EXHIBITION: FILL IN THE BLANKS

Published April 11, 2021
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Initially coined by Time Magazine, ‘Op-Art’ is a distinct style of art that creates an illusion of movement or flashing colours. It emerged during the 1960s and has since become a well-established genre within the canon of art history and contemporary art.

Artists employ geometric patterns and shapes along with either vibrant colours or a limited black-and-white palette to create visual tension in the viewer’s mind. Arguably, Op-Art would not have been born without the prior Abstract and Expressionist movements, as they promoted the idea of de-emphasising or eliminating any representational subject matter.

While an endless list of artists from the West has made and continue making works that can be considered as Op-Art, very few Pakistani artists venture into this particular form of abstract art. One of the names that instantly surfaces, however, is of the minimalist artist Mohammad Ali Talpur.

For most of his practice, Talpur has dismissed concerns for narratives and, instead, chosen to emphasise the more formalist aspects of painting. He exercises a form of meditative abstraction, in which he strips context from his visuals to focus on lines, shapes and colours. These fundamental components, and their assertive nature in the act of making art, become his subject.

His recent solo exhibition This — Appearance (a wordplay on ‘disappearance’) held at the Canvas Gallery marks an evident departure from his largely monochromatic practice. The exhibition comprises multiple series of works by the artist that, true to his longstanding areas of interest, spotlight the elemental vocabulary of art.

Talpur has also introduced watercolours into his practice, after having primarily used acrylics and oils before. The artist is fascinated by the agency this medium embodies. Unlike other mediums, watercolours tend to act upon their whim once they make contact with paper — the extent and direction of diffusion and opacity are unreliable and not easy for the artist to control. The artists become mere observers to the arbitrary trajectory the medium makes in response.

Mohammad Ali Talpur comes up with multiple series of works true to his longstanding areas of interest, which spotlight the elemental vocabulary of art

The artist applies and labels various combinations of hues on paper to present a swatch board. Upon closer inspection of this quasi-exercise in colour relativity (where colours transform under the influence of their surroundings), a conversation between the artist and the medium becomes apparent. The two forces lock horns to navigate how the colours and fluid strokes manifest on paper. In other artworks, the artist’s choice of colours seems deliberate, as they manipulate the flat surface to create a corrugated/ridged pattern.

In two large-scale works, Talpur has stuck to his familiar monochromatic palette and marked precise, sharp, black lines against a white backdrop to create an intricate geometric pattern. The otherwise static and unchanging colours engineer seemingly kinetic visuals that reverberate with energy and repetitive rhythm.

The viewer reads the image as alive and moving, where the fabricated shades of grey are constantly fluctuating. The artist remarkably orchestrates a field of varying optical frequencies and visual energy, that tricks the viewers into seeing an unimpeded augmentation of tension that mounts to the point of possibly fracturing the canvas into fragments. The dizzying works invite viewers to traverse into their expansive, pulsating realm.

Talpur has also presented another series of paintings, in which he has appropriated historically iconic photographs that bear narratives of human tragedies, violence, defiance and groundbreaking achievements. Some of the images include ‘The Death Of Aylan Kurdi’, ‘The Horse In Motion’ and the ‘Tank Man’. Talpur, however, erases any human presence in these photographs to present a purely pictorial aspect. He pursues his interest in the facets of a photographic image and stresses on colours, shapes and gestural mark-making to illustrate the turning points in history.

While many may not recognise the images, those who find them familiar will subconsciously complete the vestiges left in the images and, in doing so, contribute towards the work, by self-generating context and the consequent emotional response.

Through these paintings, the artist exemplifies how, by just retaining pictorial and formal elements of visuals, one can succeed in evoking a visceral response from the audience.

The deception in Talpur’s works not only challenges our perception, but also consequently makes us realise how vulnerable and malleable our understanding of visual signifiers is. Through his adept use of colour, mark-making, precision and repetition, he creates lateral works of duplicity and abstraction.

He probes the established or prescribed forms in the stages of art-making but, despite his intention to exclude any form of ideas and narratives, Talpur inevitably underscores how the images still retain potency in expressing a multitude of ideas.

“This — Appearance” was displayed at the Canvas Gallery in Karachi from March 24 to April 02, 2021

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 11th, 2021

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