Printmaking, like most art disciplines, has undergone a renaissance. This primeval practice has had a seismic impact on artistic production and has changed art in fundamental ways. Artists could create copies of their work (known as editions), which are regarded as originals in their own right.
Contemporary printmaking continues to flourish in the global art scene since artists are now employing the latest digital approaches, renewing age-old techniques and printing on with lesser conventional materials and tools. Artists today use a myriad of printed formats that seep beyond the singular frame into expansive multipart projects and installations that occupy entire gallery walls. Despite this, the charm in the traditional intimacy of the single sheet or book, that use processes such as etching or drypoint, remains unparalleled, and classic forms of printmaking are unlikely to lose favour with time. A testament to this fact is Imran Ahmed’s solo exhibition 2+2=5, recently held at Karachi’s Koel Gallery.
A graduate of National College of Arts (NCA) Lahore, Ahmad has dedicated most of his practice towards experimenting in this timeless genre, while quintessentially celebrating its purest form. The entire exhibition comprises of multiple series that oscillate between both drypoint and etching.
The artist shares his experiences and observations of his surroundings and presents those as his visual diary. The prints demand a close and intimate engagement from the viewer, simulating the experience of peering through a window into someone’s narratives. This experience is ostensibly recreated in his ‘Nature’ series. The small-scaled circular frames allude to a porthole, inviting viewers for a close inspection of the minute details.
The eerie visuals are devoid of any human activity or presence, which amplify the perception of viewing a dystopian setting. In most of the works, the artist employs basic shapes and conflates those to create a minimal composition that is both familiar and unfamiliar. Ahmad deliberately brings the viewership to a junction where they cannot decipher if they are viewing a distant bygone or an alternate future.
Imran Ahmad’s prints are visual lamentation about his ever-changing surroundings
This illusion of looking back, or looking forward, is reinforced by his largely-monochromatic colour palette. The vast desolation and the sombre effect away from the horizon further suggest that these images are part-imagined and derived from memory.
One cannot avoid interpreting an imbued sense of loss and change that perhaps the artist reminisces about. He astutely utilises the intrinsic nature of printmaking to create imprints that not only capture those sombre and stoic moments but, in doing so, also divulge his attempts to embalm and reproduce — many times — several fleeting transformations before they dissipate from his observations.
Ahmad is an aficionado of mark-making, and the enthused artist showcases its various forms, which he spontaneously creates. He spears and incises the metal plate that, when transferred on paper, creates a visual cacophony of lines and dots. The chaos of scribbles along with residual signs of wiping, erasing, spilling and staining could portray both the artist’s introspection on his state of mind or his observation of our dishevelled environs. The artist wants his viewers to seek semblance out of this disorder.
However, not all his works are unpremeditated, monochromatic and abstract. Upon sauntering across the gallery space, the audience shall notice a gradual shift in the artist’s approach towards his works. He departs from the abstract to create representational illustrations. The abundance of haphazard scratched lines fade away, and the compositions become seemingly calculated. Ahmad not only introduces a range of colours but also integrates various commentaries pertinent to our socio-political climate.
It is more obvious in his ‘Ullat Pullat’ series. For instance, one of the works from this series depicts an upside-down Pakistani flag that precariously suspends from the top edge of the frame. The flag is balanced compositionally with a U-turn road sign anchored at the bottom of the page. The self-explanatory image explicitly imparts Ahmad’s concerns regarding the current political culture. He also posits images of mountains, solitary trees, electricity pylons and a dense cluster of buildings against despondent backgrounds. In doing so, he holds viewers accountable for the transmutations in his surroundings that he has witnessed and rues. Human occupation and its intervention in nature have had detrimental effects globally, that can be seen in the ongoing topographical transformations around us.
While Ahmad demonstrates his affinity towards a primordial language and a fluid spontaneity in some works, in others he abandons those to incorporate aesthetic elements such as the repetition of motifs, colour blocking and symmetrical balance. Despite the variegation in the body of work, the exhibition is not only a declaration of the artist’s love for printmaking, but also an attestation of the unabated vitality sustained in current printmaking practices.
“2+2=5” was displayed at Koel Gallery in Karachi from December 1 to December 16, 2020
Published in Dawn, EOS, December 20th, 2020