He is a witness to many phases of street life of the Walled City of Lahore, from peaceful Choona Mandi Chowk of 50s where people would freely sleep in the streets during hot summer, to the present-day chaos of the metropolis where it has become hard for a pedestrian to cross a road.
A graphic designer and calligraphist, Rana Riaz Ahmad, has lived a rich life, enjoying his creativity and passion to travel.
“I would go to Manto Park almost daily to watch birds; they were my first subject to draw.
“One of our relatives used to run an embroidery shop at Kinari Bazaar. I would visit him regularly to see the artisans working and sketching. I developed the basic drawing skills when I was in junior school,” he recalls.
He would spend time with the Eid card designers of Shah Alam Market and copy the paintings of Picasso. One of his uncles once took him to a painter, Aslam Khokhar.
“Aslam Khokhar was a brilliant student of Ustad Allah Bukhsh, and was known for his artistic skills in the pre-Partition Lahore and Bombay. From sharpening a pencil to the fundamentals of drawing and painting, he taught me every aspect of visual arts. His training made a lasting impression on my artistic expressions,” he acknowledges.
“After (completing) high school in 1963, I was the youngest among all those working as professional artists in Lahore,” he said.
His career started with an assignment of making illustrations for five rupees per piece, spanning over more than five decades. During that period he worked in the USA, Europe, Middle East and for leading advertising agencies and publishing houses of Pakistan.
He is one of the founder members of Pakistan Calligraph-Artists Guild, formed in 1997.
“During the construction of Data Darbar complex, I volunteered, along with a group of calligraphers. Our job was to transfer drawings of calligraphic works to the marble tiles. Someone asked me to restore the calligraphy plate installed outside the ‘Hujra-e-Aitkaf’ of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, in the shrine. While doing it, I had a strange feel of having a divine light and energy in my body. I felt cold and started trembling. After getting a bit normal in the evening, I recalled that I had got the same feeling 10 years back at the shrine of Sheikh Abdul Qadir
Jillani in Bagdad. That experience hooked me to calligraphy forever,” he says.
He is creating calligraphic works for almost two decades with three solo and a good number of group shows to his credit.
His works won a prestigious award at the 10th International Quranic and Calligraphic Exhibition, held in Iran in 2002.
Humble and soft-spoken Riaz Ahmad is generously passing on his skills, welcoming the young aspirants with an open heart at his small studio near Gwalmandi Chowk.
Working with a rich palette, he keeps on evolving his works. The temperament of composing as a graphic designer helped him not to repeat his compositions and consequently not getting stuck to a single set of visual elements.
In most of his works, he employs the surfaces which are smooth. Working with a lot of patience, he renders them gradually, employing dots of various sizes and hues to create an illusion of depth and texture.
He does not follow any specific calligraphic style, but tries to express the essence and spirit of the letters he is playing with. The spontaneous flow of free- hand drawings and skilfully handled radiant colours make a strong visual impact, which makes stand out amongst his contemporaries.
Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2017