Interpretation of the meditative exercise is singular to each artist. For Muhammed Ali Talpur, it was the ubiquitous ‘line’ that became an essential marker of his musings. During introspective spells on the rooftop of his studio, he began tracing the flight paths of birds with felt tip on paper. The subsequent synchronisation between contour and subliminal thought prompted him to explore the spirit of the line. The mechanics of perpetually, almost compulsively repeating the line in irregular, meandering clusters crystallised into his signature ‘Leeka’ series. As vignettes of inner rhythms, these soulscapes illustrate Talpur’s ability to pare thoughts to their barest minimum.
Working in marker, oil and acrylic on canvas as well as ink and technical pen on paper and later manipulating the printing press to produce mechanical line constructions, he continued to mine his marker as a defining symbol. His current exhibition ‘Alif’, at Green Cardamom, London, expands on the notion of the line by adopting calligraphy as his source of inspiration. By repeating a character, a calligraphic stroke and even the pronunciation markers (Zer, Zabar, Pesh) across the page, he creates another trajectory of rhythms that pulse to measured paces and beats.
The exhibition also contains ‘See saw’, a video that shows the artist winking slowly from one eye to the other. Just as the works on paper offer a moment of calm and reflection, ‘See saw’ uses a similarly simple visual language to slow down time and create a moment of pause.
Having graduated from the National College of Arts (NCA) in 1998, Mohammad Ali Talpur presently lives and works in Lahore. He has several prestigious group participations to his credit. Here, he talks about his work ethos and transition towards the new indicator ‘Alif’.
Do you differentiate between western abstraction and the ‘abstract’ nature of Islamic art? If so, where do you situate your ‘art without content’? I learnt the freedom of expression from western art, where everything is questioned. When I was in college, I liked the works of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, particularly their sensibility of focusing on medium and materialism, even though their work harboured strong hidden meanings.
In my case, I always tried multiple mediums with distinctive imagery. I am also fond of the making of Islamic art — I think there is a spiritual connection between the maker and the making. I practiced Indian drumming for over two years during which I was composing beats. My work, ‘Leeka’, evolved from this meditative sensibility.
I see some connection between Indian music with my previous work ‘Leeka’ as well as recent work ‘Alif’. It is a reunion of my inner self with external things.
How did you transit from a profusion of spontaneously drawn lines to a structured ‘spiritually significant textual symbol’ like ‘Alif’ as a principal marker in your oeuvre? Repetition is a strong element in any exercise (or mashq) in order to reach to a level of completion — this also relates to Islamic art. I always think about space and time and try to fill space with actions of meditation. I have been so involved in my practice that I barely see my work as an outsider. I cannot feel the transition between my recent works. For me, it is just like the taste of food on the dinner table which satisfies only for a while — but the aims and objects of having food are completely different and essential for the nourishment of the human body. What I was doing before and what I am doing now: ‘Alif’ calligraphic works are the taste of different foods.
I learnt calligraphy for two years to understand the basic geometric form of these alphabets. Subsequently, I tried to produce something from these primary exercises (Alif, Bay, Jeem). Calligraphy is already an established form of expression. Its forms are beautiful, like a dance of the lines and it is close to basic drawing shapes.
The synchronised and repetitive exercises in some of your recent work point towards a design format. Is pattern creeping, into your otherwise formless content?
I do not care if my works point towards design formats. It is not a deliberate act. I just want to play with pure visual experiences and want the viewer to look at the work in the same way. I think there is going to be an absence of pure visual experience in the art world today where everything follows the academic fundamentals, so making of art for me is an experience of getting to a level of completion like meditation. Pure abstraction has a very interesting quality — it takes you to the world of meditation. It is all about the ideas rather than the images.
Your work has always been a deeply meditative exercise. Briefly comment on your source of inspiration.
Indian music and poetry and Islamic art have always been a source of inspiration to me. They are all about the form rather than the ideas. Making of an object is a sacred and spiritual way of achieving self-satisfaction for them. When you look at objects from that context, you can find the sacred attachment of the maker with the objects, which makes it unique and precious.