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Looking Beyond–Graphics of Satyajit Ray

The book proficiently documents Ray’s stint as a graphic designer, as it branched into advertising, illustrating books, composing book covers, designing posters and developing typographies.

An advertisement for Signet bookshop

“In the advertisement of the bookshop, Ray uses the talking parrot, a classical symbol from Bengal’s fairytales, a parrot marked by its capacity for saying the right word at the right time. The leitmotif is lifted from the Collective Unconscious of Bengal and used by an artist for an Indian advertisement for the first time.” (pg 41)

The cover of Rajkahini as designed by Ray

“His design of children’s books is done with robust lines with a lot of flourish. In Rajkahini, the style is very sensitive, quite. But in the books for adults the style becomes drastically different.” (pg 22)

The bengali type designs Ray designed

Left: Hathekadi, “a book for children to learn their bengali alphabets is the way Ray uses varying picture-sizes to introduce to a child the best elements of graphic design at a very tender age.” (pg 49) Right: Cover design of a film society journal, Chitrapat, “In this cover Ray used the key film personalities of Bengali Cinema in its early years to create a feel of cinema of the yesteryears, along with the name in decorative calligraphy.” (pg 55)

The poster designed for his own film, Aparajito

“The two vertical bars of the “A” were created with two very powerful strokes of the brush. They were gigantic in proportion. In the booklet cover the lone figure of Apu sitting is the only main visual material with the title written in calligraphic patterns.” (pg 60)

The varying style of sketching

“Ray’s illustrations of Gauri Dharamapala’s folktales Malasrir Panchatantra with differing drawing styles.” (pg 87)

Ray was commissioned by a US type foundry in Florida

“Type designing is a rigorous discipline and involves a process of trial and error. When we read, we are hardly aware of the fact that types are designed by a specialist who must ensure it’s perfect anatomy, harmony between the ascending and descending strokes and a balance between the inner and outer spaces of a letter. Ray fulfilled these demand with great panache.” (pg 86)

The book cover designed for Shatranj ke khiladi

What remained constant in his work over time, was the dedicated proficiency that went into the meticulous creation of his motley of works.

The covers of Sandesh and Sera Sandesh

Left: Cover design of Sandesh, “Not only did he illustrate his father’s books, which set new trends in indian illustration, he also illustrated his own stories as well as stories by others which appeared in Sandesh, which he also edited.” (pg 78) Right: Cover design of Sera Sandesh, “Looking at his illustration of Sera Sandesh, we see a variety of styles – general half tones, brush work, pen and ink; the moment he takes up the brush we find a Japanese influence at work.”(pg 80)

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Showcase 14 Nov 2017

Looking Beyond: The book that re-introduces us to India’s first graphic designer, Satyajit Ray

In our series, Looking Beyond, we ordinarily showcase the many, fresh and fascinating works of designers and artist from around the world; however today, we go back in time, to an era when graphic design was first introduced to India. It comes as a surprise to many that among the designers and visualisers of yore, Satyajit Ray was the first to bridge the gap between art, writing, films and graphics. Jayanti Sen’s book, Looking Beyond – Graphics of Satyajit Ray (incidentally, also the name of our series), illuminates this lesser known side of Ray’s multifaceted life using it’s own artistic approach. CQ picked up the book from our library and found some gems inside.

Jayanti Sen, author, journalist and filmmaker, began her journey in filmmaking working with Satyajit Ray. Being in close quarters with him allowed her to study his practice and work flow in close proximity. Training at the National Institute of Design at Ahmedabad, and directing several animated films, Sen was well-versed with the worlds of both film and design. Like everybody else, she too was fascinated by Ray’s impeccable work ethic, meticulous process and exquisite attention to detail. 

Early in 1995, by pure chance, she got an opportunity to curate an exhibition of Ray’s graphic design work, for the opening of the Oxford Bookstore Gallery in Kolkata. Consequently began her journey into the psyche of one of the greatest artists in the world. As a conclusion to the exhibition, she encapsulated it into the book, The Art of Satyajit Ray (Shilpi Satyajit in bengali), the book that led her to initiate Looking Beyond (...), a considerably larger collection of Satyajit Ray’s graphic design. 

Looking Beyond–Graphics of Satyajit Ray

The book proficiently documents Ray’s stint as a graphic designer, as it branched into advertising, illustrating books, composing book covers, designing posters and developing typographies.

Consisting of artwork and drawings amassed from ingenious Ray collectors, the book unravels the endeavours of Satyajit Ray, the young designer and his journey to becoming India’s first Honorary Academy Award recipient.

The evolution of graphic design and of Satyajit Ray

Although born into a family of painters, illustrators and storytellers fashioned Ray as a part of the creative world from the very beginning, his journey into this world began with his admission to Santiniketan’s Kala Bhavan

An advertisement for Signet bookshop

“In the advertisement of the bookshop, Ray uses the talking parrot, a classical symbol from Bengal’s fairytales, a parrot marked by its capacity for saying the right word at the right time. The leitmotif is lifted from the Collective Unconscious of Bengal and used by an artist for an Indian advertisement for the first time.” (pg 41)

Stepping out of Santiniketan, Ray was granted a job with D.J. Keymer, a celebrated advertising agency in Kolkata. In a time before “graphic designers”, those working with illustrations were simply called “visualisers”. D.J.Keymer, an originally British company, was one of the first to point out that Indian advertising then, just happened to be diluted copies of their foreign contemporaries. It was then, that Satyajit Ray, along with his comrades, “Indianised” the advertising scenario in India, introducing Indian characters, elements, and fonts. The self-taught bunch, conceived their own brand of graphic design in the form of advertising, adding their personal style of humour, typography, strokes and personalities. 

