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ARTFIEND: Balancing Streaks And Strokes

October 31, 2008


The magnificent private art gallery at the residence of renowned painter, sculptor and art teacher, Arbab Mohammad Sardar, located at Landi Arbab, a populous village 2km west of Peshawar, strikes every visitor with wonder. More than 400 marvellous art pieces — sketched, drawn, painted, relieved and sculptured — in various mediums and colours give one the idea of entering a dreamland.
The nostalgia of the artist is drenched in the 'bazarscapes', murals and portraits of people and places, relief of historic monuments and traditions of the ancient city of Peshawar and the Pashtuns.
Starting with pencil sketching as most often happens with beginners, Sardar, 63, developed a taste for visual art at the tender age of 10.
He has held seven solo and 15 group exhibitions in Pakistan and abroad. Recipient of the coveted President's Award of Pride of Performance, this down to earth artist says he has never been involved in commercial artwork. “Going commercial is not necessarily a bad idea but sometimes it robs one's art of its true spirit.”
He has received heaps of appreciation from art lovers at his exhibitions in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Italy, China, UK, Germany and Japan. His subjects and themes mostly portray village life, landscapes, bazarscapes, different aspects of typical Pashtun culture and traditions giving a kaleidoscopic impression of life in general across the Frontier province.
“My interest is varied and so are my subjects; one can see traditional as well as a contemporary touch in my paintings as I have not limited myself to any particular school of thought,” he explains.
Laden with strong cultural motifs, like the famous Khattak dance showing a perfect rhythmical composition, or marvellous landscapes of the heart-breaking valleys, Sardar's canvases reflect his inclination towards portraying an impression of a peaceful environment that needs to be felt and experienced.
Behind his dynamic creativity one can easily see his plucky experimentations rooted in his desire to document eye-catching subjects. Sardar's newly adopted knife paintings with deep and dabbed strokes are expressive of his mental involvement with mature motifs.
Though material consuming, knife palette has more potential of catching even a causal wink of an alien visitor. Like a window shopper, a viewer catches up with the overgrown colours, which tempt him to caress and absorb its indigenous beauty.
Sardar strikes a balance between streaks and strokes that symbolises his humble nature. “In the beginning I worked with light colours but later switched to more vibrant hues. However, keeping a balance has always been essential for me,” he informs.
Moving on to sculpture, Sardar tells that he has not made any human figures in the last 20 years as some conservative viewers baffled his mind asking him not to do it for being un-Islamic, which he admits, having not done anyway, was just a waste of his talent. In future, he hopes to work more on human figures, for they are more suggestive of human imperfection and inability to reconcile with rapidly changing environment.
His recent series on fauna and flora of the Frontier is a ray of hope for his rejuvenated art journey. Done in cool colours, it is meant to support his efforts of reviving peace in the region.
Again knife palette is used to depict the blossomy effect but here one is surprised to see red among pale hues which Sardar explains, “Artists sometimes focus on certain motifs by juxtaposing or contrasting processes to intensify and enhance the desired impact; this is the rationale behind using the red colour.”
Sardar has studied decorative art and techniques of modelling and mouldings in stones and marble from Italy. His exquisite murals depicting contours of a typical Pashtun tribesman reinforce his nostalgic paranoia of eroding golden traditions that he reckons, if preserved, can help maintain peace and harmony in society. 
Behind Sardar's dynamic creativity one can easily see his plucky experimentations rooted in his desire to document eye-catching subjects