There’s a certain amount of life that goes into any painting. It could be inspiration from nature or just plain experiences from day to day life. But most of the time, it is this tiny aspect that trademarks an artist’s work.
For 40-year-old mural and portrait artist Firos Assan hailing from Kozhikode, Kerala, it was the hardship he faced during the journey towards becoming an artist that brought out the ‘life’ in his paintings.
His indomitable spirit to create amazing pieces of artwork over the years has earned him international recognition from famous personalities across the world including artist MF Husain, former president APJ Abdul Kalam, footballer Christiano Ronaldo, cricketers MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag.JK Mahindra and the list goes on.
Recently Firos was also selected by the Kerala state government to paint a 69 metre long mural for the Kannur International Airport which he completed in just 23 days.
This ambition is no doubt shaped by his determination to take on life’s challenges to realise his dreams. Firos’ journey over the years has been anything but smooth. From being a candy vendor along the beaches of the Kozhikode beach at the age of 10 to taking on several other odd jobs as a teenager, the lows in his life have strengthened his resolve to scale new peaks of excellence.
Becoming A Professional Artist At Age 10
“Ever since my childhood, I had an interest in art. I would constantly draw sketches in school and at home and that’s when my father who was an artist in his own right, decided to enrol me at the Universal Arts centre in Kozhikode as an addition to my schooling,” Firos narrates.
I was just 10 at the time and the students at the arts centre were all aged between 25-30 years. I had no hopes of getting into the centre because they had a strict selection procedure where they would evaluate our previous works. But to my surprise, they were astounded by my work and gave me the admission immediately,” he adds.
However, his stint at Universal Arts was short-lived owing to certain financial constraints that the family faced at the time.
“ Although I was able to learn and get exposure to different art techniques and meet people who shared my passion, I was barely able to complete the course at the centre. But what I realised was that there was something so distinct about me that set me apart from the rest of the lot and that thought stayed with me,” Firos explains.
At age 15, Firos started selling candy after school along with his father at the Kozhikode beach as a means to meet the family’s financial needs.
“We would walk almost 14 km from Vadakara to Mahe, along the shores in order to sell candy Occasionally, I would come across some of my friends from school but that never bothered me because I was determined to not stay in that phase of life forever,” Firos says.
Meeting APJ Abdul Kalam
By 21, Firos had dropped out of pre-degree and decided to work with small advertising agencies to earn a livelihood and was engaged in commercial artwork.
“These agencies would be asked to make movie posters, campaign flyers and paint huge billboards. Although it was not what I wanted to do, I was able to bring a stable income to the household,” says Firos.
During his time at the ad agency, Firos had the opportunity to paint the portraits of all past Vice-Chancellors of the Calicut University. Impressed by his work, the Vice-Chancellor of the Calicut University gave him a VVIP pass to the graduation ceremony of the university which would be graced by then-president A P J Abdul Kalam.
“I had expressed my interest to the vice-chancellor to present the president with a portrait but never in my life would I have expected to receive a VVIP pass for the event. Only 7 people had received the VVIP pass, of which 6 were dignitaries who would be present on the stage and I was the 7th one,” Firos explains.
“I made a portrait of President Kalam and presented it to him at the event but I was truly overwhelmed when he embraced me and said he was truly impressed by my work. This was indeed a turning point in my life and I realised that my work could reach greater heights if I tried,” narrates Firos.
A few years later a senior sports editor from Mathrubhumi introduced him to former Kerala state cricket captain JK Mahindra who helped him get art assignments at the cricket stadiums in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai.
“I had the chance to display 30 of my paintings at the Chinnaswamy Stadium alone. My paintings won the admiration of cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virendra Sehwag which was a huge achievement for me,” he explains.
Nithin Mathew, a friend of Firos’ has been a constant support to him and has borne witness to the hardships he has gone through in his life.
“The one factor that makes Firos stand out from the rest is his resilience towards all the struggles he has had to face in life. This resilience reflects in his art as well. Throughout his life, he never waited for an opportunity to come knocking at his door and that is purely the reason behind his success,” he says.
Heading To The Middle East
“Despite receiving all this recognition, the opportunities I received as an artist were very low. It was during this time that I got married and I had to provide financial support for my family. So I decided to go to Saudi Arabia in 2006 in search of a more stable job,” Firos explains.
Despite having to work in a different country, Firos continued painting and even reached out to the king of Saudi Arabia, Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
“The king was absolutely fascinated by my work and encouraged me to set up exhibitions in the middle east. As a result, I was able to conduct one in Dubai where I had the opportunity to meet Christiano Ronaldo as well,” he explains.
But the biggest turning point for Firos was receiving an invite from MF Hussain in 2011 while he was in Saudi Arabia.
“He had heard about my paintings from the King and wanted to see me in person. So he invited me to London. I was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity but by the time I had made arrangements for the visit, he had passed away,” says Firos.
Painting a 69 Metre Long Mural
After returning from Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest projects Firos received was the mural painting in the Kannur International Airport Ltd (KIAL. Initially, KIAL had commissioned the work for a 15m space, to depict Kerala’s art forms. That work impressed the KIAL management so much that he was approached for murals to be crafted on another 69m space inside the airport.
“While I was extremely thrilled to get the additional work, the challenge for me was that it was a 6-month work to be completed in just 2 months, as that was all the time that was left before the airport inauguration in December 2018,” he says.
Firos had a few of his artist friends joining him for the project, and they worked tirelessly to paint the murals and were able to finish the work in just 23 days.
“Over the last two years, I have been able to set up my own company under the name Afsal’s Intrinsic Arts based in Kozhikode with almost 20 employees under me,” he says.
Firos is also aiming to take up international projects that will help create new avenues for promising artists in the country.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my life’s experience, it’s the fact that we have to constantly work towards our goal and create our own reality and soon you’ll begin to discover a sea of opportunities lined up before you,” Firos says.