In 2006, Subbir Al Razy graduated from the Fine Arts Institute with a Bachelor's degree, majoring in ceramics. Naturally he was expected to work on that particular medium or become an artist.
But Subbir decided to become a 'Grasshopper' instead.
He said, "While studying, we used to struggle to get fine arts supplies. There were two or three shops in New Market that used to sell art supplies like paper, colours, easel and canvas. But those are not solely dedicated to fine arts. Besides that, we wanted to bring variations and develop the sector. All these drove us to start this fine arts supply business. And that is when we decided to start a business of our own and we started 'Grasshoppers'."
Subbir and his four friends took a shop at Aziz Super Market in Shahbag and from then it has become a must-visit place for artists and Dhaka University fine arts students.
Grasshoppers started its journey in 2006. And six years later in 2012, the owners started an individual initiative on notebooks only – Khero Khata.
In 2016, four of his partners took their share and left the business. Since then Subbir has been continuing it himself.
Pére Tanguy of Bangladesh
Helal Ahmed is the owner of '27 Nombor', an art supply store at Dhanmondi 27 (old) Road 16 (new).
An art enthusiast who has a collection of 600 paintings worth lakhs, here in Dhaka, Helal Ahmed is known as the Pére Tanguy of Bangladesh among painters and artists.
Julien François Tanguy or, as artists named him, Père (Father) Tanguy, was an art dealer and art supplier in Paris. And he was one of the most prominent post-impressionist painters to have ever lived – Van Gogh used to collect art supplies from him.
A visit to the store 27 Nombor reveals why the name is so appropriate for Helal. If you enter the store, you will find a small room packed with shelves of paint brushes, colours and paints from brands like Winsor and Newton and Camel.
From Fabriano to Arches, the high-end papers are generally in the higher price range as they are made with 100% cotton and have a higher GSM (grams per square meter).
In a corner, there are heaps of easels of different size, along with paper and canvas rolls.
If you look at the walls – hidden under randomly organised paintings and drawings by Paritosh Sen, Kaiyum Chowdhury and other renowned artists – you realise this room has gone through a lot for the last 12 years.
To him, the business is all about passion and persistence, and it is a great experience to be a part of the country's art trend history.
Old guards in the art supply business
In the New Market of the capital, Pubali, Canvas, Modern- these stores have been in business from the 1990's.
"When a customer enters our store we can tell if he or she is a new student or a professional artist and this is an understanding you gain over the years", Md Jashim, owner of Canvas told us.
The stores have evolved with time and technology. With changing global art trends, they have updated their product range as well.
Jashim said, "It is not just about colours, brushes, canvas, or easel now. Art has become more abstract, so we have to update ourselves with time."
Not just for fine arts students, these stores also come in handy for architecture and fashion designing students; although they need almost the same things except for different boards and scales for structure designs.
However, there are many Chinese products in the market that are cheaper but do not have the quality.
Helal Ahmed informed us that these products are chemical based which can be very harmful to the health and environment. Moreover, these paints are not durable.
But being on the cheaper side, students prefer to use these as they cannot spend much on projects.
Not just students, Helal said that nowadays some artists who aspire to sell their art in lakhs also do not prefer good-quality art supply.
He said, "I do not compromise with the quality of my products. Because I believe art is supposed to sustain for centuries. It is not something we dispose of after some days. And that is my specialty – best and finest products at an affordable price."
The expanding art supply business
According to the business owners, the art supply market is expanding in Bangladesh.
According to the owners of the capital's art supply stores, the five stores sell almost four crores worth of supply a year. This is something to be hopeful about.
Md Idris has been in the canvas framing business for the last 36 years. In 1986, he started his business in the Gawsia area and since then he has been there.
Last November, his son Abul Hosen Raju started an art supply store right next to his father's. Like his father, Raju is also optimistic that his business will endure.
Idris Mia said, "People are more into arts these days. In almost every house nowadays, especially in the capital, you will find a painting or a framed art of any kind. I do not know much about art, but this is good for our business."
During the pandemic, Canvas and Grasshoppers took their businesses online. And they got a good response. Subbir said that he has plans to open a Grasshoppers website in future.
But as an art-enthusiast himself, Helal Ahmed is skeptical about the quality of art as well as that of the art supplies.
He said, "This is a whimsical business, you never know when you will sell more. And this is applicable to both the artist and the art supplier."