Lines, colours, textures and shapes have an intrinsic language of their own. Whether or not these basic elements of art and design are brought together to form an image that alludes to recognisable ‘reality’, they have the power to express an emotion or idea and elicit a response from the viewer. Thus, while some artists choose to express themselves through imagery that can be easily understood because of its reference to familiar objects or symbols, others choose to spill out their inner selves through the elements mentioned earlier. It is to this latter category that artists Shireen Ikram and Arif Hussain belong, as was evident while viewing their recent works at Lahore’s Rohtas Gallery.

Ikram, in her statement, has quoted Henry Ward Beecher, who says that, “Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures”. Indeed, her own creative endeavours are ‘inner landscapes’ that express her moods and her responses to her environment. She takes recourse to an amalgam of mediums, fusing and blending colours and textures in what can be called a controlled version of expressionism. Both thickly textured paint and water colour effects in addition to crayon and pencil marks are rendered on canvas as well as on paper, and the viewer is beckoned by the appeal of strong and vivid colour contrasts. The primary shades, red , blue and yellow in addition to black and white, is the favoured palette and whatever combination or secondary hues may ensue in the process are deftly incorporated into the bold and attractive combination.

Though Ikram sports a mostly fiery combination of colours, with red being invariably dominant, there is an unmistakably feminine aura to the compositions. The delicate tendril like structures and the shapes which remind one of rose petals or other organic forms permeate the surface subtly and lend a controlled character to the otherwise abstact expressionist style of the artist.

As for Hussain, his intricate scribbles on paper make him a kind of pen and pencil follower of Jackson Pollock, the acclaimed Abstract Expressionist, who was known for his spontaneous and energetic paint drippings on large canvases. Of course, Hussain’s emotive doodles are on medium-sized paper and in monochrome, but the impulse to set loose ones emotions through unfettered, repetitive mark making that is mostly free of recognisable imagery reminds one of the quintessential abstract expressionist mindset. The subtle variations in the mostly black palette that is brought about by inclusion of white and grey lends depth to the fine scribbles that permeate the entire surface of the paper. Hussain combines pastel, crayon, chalk and graphite in most works and has also made a couple of drawings using only charcoal. These abstract yet intricate works evoke deep, solitary musings, as if the artist had conveyed a sense of isolation from his environment, creating a cool, dark world of his own.

Thus, both Ikram and Hussain have created and shared their own ‘mind maps’, and, ‘landscapes of the soul’. They allow the viewer to step into their inner world, which is both fascinating and intriguing. The contrasting, even radically opposite, colour palette of the artists in this two person show added further appeal to the visual experience.