A Typical Replica Painting by Imran Qureshi
A Typical Replica Painting by Imran Qureshi

Hardly two weeks following the sad news of Jamil Naqsh’s demise came a rather joyous revelation: an art gallery in a Parisian suburb was holding a solo exhibition devoted to a Pakistani painter.

Gallerie Thaddaeus Ropac is situated in Pantin, half-an-hour’s drive away from the centre of Paris. A vast, modern building containing a number of high-ceilinged exhibition halls, it is an ideal choice if one is addicted to painting extra-large canvases — which appears to be the case with Imran Qureshi.

Founded in 1981 by an Austrian millionaire and art lover of the same name, three more Thaddaeus Ropac galleries exist: one in the Marais neighbourhood of Paris and two in the cities of Salzburg and London. They have earned a solid reputation during the past four decades of promoting contemporary art and launching the careers of more than 60 young, promising international painters.

Imran Qureshi impresses art lovers and critics with his gigantic canvases at the Gallerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris

But first a word about our own artist. Born in 1972 in Hyderabad, Imran Qureshi currently lives in Lahore, where he teaches miniature painting at the National College of Arts. According to the information provided by Gallerie Thaddaeus Ropac, he has already shown his work at New York’s Metropolitan Museum and has participated in a number of art exhibitions in many European cities such as Rome, Berlin, Paris, New Delhi and Colombo. Most of the paintings are gigantic works, frequently using a number of canvases spread wide over the entire wall, rising high. Qureshi unhesitatingly uses splashes, or rather explosions of red, yellow and often bronze paints to create what he calls “a seemingly endless path of memory”.

To take only one example, a painting titled ‘The True Path’ is 10 metres wide, showing a landscape of trees, leaves, rocks and dragonflies, but also flying rockets. While you watch these colourful detonations around you on the walls, your imagination inevitably takes you to Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange, and later its movie version by Stanley Kubrick, describing a future world full of bloodshed.  

A number of these blasts are reproduced, apparently while the compositions were not quite dry, by imprinting them on other blank canvases, then by sticking the two sides together to create repeated images heading in opposite directions. These blood-red explosions often end in tiny dots of different hues — green, blue or violet, identified by the artist as “flowers of hope.”

Monologue — Self-Portrait
Monologue — Self-Portrait

He explains: “I started using red to show blood when there were a lot of bomb blasts in many countries around the world. Consequently, violence gradually took the form of what can be described as the prevailing theme in my works. The colourful flowers that shoot up from within the chaos represent the fact that despite this [violence], people are sustaining hope for a more peaceful future.”

Very philosophical indeed, especially given the fact, that according to the painter, his inspirations mainly come from the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz!

Story of Two
Story of Two

This left-right technique is also a regular characteristic in a number of self-portraits. There are photographic profiles of the painter, set against red or orange backgrounds and often with a bronze metallic layer covering them, but torn in shreds in the middle to create a hole from which the artist is seen peeping out and staring at himself in the replica portrait hanging next to it, and vice versa. One can even see a large photograph of the painter looking up at a violent explosion of blood on a wall.

The miniatures are more simplistic, though often repetitive. They are mostly trees in different forms and colours, even uprooted ones lying horizontally and apparently representing some sort of dismay. In the same vein, the painter has used pages of old books with Persian or Urdu manuscripts on them, all covered with blood blasts. Then there are human figures resembling the painter himself, doing things or simply staring into the sky.

This Clockwork Orange technique (aversion therapy) is impressive in its own way.

“The Seemingly Endless Path of Memory” is being displayed at the Gallerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Pantin from May 19 to July 27, 2019

The writer is an art critic based in Paris. ZafMasud@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 16th, 2019

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