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Magazine Web Edition > January 1997 > Dexterity to the Max

Dexterity to the Max

One grown-up artist's take on finger painting

Lavina Melwani, New York



If Ganesha is everywhere--even in a grain of rice--He is surely in the tip of the fingernail--especially Suhas Tavkar's fingernail. How else to explain the magic that this New York-based artist can create with his bare hands? Take away his paints, paint brushes and pencils, and he can still give you exquisite art. For many years, he has been creating elaborate Lord Sivas, Ganeshas and Hanumans, ballerinas and Grecian sculptures. All he requires is a piece of paper, a keen eye and his low-tech but highly skillful fingernails.

Tavkar, who hails from Gujarat in India, is the third generation in his family to practice this unusual art. He draws his inspiration from ancient temple sculpture. He can trace his family name back to the 14th century, but doesn't know how this unusual art came about. He recalls: "My father was an engineer and did this for fun. I wanted to turn this hobby into commercial art."

Currently, Tavkar works at the Grey Advertising Agency in New York, and this unique skill often comes in handy. He's hoping his daughter, an art student at the prestigious New York Fashion Institute of Technology, will eventually continue in the family tradition.

A graduate of Bombay's J.J. School of Art, he uses blind embossing even at work to make mock-ups of clients' logos. Employing the carefully filed nails of his right thumb and index fingertip, he embosses a design on paper or foil by painstakingly etching the pattern into the paper to the appropriate depth. The result is an intricate sculptural rendering made without tools. Just as other artists keep their pencils sharpened and paint brushes clean, he does the same with his nails.

Says Tavkar: "It's a demanding technique. If a line or impression fails to satisfy me, it can't be undone." Recently his ballet-related artwork was exhibited at the New York City Ballet Gallery. He also uses his fingernail art to produce special braille cards which are sold at the Lighthouse for the Blind. Others may praise Ganesha with words and song, but Suhas Tavkar does it through his wonderful fingernail art. He etches not only Hindu Gods, but images of other religions. He says art is universal, and, being a Hindu, he is open to all faiths and sees the good in all religions.


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