The non-literal, non-figurative essence peculiar to abstract art evolves from the artist’s intuitive, emotional responses to the world. A two-artist exhibition at the VM Art Gallery, Karachi, showcasing paintings by Shireen Ikramullah Khan and Zoobia Yakoob centralises on such instinctual expressions that chart an inner landscape.
Articulating through emphatic colour spreads and a feverish mix and meld of organic imagery, Ikramullah endows her paintings with temperament. This ability to create mood or atmosphere brings coherence to a painting — other than enabling the artist to express herself such theatrics to facilitate viewer engagement with the canvases.
She utilises the emotive power of red to maximise impact — her canvases flaming with shades of crimson, vermillion and orange fuse with sharply contrasting hues of radiant yellow, murky brown and deathly black to conjure states of conflict and harmony. The compositions of paintings like the ‘Big bang’, ‘The unknown cannot be avoided’ and ‘Fermented abstraction 2’, reveal themselves as a dialogue between void and existence, an abstract panorama of elusive truths.
Just as geometry connotes order, organic shapes represent freedom. As echoes of organic shapes found in nature, organic shapes in art suggest rhythms of movement, growth, evolution, elegance, and unexpected beauty. An vocabulary of floral tropes, leaves, seeds, bracts and stamens rendered with delicate linearity, heavy calligraphic strokes or webbed patterning enable Ikramullah to construct a range of emotive states. Vacillating between a lyrical sense of natural life and the doom and gloom of struggle and chaos her compositions speak on several levels and often it is this freedom to fabricate independent stories that bond the viewer with the painting.
The ‘process’ of creating an abstract painting, the tools, materials and methodology of constructing the work is closely aligned to the artist’s attitude to his/her work at a given moment. Technique goes beyond mechanical and manual processes to reveal the artistic mindset and overall intentions. Defining her paintings as “unfinished inventories of fragments” Ikramullah, making use of paint, enamel and pastel, indulges in a subtle layering of oil pigment, charcoal and fragile graphite drawings to produce schematic arrangements.
Unrestrained and open to inquiry the art nonetheless has a fairly specific vocabulary which carries possibilities of evolving into a pronounced signature. It is this specificity of art language and technical application that has the potential to strengthen her thrust.
Ikramullah acquired her BFA from the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore, with a major in painting and a minor in photography and printmaking. She went on to get an MA in art gallery and museum studies from the University of Manchester, UK in 2009. A practising artist she has exhibited her work in several galleries, nationally and internationally and also writes art critiques and reviews for local publications.
Playing with rhythm, colour and movement Yakoob also sources nature for inspiration. In her series titled, ‘Silver streaks in misty lake’, it is reflections of the fluid misty hued troposphere and evocative luminous spaces on extra-large canvases that first attract the eye. Devoid of narrative these imaginary dreamscapes are held together by an internal cohesion of dissolving hues which evoke the sublime.
The artist’s skill lies mainly in fusing warm and cool tonalities to create pure and unaffected atmospherics. The layering of paint allows glimpses of colour and the suggestion of images to capture the elusiveness of time and the impermanence of an instant. In some paintings traces of background emerge, signifying these temporal moments. Yakoob discloses “In order to render such moments she makes varied use of pastels, pencils, digital manipulation, stop motion video and brush.”
When images diverge from reality they become abstracted and a limitless variety of styles and methods can be employed for their expression. For artists who express spontaneously abstraction offers greater opportunities to better communicate the artistic and visual message. Ikramullah and Yaqoob have utilised this option to capture the mysterious and the indescribable.