The cover of Rajkahini as designed by Ray

“His design of children’s books is done with robust lines with a lot of flourish. In Rajkahini, the style is very sensitive, quite. But in the books for adults the style becomes drastically different.” (pg 22)

“Consisting of artwork and drawings amassed from ingenious Ray collectors, the book unravels the endeavours of Satyajit Ray, the young designer.”

The book proficiently documents Ray’s stint as a graphic designer, as it branched into advertising, illustrating books, composing book covers, designing posters and developing typographies. “While designing covers, Ray kept in mind not only the content and inner meaning of the title of the book, but also the target audience”, explains Jayanti. As she tells the story of Ray’s multifaceted career, the book turns to an ensemble of the evolution of his sketches, his typographies, his illustrations and his advertisements. Illuminating lesser known facts like Ray’s work in typography, namely the typefaces Ray Roman and Holiday script won international competitions. 

Ray was commissioned by a US type foundry in Florida

“Type designing is a rigorous discipline and involves a process of trial and error. When we read, we are hardly aware of the fact that types are designed by a specialist who must ensure it’s perfect anatomy, harmony between the ascending and descending strokes and a balance between the inner and outer spaces of a letter. Ray fulfilled these demand with great panache.” (pg 86)

 
The bengali type designs Ray designed

Left: Hathekadi, “a book for children to learn their bengali alphabets is the way Ray uses varying picture-sizes to introduce to a child the best elements of graphic design at a very tender age.” (pg 49) Right: Cover design of a film society journal, Chitrapat, “In this cover Ray used the key film personalities of Bengali Cinema in its early years to create a feel of cinema of the yesteryears, along with the name in decorative calligraphy.” (pg 55)

Even as Satyajit Ray dwelled from graphic design to cinema, his approach was unique. Ray would often sketch out a scene before he shot it, thus knowing every detail that was to go into each scene’s setting. Not only did he direct the films brilliantly, he also composed the music, and created the posters for his films. Never following a pattern, Ray constantly experimented with his style, whether in films, typefaces or even his sketches. Although, what remained constant in his work over time, was the dedicated proficiency that went into the meticulous creation of his motley of works.  

The poster designed for his own film, Aparajito

“The two vertical bars of the “A” were created with two very powerful strokes of the brush. They were gigantic in proportion. In the booklet cover the lone figure of Apu sitting is the only main visual material with the title written in calligraphic patterns.” (pg 60)

Ray’s works through the years

As Jayanti paints you a portrait of Ray’s graphic design abilities and accomplishments, the book journeys into a timeline, paralleling the decades in terms of the rise and falls in various depths of art, along with Satyajit Ray and his own odyssey in the epoch. Through the 70s, the 80s and the 90s, the book unfolds phases of art and Satyajit Ray panelled by photographic copies of his work in the decade. The timeline brings to light the sociopolitical history of the 70s and Ray’s reaction to it though his films, the 80s and Ray’s endeavour “Sera Sandesh”, one of the most loved bengali books of all time, all the way to the his last few years as an artist in the nineties. 

The covers of Sandesh and Sera Sandesh

Left: Cover design of Sandesh, “Not only did he illustrate his father’s books, which set new trends in indian illustration, he also illustrated his own stories as well as stories by others which appeared in Sandesh, which he also edited.” (pg 78) Right: Cover design of Sera Sandesh, “Looking at his illustration of Sera Sandesh, we see a variety of styles – general half tones, brush work, pen and ink; the moment he takes up the brush we find a Japanese influence at work.”(pg 80)

“As she tells the story of Ray’s multifaceted career, the book turns to an ensemble of the evolution of his sketches, his typographies, his illustrations and his advertisements.”

Much like how any document is concluded with a signature, the book draws to an end on Anirban Ray’s dialog about Satyajit Ray, and his many signatures.

Looking Beyond – Graphics of Satyajit Ray is an exhibition of over a hundred of Ray’s stunning, weird works; a true collector’s piece. The cover art, designed by Ray for Banalata Sen, along with the seemingly hand done stitches to bind the book, only further the book’s original value as an artefact. The perfect conclusion to the journey woven by Jayati Sen and the many collectors who’ve contributed snippets of Ray’s work for this enlightening assemblage. 

The varying style of sketching

“Ray’s illustrations of Gauri Dharamapala’s folktales Malasrir Panchatantra with differing drawing styles.” (pg 87)

 
The book cover designed for Shatranj ke khiladi

What remained constant in his work over time, was the dedicated proficiency that went into the meticulous creation of his motley of works.

You can buy the book now, here. You also find out all about Satyajit Ray at satyajitray.org.