Portfolio: Lush reveries

28 Feb 2016


Afternoon under the tree
Afternoon under the tree

Artist Michelle Farooqi’s exhibition titled A Walk in the Park might be considered an effort to escape the city’s tortuous concrete jungle, a symbol of mankind’s primeval search for paradise or an aesthetic manifestation of what she calls “active meditation” in the parks. The exhibition took place in Lahore’s Alhamra Art Centre recently and exhibited 18 of her landscapes done in pastels, either in Lahore’s Race Course Park or in Canada.

Her command over pastels, a rare medium in which she is self-trained, is remarkable. Each painting has a dreamy hue, reminding one of the French impressionists like Claude Monet and classicist Bouguereau. Instead of reflecting over social issues like terrorism or poverty, or letting an idea like feminism push her images, she delves deep within herself, as she herself puts it: “I am inside, looking out.”

Farooqi’s love for walking is not surprising. This is probably why she lives right next to the Race Course Park in Lahore. “I am idler at home than on my walks,” she quips.

Michelle Farooqi puts her fascinating walk in the park on canvas

Many great artists like J.M.W. Turner, writers like Charles Dickens, poets like William Wordsworth and philosophers like Aristotle were great walkers. Writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce invented peripatetic protagonists and highlighted what they perceive in cities like Dublin and London and remodel it through the prism of their path, restructuring the existing landscape with their cerebral one — somewhat like Farooqi does with those photos.

The artist keeps a record of whatever catches her fancy through photos and revisits them before painting — removing objects, improving the composition, light and adding her signature style to the scene. Most paintings capture vast swathes of lushness that extend into an equally glorious sky. She depicts the broadest view a naked eye can capture, interspersed with bright yellow leaves, orange bushes, brownwood or people in sharply coloured clothes.

In some paintings, an object takes centre stage — a stream, a log or the interlocked roots of a banyan tree. Her canvas is not just enormous but detailed as the reflections in the stream, the separate blades of glass, the rocks and shrubs, are all distinct. The composition is natural yet inventive, everything is still yet thriving, on the verge of some action; the birds are about to fly away, the clouds and people are on the move and you can almost hear the leaves rustling in the wind.

Evening crows
Evening crows

Farooqi is an animal lover and two paintings have animals as their main focus: one called the ‘Cat-stroller’ which has a golden cat imperially walking away and the other ‘Evening crows’ has three grey-necked crows, sitting diagonally across each other. This is interesting, because the house crows which are native to Asia are never seen as artistic, but rather an ominous scavenger. The artist transforms them into intriguing plotters with shiny black feathers, lazily scheming together.

People mostly appear as a crowd or on the sidelines but in two works they appear to be distant yet central to the scene. One is the ‘Lone bencher’ in which a man is sitting on a bench and looking out at the foliage. The crowd behind him magnifies his solitude, despite the presence of others. The second is ‘Afternoon under the tree’ where five people are sitting under shade; all except two are looking away from each other.

These paintings are a reminder of how much more one’s time in a park can mean — a symbol of our hunt for peace in this chaotic and unpredictable life.Since Farooqi doesn’t include a particular socio-political context in her work, she has been rejected by some art galleries in Lahore but refuses to succumb to any narrative.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 28th, 2016