(April 21, 2022) “Wow! I’m freaking out. I’m going to get a tattoo (like that) of Alvaro Morte. With everything around, magic and Bollywood. There’s a bit of joy too,” is how the star cast of Netflix’s Money Heist or La Casa De Papel reacted to Indian digital artist Abhishek Salvi’s artwork. With his work featured on the official YouTube channel of Spanish heist show, the 27-year-old has become a name to reckon with, making him the first Indian artist to achieve the feat. “It’s a popular show and there was a lot of buzz around it last year. So I decided to make the portraits of the Professor and Berlin (characters from the show). But I didn’t know that my work will get showcased on a global platform. It was mind-blowing,” Abhishek tells Global Indian.
This has made the Vadodra boy an overnight sensation whose Instagram page currently boasts of over 45k followers. “Even Money Heist actor Pedro Alonso, who plays Berlin, commented on the photo. It was quite a moment,” says an excited Abhishek. However, it has been an uphill journey for the digital artist.
Born in Maharashtra in 1994, Abhishek was raised in Baroda by an artist father, and an art teacher mom. Witnessing beautiful strokes on canvas was a common occurrence. “I was always surrounded by art. I’d find my parents immersed in their work. However, I’d often ask them ‘why aren’t you famous like other artists?’” laughs Abhishek, who now understands the hard work and persistence behind reaching the top. While his parents’ love for art was apparent in their career choices, Abhishek wasn’t inclined towards art at a young age. “My friends in school used to make fun of me during art classes. They couldn’t fathom how with artist parents in the house, I could be this bad,” smiles Abhishek.
It wasn’t until he reached Class 12 that he started giving art a serious thought. With a career path to charter, after finishing school, Abhishek pinned his hopes on becoming an artist as he loved doodling. He slowly developed his skills, but things soon spiralled after the sudden death of his father due to a stroke. “It was a dark and disturbing phase. With dad suddenly gone, we didn’t know how to pick up ourselves and start afresh. We were lost,” reminisces Abhishek whose older brother was majorly disturbed and resorted to alcohol. “There was tamasha at home every single day. Things were going out of hand. I decided to shift my attention to art, and started practicing more,” adds the digital artist who dropped a year after his school.
That one year gave him time to master his art, and soon he was studying BDes in moving images at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Vadodra. “It gave me exposure and helped hone my skills. But unfortunately, I had to drop out in the third year due to financial problems,” says Abhishek, who also lost his brother the same year. “We didn’t have the money to pay my final year fees. Mom went into depression after my brother’s death. Things were not going well,” reveals Abhishek who had already found his niche in pencil portraits.
Despite commissions, Abhishek wasn’t happy with the way his life was panning out. “Anxiety and panic attacks became common. I then decided to pull myself together- I was made for better things. The ray of hope came in the form of artists on Instagram. Seeing their art inspired me,” adds Salvi who posted a portrait of Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda on Twitter. “He immediately retweeted the photo, and it got many likes. That’s when I understood the power of social media. It gave me the confidence to showcase my artwork,” says the Baroda resident for whom more commissions started pouring in. “I charged ₹100 for my first commission, and now years later, I take ₹25,000-₹30,000 for the same A4 size pencil portrait. That’s how things have moved up for me,” beams the artist.
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In to La Casa De Papel!
In 2018, Abhishek decided to explore the digital medium, when a friend suggested a short course in graphic designing. “Back in college, I considered photoshop and illustrator as mere editing tools, without realising their true potential,” says Abhishek who soon developed an interest and started exploring vector art. “I was excited to learn something new, and now understood the potential and relevance of a medium,” says the digital artist, who started getting 30-40 orders a month. Soon his artworks on social media grabbed the attention of actors Vin Diesel and Tom Felton.
Yet, it was the portraits of the Professor and Berlin from Money Heist that were game-changers. They not only attracted a comment from Money Heist star Pedro Alonso but were also featured in a video on La Casa De Papel, the YouTube channel of Money Heist. “I couldn’t believe it. It was exciting,” says Abhishek, who made the artwork during the fifth season of Money Heist, and suddenly the likes increased, and someone on Instagram asked him to check the YouTube channel. Happy that art can open doors to international recognition, Abhishek hopes to inspire other artists.
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Now on to his next project on NFT, he gushes, “It’s the next big thing, and it’s time I start to work on it,” adds Abhishek, who loves watching films and is a huge Harry Potter fan.
His advice to amateur artists is to “focus” on their art. “Consistency is key. Don’t get swayed by instant fame, instead work hard to hone your art,” he concludes.