An art form that has been around for centuries, painted portraits are usually meant to serve as memorable tributes to the famous and/or the elite. Now, however, in the wake uninhibited visualization during the post-modern era, portrait painting is undergoing a liberal transformation. One fine example is the solo show of 14 opaque watercolor-on-paper paintings of Irfan Hasan, titled ‘The children of ambiguity’, at the Canvas Gallery, Karachi.
Heavily inspired by the grandeur of classical European portraiture, Hasan began researching for potential models amongst the locals, especially those with equally imposing appearances. During his travels across the country, he discovered people with a subtle resemblance to that of the Europeans.
The larger-than-life portraits, in their incredibly meticulous detail, have an overwhelming impact on art aficionados as they walk into the gallery. Thematically composed, each portrait speaks of the artist’s consistent demeanour in laying down the flawless ‘tapai’ (broad-stroked ground layers) and the impeccable ‘pardakht’ (fine-brush modelling by varying line densities). On a macro scale, Hasan has evolved a personalised methodology from the traditional Mughal miniature painting technique, through innovative use of watercolors, zinc chalk and Arabic gum.
Irfan Hasan’s singular skill allows him to get under his subjects’ skin and extract their most personal and obscure persona
A fine example of how Hasan captures the inherent character of an individual is manifested in his painting ‘Head of a Jadoon’. The remarkable detail reveals every nuance of the profile to the point of disbelief; one can almost read every feeling and sensation of the personality. The anatomy of bone structure, the scars of tribulation and the visible travails give testimony to the artist’s belief in a common ancestral legacy to the European race. The entire set of the artist’s works, with their creatively organic cut-out on white background, signify the artist’s prodigious expertise.
To be working on large-scale paintings in the technique of the Mughals is a daunting task and requires an artist to hone their skills with perseverance, patience and precision — something that Hasan continues to do this day.
‘The Children of Ambiguity’ was exhibited at the Canvas Gallery from September 20 till September 29, 2016
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 2nd, 2016