Art beat: A new generation of abstract painters

May 17, 2015

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Untitled abstract paintings by Shireen Ikramullah
Untitled abstract paintings by Shireen Ikramullah

In the current artscape, dominated by the contemporary miniature and new media arts, a cadre of young abstract art painters are quietly moving forward and staking their claim by reinvigorating an old genre. Amongst the new practitioners, Shireen Ikramullah Khan is presently showing her recent work at Full Circle Gallery, titled “Hybrid Theory”. A second Karachi exhibition, in less than two years, the series affirms her grip on the abstract modality.

With colour and technique still the main standout features of her work, she makes forceful use of shades of blue, red, green and orange to create instant impact. Up close to it is the alignment and integration of softer hues and a diverse array of surface treatments that reveal her technical proficiency. Varied use of acrylic, pastel, charcoal and enamel to layer, smudge and overlap hues, create crusty, abrasive textural grounds and rudimentary marks and formations, define the process(es) so integral to abstract art. Her painterly sweep, gesture, blurs or blots constitute the language with which she structures her thoughts into cohesive compositions.

Entirely nonrepresentational, some of the paintings nonetheless reveal themselves as impressions of landscapes. Their horizontal picture frames have vague divisions of foreground, background and horizon with the atmospheric feel of sunny days. It is this intrigue of strange and familiar that captures viewer attention and allows for a variety of interpretations.


Shireen Ikramullah Khan’s painterly sweep, gesture, blurs or blots constitute the language with which she structures her thoughts into cohesive compositions


In the vertical compositions the anatomy of a landscape changes into upright partitions speckled with splotches, dots and faint creeper vine ascending impressions. In this somewhat organic vocabulary it is the spherical discs / dots that are most pronounced. Shireen uses them recurrently to varied effect. As floating rounds they bring rhythm and movement in her paintings, appear as the sun motif and a constellation of planets. They are a colour distributing vehicle; she creates tonal variation with them and they are also used as a design or pattern device.

The artist says, “The circles are symbols for me, like a link between me and nature and the universe. The circle being considered romantic, they can also be considered spiritual. The circles have a certain quality that makes them seem weightless, and they appear like they’re floating through the canvas.” A quick scan of art history reveals examples of famous paintings like ‘The carnival’, ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Blue vase’, by premier modernist Zubeida Agha making delightful use of dots as balloons and colourful effervescent discs that bring energy and sparkle to the compositions.

Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

Unlike the established signatures of yesteryear modernists, the styles of the current crop of abstract artists are still evolving. Wide individual recognition of their work will be subject to the specificity of their concepts / thematic thrusts, techniques, vocabulary and chromatic choices. There is much that can be studied from the oeuvres of our rich crop of master modernists not just by way of theory and technique and vocabulary but also the artists’ tenacity, perseverance and passionate embrace of their chosen genres.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 17th, 2015

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