At a workshop in the industrial cluster at Asalpha village, Gopi Menon turns out masterpieces in glass.
When Gopi Menon graduated from the Government Institute of Fine Arts at Thrissur (Kerala) in 1991, he — like other young artists — had dreams of surviving on art alone. It did not take long for reality to intrude.
When he realised that there were no takers for his kind of paintings he came to Mumbai. That was in 1992. Not long after, he held an exhibition at the Jehangir Art Gallery and even managed to sell some of his work. This provided satisfaction but not much else. Looking for some sort of employment that would not render his art education an absolute waste he found a job in Glass Graphics India (at Marol Co-operative Industrial Estate), a firm that has since moved to Vashi. One of the pieces he worked on during his stint here is the glass panel for the Cyclone disco that can be seen outside the Leela.
The experience he gained at the firm gave him confidence and in 1996 he started Glass Expressions in a workshop at Asalpha village. Initially he did all the work himself but later hired some employees though even now he deals with the "art" part of the work himself. Creating a masterpiece in glass is a painstaking process. It begins with applying a coating of gelatin on a piece of glass, which can be nearly an inch in thickness. Next, the design which is to be worked into the glass is transferred to the gelatin. Then portions of the gelatin (usually lines) are cut out. The glass is then taken into a sand blasting chamber and silica at a pressure of 150 pounds per square inch is directed at it. On those parts where the gelatin coating has been left untouched the sand particles have no effect. Elsewhere they cut into the glass and etch out lines whose depth depends on how long the sand blast is aimed there. These parts also get a "frosted" look; when the customer wants clear glass no sand blasting is done.
In the next stage the gelatin coating is removed and vinyl tape is applied to the glass. The design is transferred on to the tape and parts of it are cut out. On these parts paint is sprayed using an air gun. As many colours as are required can be applied.
The resultant piece of work looks like stained glass but is not. Gopi explains that in stained glass, various coloured pieces of glass are put together using lead. The work can take weeks and years but the final work is much more sophisticated than is done using the sand blasting and air gun method.
Gopi's products have found customers both in India and abroad. In Dubai and Singapore restaurants have used them to decorate their ceilings and walls. The black and white picture on this page does not capture the beauty of the multicoloured original. Competition is not fierce because there are only about five big companies and three small businesses involved in glass decoration in Mumbai. Right now business is not very good because of the economic downturn that has affected almost everybody. But Gopi hopes that orders will pick up when the economy revives.