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Art fiend: Romancing the grid

May 31, 2015



Technically the good simply became better in Saqib Mughal’s current series “Zindan-i-Khayal” shown at Koel Gallery, Karachi, recently. Refining his existing signature with greater precision, cohesion and intricacy the artist reiterates his deep commitment to a labour intensive technique of painterly mark making. This heightened integration also imparts sharper focus to his ideology of transcending boundaries to increase awareness and liberate ones thoughts (khayal).

An alumnus of Karachi School of Art, Mughal gained public attention during his first solo in 1999 but a career move soon after to the US took him to Miami, Florida where he now works as a Creative Director. After frequent showings of his work in Miami he returned for a solo in 2011 and has since exhibited regularly every year.

A visual designer by profession but a fine artist at heart, Mughal’s art practice blends the accuracy of graphic design with the flow of creative painting. His work, exploratory and inventive originally employed an assortment of symbols and figurations to create elaborate, albeit cluttered compositions. Bringing order into chaos he has since pared his vocabulary to the essential.

Saqib Mughal blends the accuracy of graphic design with the flow of creative painting

Today it is the recurring door, window and butterfly motif that define his concepts. To him the open or closed wooden doors and windows are not just passages of exit and entry but portals of transition that can liberate and inhibit thought. He equates a shut door / window with a closed mind and an open one with a seeker of knowledge. The butterfly emblem enjoys many meanings: beauty in nature, a bringer of dreams, a symbol of transformation as well as freedom and innocence. These symbols are often added or affixed to the painting as templates and cutouts.

Somewhat similar to relief printing such tactile shapes and forms add the novelty of mixed media to the number of surface treatments and techniques within his grasp. Another dominant fixture in his art is the textures of old walls, painted as a colourful tapestry of bricks, filigreed web, a mesh of gritty gravel or a patchwork of thin closely packed tiles. They symbolise home, history and culture and like the rustic doors enable him to create an East versus West dialogue between tradition and modernity and insularity versus open mindedness. Revealing itself as a wall, matrix or a latticed network, this layer of meshed stroke play is the artist’s personal expression (conscious or unconscious) of the modernist grid.


The grid is a visual structure that lies at the heart of contemporary art. As a graphic component in painting, it came to prominence in the early 20th century in the abstractions of the Russian painter Kazimir Malevich and the Dutch-born Piet Mondrian, who was widely considered the “most modern” artist of his time. Far from being a static element, the grid mutated in the hands of different artists to assume a wide array of forms.

Gerhard Richter made lively abstractions of coloured boxes; Carl André lay down squares of metal tiles in geometric patterns on the floor; Chuck Close used the grid as a structure to expand photographs into large paintings. Donald Judd, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Frank Stella are just a few of the other seminal artists from the period who made the grid their own.

In Mughal’s process-driven art technique takes precedence over concept. It is the minutely grafted, carpeted or grid-locked surfaces delicately spread like lace or packed into trajectories of slim vertical strokes in kaleidoscopic hues that form the base on which he builds his stories. Intricate and laborious his is a grid centred art, and he himself admits, “I construct the wall texture brick by brick via acrylic paint to generate a unique visual experience to translate my inherent message and symbolism.”

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 31st, 2015

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