More than two decades ago, artist Mashkoor Raza was referred to as “a talented young artist with an unsteady direction, but a prodigious output of work”, in Professor Ijazul Hassan’s book Painting in Pakistan. The author had also commented, on Raza’s “abstract works” and the fact that he was “trying his hand at the nude”. Since then, Raza has continued to be prodigious in producing copious amounts of paintings that, as some gallery owners claim, are sold “like hot cakes”. He has also found his niche in abstraction, simplifying and fracturing shapes in the cubist manner.
Recently, one had viewed another ‘cubist’ painter’s fresh work exhibited in Lahore; that of Jamil Naqsh, whose manner of abstraction was also still reminiscent of Picasso’s cubism. Both Naqsh and Raza have continued to find pleasure and profit in abstraction, particularly with reference to the female form, which they often pair off with other entities; Naqsh chooses birds, mostly pigeons, while Mashkoor’s favourite are horses.
Raza’s recent solo exhibition at the Revivers Galleria in Lahore presented a total of 50 oil paintings of varying sizes and reaffirmed the artists ability to produce paintings prolifically. It was further revealed by the gallery owner Sara Anjum that this exhibition was Raza’s second solo show in less than five months and that the earlier show comprising 38 works had been sold out. So indeed, Raza is a popular artist whose eye-catching compositions and reasonable prices present an ideal formula for the art mart.
This latest exhibition was held amidst more fanfare than usual, as a book exclusively about Raza, authored by Nadeem Zuberi, was also launched, and Raza had flown in from Karachi for the occasion. The weighty, full colour publication, traced the artist’s life from the very beginning, and displayed a large number of his paintings. Financed by the artist himself, it was an attractive publication that must have been a source of great joy for Raza, his family and admirers.
One has seen Raza’s works in the past years as well, and his deft brush strokes, colour schemes and patternmaking carry a signature style that is instantly recognisable. The most recent output of paintings were replete with the similar style of abstracting the female form and horses, along with a number of calligraphic compositions , but the colours were markedly more intense and vibrant.
Red and orange were the favoured hues, set off by blue and yellow, and using black for depth, and white for visual relief. Much earlier, one had viewed works that had subscribed to more sedate earth tones and creamy off whites, and which perhaps had been a safer option or else a reflection of the artist’s mood. However, these recent works had set the galley ablaze with their intense and bright colour combinations. While the smaller canvases were more heavily worked with space divisions and contrasting tonal overlapping, the bigger ones were awash with large areas of bright paint, mostly red, and this formed the backdrop for smaller figures, invariably charging horses in the foreground, and a circular form in the centre.
The calligraphic compositions included expanses of both red and white, with energetic, cascading strokes forming calligraphic inscriptions. The artist’s sense of exuberance and his confidence in the success of his artistic formulas were quite apparent. And indeed, the red dots appearing on many of the labels of the paintings (indicating, a work being sold), did affirm that Raza’s magic is still working. It is uncanny, that soon after viewing this exhibition, I inadvertently, came across an old magazine in which veteran artist Saeed Akhtar in an interview, had commented: “there are only two things worth painting in this world — horses, and women”. The statement seemed to answer at least some questions that arose regarding Raza’s popular appeal.