Ali Raza’s canvases portray visual movement in all its glory.
Movement and change are integral to life. It is perhaps only in a painting or photograph that life stands still, a moment that can be viewed by others over and over again. However, there are artists who are fascinated by the idea of impermanence and who wish to capture this inherent phenomenon of one’s existence. While one may be quick to point out the element of actual movement in art forms such as film, video and other performing arts, it is relatively uncommon to associate the art of painting with this quality.
Recently, one encountered the works of Shazia Sikander, who had transformed her drawings and paintings through digital technology into moving images in a most fascinating way. However, the concept of ‘moving images’, through only paint and canvas has been rather uniquely explored by another talented Pakistani artist, Ali Raza, also National College of Arts graduate, who later studied and worked in the US.
Raza exhibited his recent works titled, ‘Seen from here, there and nowhere’ at Lahore’s Rohtas Gallery, in collaboration with the Lahore Literary Festival. The 19 canvases displayed at the gallery are diverse in terms of themes and colour variations and the commonality is the amalgam of texture, three-dimensional elements and visual movement.
Most of the visuals have been painstakingly constructed through juxtaposing strips of canvas that have been painted separately and then perfectly joined at the centre, each segment forming a three-dimensional raised surface. These can be viewed from various directions and the painted imagery ‘moves’ as the viewer shifts from one point to another. In fact, the painting gradually changes into a new image as one reaches the other side. The effect is quite like that observed in commercially made lenticular prints, except that these paintings are obviously more forceful in their impact and it is particularly fascinating to engage with the painterly expertise of the artist.
Raza’s themes range from comments on fast food, such as in ‘Buy one get one free’ or ‘Burger or Shwarma’ and poignant inner musings reflected in ‘Mood Swing’ or ‘Sky these days’ to comments on social and political predicaments visible in ‘Jinnah for official use’, ‘Works in progress’, ‘Fold before tearing’ and ‘Stalker’. The latter four canvases are in shades of black and white, which is in contrast to the very rich and contrasting colour combinations found in the other paintings and evoke a significantly sombre and serious mood.
These works also display a different technique and one see perfectly arranged lines of thick string over the surface that have also been painted and which not only enhance texture but serve to create a sense of movement. For example, the image of Quaid-i-Azam is such that as one moves from right to left and vice versa, it appears as if his eyes are also moving in the same direction, an effect imbued with symbolism.
Raza’s fascinating techniques and visual discourse are by no means a form of laborious showmanship or gimmickry. In fact, they reflect both exceptional talent and creativity. One recalls viewing some of his earlier work where he had created paintings out of pieces of burnt paper and the end results were rather amazing. Clearly, inventing new mediums and techniques is his forte and he supplements this physical dimension with the element of mind and soul, in an attempt to bring forth a new ‘life’ on canvas.