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Art work: Reinventing the past

June 03, 2012

The last time Jamil Naqsh exhibited his work in Lahore, it was more than a decade ago, in the year 1996. So not surprisingly, a considerable amount of excitement was generated amongst art lovers at the prospect of seeing the legendary artist’s new work being displayed in the city after such a long time.

Indeed, Naqsh is amongst those Pakistani artists whose art and persona have a unique mystique that engages a large fan following. He currently resides in London, with his life companion and fellow artist Najmi Sura, who is known to be his muse, and also a kind of buffer between him and the outside world, since he himself is known to be something of a recluse.

An exhibition of the fresh works of Naqsh, titled, ‘The bird of time’, was recently organised by The Tanzara Gallery in Islamabad in collaboration with Momart in Karachi. This same collection was then brought to Lahore through the initiative of Noshi Qadir, director of Tanzara Gallery, and the work was showcased for only two days at ‘The Dome’, a spacious hall in the Royal Palm, Golf and Country Club in Lahore.

A total of 23 oil paintings and 10 drawings were unveiled to an eager audience who appeared to be quite mesmerised by the beauty and finesse of the artist’s creations. Naqsh may have adhered to his favourite theme of pigeons and the female form for the past many decades now, but his ability to create and recreate these in new compositions, is remarkable. Whatever the justification for his artistic formula with its variations, it works well for him and his admirers, and this may be gauged from the fact that most of the work had been sold by the time of the opening in Lahore.

While the small and intriguing graphite drawings by Naqsh elicited an engaging depiction of the female form in the manner of cubist artists, his attractive oil paintings carried a very poised and cerebral version of nostalgia. This latter element was evoked by the image of old newspaper cuttings that were painted by the artist not only as a backdrop, but as a means for design, symbolism and narrative, wherein of course, his signature pigeons and women continued to hold centre stage.

The artist’s early training with miniature artist Ustad Haji Sharif Ahmed continued to be visible in the perfect brush work that created the imagery, which was an amalgam of both abstraction and realism. The paint was applied thinly, unlike in his earlier work, which was more heavily textured, but volume and depth were nonetheless created by masterly rendering and draughtsmanship.

The colour palette was, as always, safe and sophisticated, revolving around earthy hues, shades of grey and creamy whites; though attractive shades of orange, pink, blue or green were also added. As for the theme and message, references to his early life, could be selectively deciphered through the text. For example, Basit, the name of his father, as well as the clear image of the old gentleman formed an important part of a couple of the paintings.

In other ‘news items’ the names of Picasso and Marino, the two artists who are known to have influenced his style of painting were also discernable. Incidentally, the fact that as a young artist, short of paper and other materials, he often used old newspapers to draw, was a part of the nostalgic symbolism of his present work.

Naqsh may have imprisoned himself in a time warp of old memories and ideas, but his consummate artistic skill continues to help him reinvent his expression on his canvases in a manner that is irresistible to his innumerable admirers.