Salt Artist Captures Beauty Of Impermanence
Bashir Sultani grew up drawing. Instead of homework, he drew his favorite cartoons whenever he got the chance. The Afghani-Russian immigrant never thought that by the time he was 30, he'd still be re-creating famous characters and pop icons. He certainly didn't expect to be doing it with salt, America's favorite food group.
When he immigrated from Russia to Canada in 2009, his friends noticed he had a knack for illustration and encouraged him to upload videos of his process on Youtube. He explored many artists works online, realizing that if he was going to stand out in a crowd of talented people, he had to do something unusual. He decided to work with salt against a black background--if not for the unusualness of working with salt, then for the stark contrast between white and black. "It creates endless possibilities," he said. He found that with salt, he could draw anything, and push himself to do harder projects (the photo above proves there is such a thing as multi-colored salt as well.)
He also realized that salt art would be odd enough to attract viewers. Over the phone, he told me, "When people see something they don't expect, they want it again, and they want to share it with others. Sultani believes the arts does not, currently, have the audience it deserves. "People don't usually watch the artist work in a video," he said, "I think I'm helping to change this."
Sultani loves his audience. Youtube allows him to interact with the people who watch what he is doing. He said it's good to have his friends' support, but friends are often nice. The real praise and criticism comes from strangers who spend even a little of their time on you.
Some of the comments read:
- My 5 year old is an old soul and is an artist at heart - he loves watching your work over and over again! Keep it up and thank you for sharing!
- I saw the thumbnail [for the Transformer video] and thought "Oh, cool, this guy's gonna make the Autobot logo with salt." I have underestimated you.
Sacrificing his social life, Sultani spent countless hours practicing his craft before he uploaded his first video. He filmed himself drawing a picture of Drake in May of 2011. Since then, he has made dozens of videos--one could easily lose time to the work on his channel. Among his favorite videos are, "Chinese Opera," "Transformer," and "Daft Punk." Though his most famous is "The Joker," with over 500,000 views. Each drawing takes between one and three hours and the video editing is an additional three hours. He doesn't sketch out the drawing first. He opens his laptop with a picture of his subject and trickles and pushes the salt where it needs to go. If he doesn't like it, he'll simply wipe the board and start again--it's a tedious process that he has all but perfected over the last two years. He has since taken down "Drake" his first video down. Compared to his recent works, the artist felt his drawing of Drake was no longer good enough to be online.
Many would cry murder after hearing he completely erased his first project, and Sultani would reply, exactly. At the end of each video, Sultani erases his work with a single, exacting swipe of his palm. What took hours to create, is gone in seconds. He thinks the quick death enhances its beauty, and ironically brings it more to life. "This is how life works," he told me. "The seasons, like everything else, come and go. When you take a picture of it, it loses its impermanence." At this point in our interview, I felt suddenly like a student again, sitting in front of a teacher, dewey eyed and mouth agape. Thank god it was over the phone. "Don't feel like you have to hold on to something forever," he continued. "Don't be afraid to lose it. Otherwise you may never truly have it."
Somebody pump the breaks. I need to take a catharsis.
That might be some of the best advice I've ever received, or it might be an ingenius ploy to get people to watch his videos over again to take another look. It's probably both. I never saw the drawing of Drake, but now that it's gone, I have a small longing for it, missing it without having ever seen it. It appears this is the kind of effect Sultani wants his work to have on people: to realize the difference between nothing (a blank canvas) and a small something (a grain of salt), is actually quite large--especially when it is taken away.
Sultani told me that even with the incredible work he has done, he hopes his best video is yet to come.
Take a look at some of these drawings now before he makes something better and they disappear.
The Dark Knight Rises
Zebra - Shel Silverstein fans will like this one.