A recent online video showed adults attempting to discern between paintings created by modern artists and toddlers, which also left the viewer guessing and questioning their own powers of deduction. Time and again, the phrase, ‘I could do that’ surfaced, especially when the group realised they were looking at Cy Twombly’s graffiti-like scribbles.

Statements such as this have often been heard about abstract art. However, it should be noted that work such as this goes beyond the two-second glance of the viewer. The painting we see hanging on the gallery wall is probably there for good reason and will always have context surrounding it. Take Twombly for example; his childlike scribbles came during the American Abstract Expressionist movement that had its hey day post World War II and expressed raw emotion through the exploration of art mediums, an avant-garde mode of its time.

Similarly, context is key when endeavouring to understand the paintings of Quddus Mirza at his latest exhibition at the Canvas Gallery in Karachi. Mirza has been a linchpin of multiple facets of the contemporary Pakistani art circuit. He has been an academic for over two decades, a curator for over one, and is presently heading the fine arts department at his alma mater, the National College of Arts. He has participated in numerous art exhibitions, residencies and lectures worldwide, while also showcasing his work in international collections. Alongside, he is also a published writer and editor.

Quddus Mirza delves into the themes of love and death through his fervent brush strokes and vivid colours

Art, in all its forms, courses through Mirza’s daily routines and, therefore, directly affects his practice. His imagery comes from the observations of his day-to-day life, a schedule impacted constantly with artistic visuals. While his work may start with a certain image, the act of making art eventually takes over and dominates the canvas. As Mirza states, “my work comes from the act of art-making” — a process the artist allows to develop on the canvases for up to two years.

In Between The Two
In Between The Two

With a melange of paint, pastel, pencil, print and text, Mirza creates his work on large canvases. This enables him to explore without reticence and, as a result, allow his thoughts to escape into the paintings. He explores form, hues and perspective through free-flowing strokes, creating illusions of depth and form. On closer inspection, shapes representing figures, animals and objects can be noticed, leading the viewer to engage in the narrative of each painting even further.

Through the use of bold colours, Mirza investigates the themes of love and death, both of which profoundly consume the heart and allow little else to enter. Just as they link in life, Mirza links them in his paintings through the repetitive use of reddish tones. Intense crimson hues appear on each canvas, either cool or welcoming, or warm, almost resembling fresh blood, such as in ‘B 4 Blood’. The painting is enveloped with red while, in the background, two rectangles stand representing the World Trade Centre, the twin towers of New York that came under the 9/11 terrorist attack.

A Brief History Of Our Time
A Brief History Of Our Time

With uninhibited prowess, the artist tackles each enormous surface and with each additional mark, attacks the canvas, leaving on it a permanent impression. Even the act of art-making resounds with the themes of the show; just like love and death attack and manipulate a person until they are no longer their former self, so does each stroke by the artist scar the painting, morphing the canvas with each stroke of the brush.

Mirza’s paintings are a collection of strokes that have been created as a result of varying circumstances from both the past and the present, which he has distributed throughout his oeuvre to add to its meaning. With vibrant colours and text, the artist moves the viewer’s unconscious mind.

B 4 Blood
B 4 Blood

A solo exhibition by Quddus Mirza was displayed at the Canvas Gallery in Karachi from January 29 to February 7, 2019

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 3rd, 2019

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