“Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things,” states Pablo Picasso. Such is an artist’s relationship with his creativity on a gigantic canvas — throwing brightly-coloured paints, in splatters or whirlpools of colour, beautiful patterns, wonderful streaks, stains and wild accents.

A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness and some fantasy. When and if the artist makes his or her meaning perfectly plain the risk is that he or she ends up boring people. But this is not the case with internationally celebrated artist Raja Changez Sultan whose paintings were recently exhibited at Islamabads Tanzara Art Gallery. Sultan displayed an amalgamation of three themes that have been an integral part of his body of work, namely ‘The divided self’, ‘The Himalayan odyssey’ and ‘The wood nymphs’, all painted in oils on canvas.

As an acclaimed poet and painter, Sultan’s paintings are poignant and are rendered in an abstract manner with figures, hidden faces and landscapes revealed in a misty ambiance. On closer examination the viewer is drawn into a mysterious realm of dissolving spaces. His works are dominantly abstract and the colours are spread across vast surfaces being his signature style.

The figures within his canvases are almost enveloped in pleasing hues creating a foreboding feeling within the viewer. In this particular show, however, Sultan’s colours have been influenced by a brighter and richer palette along with the typical subdued hues and tones the viewers are accustomed to. Lively blues and greens have become part of the landscape of his canvas space. The subject matter remains alluring.

Just like the British romantic painter, Joseph Mallord Turner who was a master of painting light, Sultan’s paintings can be regarded as a romantic preface to Impressionism. In the artwork that constitutes the 17 pieces of ‘The Himalayan odyssey’ series he can truthfully measure the moods of nature. Colossal peaks eclipse the land beneath while reflections of light filter through the unfathomable crevices of the peaks. The artist has always enjoyed the mountains, their dazzling display of colour and light, the timelessness they bear are integral elements within his compositions.

Amongst the 23 paintings from the ‘Divided self’, the palette is passive and unobtrusive and the figures are subtler in their nature. They seem sad though and disconsolate as if they embody a soberness that lies within the human psyche. A gradation of colour using thin layers of paint creates an evocative sympathy for the female figures that take form from inside the canvas.

The collection of six paintings the ‘Wood nymphs’ is a series of phantom-like figures within the beautiful landscape setting he has captured so delightfully. The females are rendered in a surrealistic manner where the colours fade into a miasma (a thick vaporous atmosphere) but Sultan’s rendition of these spirit-like creatures is simple yet delicate. Fascinatingly, the easiness with which he paints does not fail to overwhelm the viewer.