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February 11, 2018


Untitled 7
Untitled 7

Sight Specific, an exhibition of new works by prominent artist and National College of Arts (NCA) faculty member, Mohammad Ali Talpur opened at the Austin Desmond Gallery, London in collaboration of Karachi’s Canvas Gallery recently.

The title Sight Specific is quite apt for the visuals on view. It seems to suggest that only the most keen eye will notice the subtle changes and minute shifts in line that are the soul of Talpur’s oeuvre. Building on his trademark style, the artist’s paintings in this particular exhibition captivate the viewer with their optical illusion-like quality. This is quite a feat considering there is neither colour nor anything representational, i.e. figures and/or identifiable objects on his canvases. Using just black and white lines in acrylic paint, he manages to create diversity and distinction in every piece. Talpur’s work began as a “reaction against what he saw as pressure from academia on students to ‘produce charged works.’

The exhibition is spread over two floors of the spacious West London gallery, with the largest piece measuring approximately 213 cm x 184cm, pretty much covering a wall from floor to ceiling. Every painting has its unique set of lines creating energy and dynamism, but ‘Untitled 2’, ‘Untitled 7’ and ‘Untitled 10’ were particularly captivating.

Mohammad Ali Talpur’s paintings captivate the viewer with their optical illusions

The large painting ‘Untitled 2’ depicts what seems like black horizontal stripes on a white rectangle surface. Looking at the right edge of the painting removes any such misconception about the piece. The lines seem to be radiating from a focal point in space just outside the right edge of the canvas. The flat horizontal stripes elusively transform into slightly angled lines that that are almost awe-inspiring.

Untitled 10
Untitled 10

‘Untitled 7’ is a relatively small piece that has equal-sized/equidistant black and white stripes on the bottom of the canvas. However, when you follow the stripes up the canvas the width of each stripe changes so smoothly and magically that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where the change takes place, and a pattern slowly emerges that gives no hint of the symmetry and perfection that is evident in the lower half of the piece. The painting exemplifies draftsmanship at its finest and most beguiling.

The painting ‘Untitled 10’ displays a similar mastery over draftsmanship as ‘Untitled 7’ and the rest of the works. In this painting the entire surface is covered in tiny squares no more than 1x1 centimetre. As one steps back from the piece, these squares emerge as checks or warp and weft of fabric. And amazingly, just like fabric hangs and flows, these checks begin to droop subtly down the centre of the canvas giving the painting the illusion of fluidity which is the characteristic of cloth. This is an exceptionally difficult task considering all the squares are perfectly composed at right angles.

Bearing in mind the subtle shifts and the repetition of line in all of Talpur’s work, his inspiration from classical music and mystical poetry seems to have come to life. The artist explains his own work, “Be it Amonkar or Ustad Amir Khan, the repetition in their music with slight variations or improvisation adds a new character to their art. To translate and transform those nuances into visual language was a challenge. To reinterpret colours into black and white was also painstaking.”

“Sight Specific” is being displayed at the Austin Desmond Gallery, London, from January 25 to February 28, 2018

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 11th, 2018