-year-old artist who dreams up masterpieces and brings them to life in vivid colours
When he first began to paint, Jahan Joby's canvas was larger than he was. His experiments were on the walls of his parents' first rented house. You can imagine the happiness in the eyes of a child holding a paintbrush, left to his own devices. Here, he would express his freedom to his heart's content, even climbing atop his grandfather's head to fill patches on the wall that he'd missed. This year, at the age of seven, he didn't need any help when his paintings were chosen to grace the cover of Kerala's budget speech book presented by Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac.
"The atmosphere in the homes of two writers would naturally be different," says his mother Arya Gopi, a poet, "He has always observed us doing things that are art-related and slightly outside the ordinary. I used to paint back in the day and my brother is an artist too. There were many canvasses and boards in our house and Jahan grew up around them." Jahan went straight to the paintbrush when he began to draw, he despised the runny nature of water colours and considered pencils a tool only 'meant for children'.
TRACE BACK: It was at the age of seven that Jahan first began tracing and drawing the pictures of people and objects
"The artist who designs the budget cover reached out to us because they had heard about Jahan's work," says his mother, "They were featuring the work of children and he had reached out to a lot of other artists. They asked for a few samples of his work and we sent over 300 of them that he's done over the years and let them choose whichever ones they liked. I think two or three other children were also given the same opportunity. It's such a great way to give attention to their work."
So what does Jahan like to draw? "Everything," he says, quite simply, in a small, raspy voice over the phone, "I like to draw flowers, boats, fish and upside down sunflowers!" He claims to have the largest Hot Wheels collection in Kozhikode. And right before our conversation, he had just painted over two of his favourite cars. "My favourite thing to paint are the fish who swim in the pond in my house. Later, I want to try and paint a plant that has been kept right next to it," says Jahan.
Jahan began drawing at the age of three when he fell in love with bright acrylic colours. When mixed with water, it would create large, elaborate patterns. And in these, he would find stories as a toddler. When people asked him if his work was abstract, he decided to call his work exactly that. With a swift dip into a tub of paint and furious strokes on a giant canvas, he would stun visitors with his paintings where he would describe a road, a place and bridges in between them.
WONDER MIND: Jahan held his first exhibition at the age of 5
Arya says, "Even at this very young age, he would spread his brush around until he was satisfied with the story in his own head. His themes are centred around nature with mountains, oceans and the occasional human faces. He describes it himself as though he is someone looking at Earth from an aeroplane. Once, someone asked him why all the roads in his paintings were green. It made him angry and he said, 'My roads are green!'."
Jahan would constantly visit art galleries with his parents. From the very first time, he had an immediate desire to see his own work displayed. On one such trip, at the age of 5, he became adamant about it. His parents put in a request and fortunately, got it approved at a gallery in Kozhikode where his work was displayed for a week. The event was inaugurated by his classmates and teachers.
He tells me, "I take oil pastels to class and find a corner in the classroom to draw. Sometimes, my friends come and sit with me and help me do it." Traditional classrooms have never been conducive to the young artist's wild streaks. While they teach to colour between the lines, he's busy filling everything with rainbow colours. Arya explains that Jahan is a hyperactive and naughty child who barely sits down for even five minutes. And invariably, those five minutes would be to create a new masterpiece.