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Veteran artist Jamil Naqsh dies

May 17, 2019

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Jamil Naqsh pictured at an art gallery.
Jamil Naqsh pictured at an art gallery.

KARACHI: Distin­gui­shed Pakistani artist Jamil Naqsh passed away in Lon­don on Thursday. He was 80.

He was admitted to a hospital in London on May 7 after contracting pneumonia. He leaves behind his wife, two daughters and a son.

Naqsh was born in the city of Kairana in undivided India in 1939. After independence, his family came to Pakistan.

In the early 1950s he joined the Mayo School of Industrial Arts (which was later named National School of Arts) in Lahore but left it citing the reason that he wanted to experience the world and art first-hand. He did, however, get trained as a miniaturist under Ustad Haji Sharif.

Naqsh lived in Karachi before shifting to the UK a decade ago. The place where he lived earlier on had a rooftop that would often be visited by pigeons, which subsequently became a regular feature of his paintings, along with women.

Naqsh shot to fame in the mid-1960s when he would display his works in group exhibitions at the Arts Council. One such show where his paintings were appreciated opened on Jan 28, 1966 in which artists such as Anwar Maqsood, Mansoor Rahi and Hajra Zuberi also participated.

Next year, he put on display his works at the same venue with the likes of Ali Imam and Bashir Mirza, and again at the Pak-American Cultural Centre (PACC) in 1968. Soon he became part of that extraordinary group of artists (Sadequain, Bashir Mirza, Ahmed Pervez, Shahid Sajjad, etc) who gave Pakistani art its distinct identity.

In 2003, a retrospective of Naqsh’s works at the Mohatta Palace Museum garnered a great deal of attention of art lovers and critics. His paintings had a fan base in London too where he exhibited them after moving to the UK for good.

Naqsh’s art is marked by a unique aesthetic touch where colours, lines and figures speak in harmony. This is the reason that the pigeons that he creates on canvas do not appear to be a species belonging to a different habitat but sinuously merge into the landscape that is populated by human beings.

His ability to invoke the sensual side to the female form with aesthetic grace is also something that not many artists succeed in achieving. The sullen eyes of the women that he paints often eclipse other attributes that the artist highlights in the same frame, because it is only in the unconditional meeting of the sensual and the physical that Naqsh’s art is at its effective best.

Naqsh’s death saddened the artist community.

Talking to Dawn, poet Iftikhar Arif said, “Naqsh represented a generation of painters who remained in close contact with poets and writers (Sadequain and Shakir Ali, for example). He was in touch with Nasim Durrani who published the literary magazine Seep. He also made cover pages for some poets’ collections, such as the cover page for Obaidullah Aleem’s book Chand Chehra Sitara Ankhein. And yes, he made pigeons popular in art.”

Artist Shakira Masood said, “He was a great artist, a master craftsman. He was an independent soul. He never met people, never went out. It’s a great loss.”

Sameera Raja who runs the Canvas Gallery said, “He was a master artist. We are all sad that he’s gone. He was one individual who was self taught, committed to do what he was doing. It’s a huge loss for the Pakistani art community.”

Social media on Thursday was also inundated with messages remembering the late painter. Sculptor Abdul Jabbar Gull wrote, “The legend Jamil Naqsh passes away. It’s really sad, sad news.”

Fashion designer Sonya Battla wrote, “Saddened to hear of the passing of legendary artist Jamil Naqsh. Artist par excellence.”

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2019