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Alchemy opens at Canvas

June 11, 2012

Queen of Diamonds (Oil on canvas with silver leaf).–Photo by Dawn

Karachi: It has nothing to do with a shepherd’s dream of finding hidden treasure (as it happens in a Paulo Coelho’s novel), nor does it have anything to do with the art or science of turning ordinary metals into gold.

The word ‘Alchemy’, the title of an exhibition of the latest work by Faiza Sheikh that opened at the Canvas Gallery, implies the journey of love.

The paintings that she has put up have two distinct features: (1) colours and figures (2) text, in different languages, including English, Bengali and Persian, in the middle of each artwork. This is a two-edged sword.

While it elucidates the subject for the viewer, it can also have a distracting effect, which may not be a downside. Perhaps the artist wants her exhibits to be seen like that.

The first piece is called ‘A Lover’s Complaint’ (oil on canvas with gold leaf) and is a fine work of art. It does not set the tone for the display but tells you about what Ms Sheikh is capable of.

The frenzy (a trait that all artists should cultivate if they don’t inherit it) with which the piece has been made is evident from the layered strokes.

The text that accompanies does not add anything extra to it, for the painting in itself is self-sufficient.

The artist continues to explore the theme with pieces like ‘Power’, ‘Love’ (oil on canvas with gold leaf) and ‘Delusion’ (oil on canvas with silver leaf). Of them, the last one depicting the grayness (read: gray areas) in life stands out.

From then on the exhibition takes a new turn with reflections on existence in general and art in particular.

Shall I Compare Thee To (oil on canvas with gold leaf).

‘Queen of Diamonds’ (oil on canvas with silver leaf) has a Picasso quote “Art is never chaste. Art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art...” The viewer immediately gets a sense of what Ms Sheikh is attempting to achieve. She is trying to push the envelope.

This is why when she makes ‘Contentment’ (oil on canvas with gold leaf) it is more of a misty picture of things and not a clear one as the word contentment would suggest.

The absence of facial features of her subjects is another sign of the constant struggle that existence can be.

It’s not that Alchemy only has an exploratory outlook all the way; Shakespeare’s famous sonnet ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’ (oil on canvas with gold leaf) has a mirthful touch it, despite the black flowers that in a certain context can also be looked at as a metaphor for Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.

The exhibition will continue till June 15.