Chamel Raghu


Interviewing an artist in hiding. PART 1

Last month, I went surfing through some craigslist ads under the creative gigs section. This was for various reasons.

A. I because am in need of money, and B. I want to work on something I love, and get paid for it, but don’t we all?

I was scanning down the list, when I found something for a local arts and culture magazine, who wanted writers. I turned to my curiosity, and it was telling me “just email them, see what comes out of it, you like a good story right?” So I did.

 

Shortly thereafter I got a response back from culturaustin.com, and the good news was, they loved my website, and what I have been working on as a writer from this past year.


That is when they offered me my first assignment, which was to get an interview with a certain artist in the Austin area. They wanted to figure out why Chamel Raghu (Pronounced as Shaa-mel, Ra-gho) had disappeared from the art community.


The ghost artist Chamel had been compared to Picasso and Van Gogh in an Harvard arts review, titled “Battle of the Prodigies” in 2012. They too wondered where he could have gone, leaving numerous people to question where he went. 

After culturaustin.com did a write up about Chamel for this supposed, local artist, they still hadn't found much information about Chamel and why he had vanished after thereafter shortly after 2002. 

There was many speculations about his disappearance. Some wondered if Chamel had become disabled, or if he had developed arthritis, leaving him with no ability to draw. Then there was another theory, in which he had died from old age, because after all, his age was unknown. What I was still stuck on was how to correctly pronounce his name, spelled C-H-A-M-E-L.

After reading these articles, and trying to do some research about him on my own, I was puzzled had became confused. It had me wondering how an artist would go off grid when you can share your passion with the world, in our day of social media and publications there is many opportunities for followers, meaning more appreciation towards the art.

I was given 2 emails from the online magazine, and was told to start there. Once I saw that, I thought I’d give it a shot, but really? What were the odds of a response from the ghost artist? He had already been contacted by a bunch of people and companies over the past decade, so how could I be any more important?

I started fantasying to myself. “Then there was that one time when I wrote back to a craigslist ad, on investigating an artist… and I did, and not to mention I got paid from doing so, and it was a learning experience.” Ya, all that sounds like a good story.

I then constructed a well written e-mail that conveyed my interest in doing an in person interview with Chamel. From someone who barely has any information about themselves on the web, I was a bit nervous that he would think my e-mail would be too straight forward, but it had to be. How many shots could I get?

So the e-mail went something along the lines of….

“I am going to honest of why I am contacting you on such a random encounter.

I became a blogger and photographer over a year ago. From there I started traveling and meeting really awesome people. From Artists to other the writers and photographers, when it dawned on me that I needed to show the world that we can all do what we love. For me that meant traveling, documenting, writing and connecting.

I moved to Austin to settle down for a few months, trying to learn to be still. While ive been spending time here, getting to know Austin, my writing and photos have been recognized within the community.

I looked for some writing jobs, and somewhere along the way, I was asked to get an interview with you from a local Austin Culture and arts website. I had no idea about who you were, until I did some research.

I guess I am whole heatedly asking, would you mind giving an in person interview? On my behalf, I would love to get to know you in the aspect of your artistry world.

-Best

Brie’”

From there, we made plans to meet up for an interview. A few weeks later, here I am, grateful to have met Chamel, and learn a bit about his story. Read more about Chamel in Part 2, coming up.


PART 2 – Chamel Raghu – In person interview


Featured in an Harvard article in December 02, Chamel got the attention of a local “Arts and Culture” magazine here in Austin, and in turn they had done a written article of Chamel titled "Austin's Reclusive Prodigy, Chamel Raghu"  Chamel got the attention of a local “Arts and Culture” magazine here in Austin, and in turn they had done a written article of Chamel titled "Austin's Reclusive Prodigy, Chamel Raghu", they too have been wondering where he had gone.


This is where www.culturaustin.com reached out for help, and I took on the role to find out more.

Chamel Raghu, the mysterious ghost artist and I had exchanged a few e-mails back, he decided that it was a good idea to meet up for an in person interview, just as I had asked and hoped.


I was a bit nervous with meeting up with Chamel. I wasn't sure what to expect from this encounter. Some had said Chamel had become disabled and some say he was old. So what was I ultimately trying to getting myself into with asking such a personal question to a stranger? Would he have a wheelchair? Would he be old? Would he even be a he at this point?? I was about to find out.


When Chamel came into sight he instantly appeared not to be the disabled old man some suspected to be. Chamel is a 36 year old gentlemen, originally from Odessa Texas. In 1977 he left Odessa to attend the University of Austin.


Now that is was clear that he was not the old decrepit man that the myth had carried, I was onto the next question. I asked him if he had arthritis, or if he had become disabled in this period of time? I was really trying to blend two questions into one because it was an awkward thing to ask someone straight up. Maybe he wouldn't answer, and that would be okay, or…. maybe he would.


He wasn't disabled by any means, and light heartily laughed it off. He has heard this one before.
Chamel’s drawing skills simulate or imitate the art of symmetry and structure. This was from what I had seen online, but ultimately I had become confused to whether if drawing was his main form of art, or if he had also done photography, or paintings with the example of the colored photo of a building, next to another drawing of a hand.


From our encounter at this point, I can tell you that Chamel is a shy guy. He is also laid back, friendly, well liked. He even bumped into a friend of his, who could vogue his “likeness” as we all called it, but there is also another part of Chamel. A part that feels burned.


The closest thing I can describe “burned” to be, is when somebody has stolen your art, using it as their own, with no credibility where it is due. I have had it happen to me before, so saying “it sucks”, well that just serves as an understatement.


The story starts to come together once I ask about the photo I been confused about.


Brie – “There was like a cone? You know what I am talking about? And I wasn’t sure it was yours, or if it was a picture, or..…?


Chamel – “Yeah that’s a photograph of a monument. The one that looks like a pyramid?
That’s Chamel, and he went onto explain more about the pyramid photo, and its significance to the story.

Chamel - “Well in 2002, there was a CNN completion for a re-design of the September 11th attack twin towers, and I drew one, a sketch. I submitted it to CNN, and I didn’t win, obviously. That was in 02, and I was happy it was just on the website, so I didn’t win, but hey it’s on the website, that’s cool.

He says that his drawing went up on the CNN website, next to other contestant’s photos, and some of which were 4 year old kids, so ultimately he didn’t take it very seriously, but he was very proud and humble of his work.

And then one day…

Chamel – “It was either in 06 or 07, and my ex-girlfriend was going through some stock photos, on her computer. She saw one that she thought looked familiar to something id shown her.”

 “She says you know you should come look at this, I think this is something you’d like”, I saw it, and it was a picture of that monument. I asked her “Where did you get this? And she responded with “I don’t know, I saw it looked like something you would like” I thought, “That’s mine. That’s mine!”

Realizing the flip side of things, Chamel started to ask some questions.

Chamel – “What is this? How did that happen and where is it? I wanna find out.So the more I dug, I found out it’s a war monument that is in Portugal, that I thought there was a striking resemblance of what I drew."

Chamel found out that the new war monument in Portugal had been built in 04 and 05, two years after he had put his drawing into the contest, which was put up on the CNN website.

I then asked him, “What ultimately has happened to you, over this whole situation?”

Chamel – “I’ve been guarded, that’s all, but I mean not forever. I don’t think. I mean, it can’t stay that way forever, I hope.”

There are limitations to what Chamel can do at this point. It would be a lot trouble for an artist to prove the drawings of the monument, was originated from Chamel. Especially when these laws have to do with another country and international copy writes.

This is Brie, reminding you to give yourself more permission slips in life, and less excuses. Do what you love, and love what you do.