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WARART: An Artist With Wings

September 05, 2008


Hussaini's paintings portray 'midst-of-action' detail, creating accurate images of the events.  He is continuously working on preserving significant occasions on his canvas through strokes of his  brush, writes Haris Masood Zuberi
Group Captain (retired) Syed Masood Akhtar Hussaini, popularly known as 'Hussaini', is Pakistan's pioneer military and aviation artist. Being an aviation soldier by profession and an artist by nature, Hussaini has never received any formal art training. Yet over the years his talent has become a skill, almost polished to perfection.
Hussaini passed-out of Pakistan Air Force Academy, Risalpur as a pilot in 1971 along with Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas Shaheed, Nishan-i-Haider and PAF Air Chief Marshal (retired) Kaleem Saadat among others. It was only after his transfer from flying service to radar operations that he got adequate time to pursue his artistic ambitions. However, feeling lack of direction and support as a young artistic officer, he got in touch with the Art Director of the United States Air Force (USAF), Keith Ferris, for guidance who agreed to mentor him. Ferris is also the founder of the American Society of Aviation Artists (ASAA), and is credited with one of the world's largest aviation murals measuring 75ftx25ft which depicts B-17 'Fortress' bombers attacking Germany during WWII.
In 1980 while Hussaini was deputed to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF), Ferris was invited by the Saudi government to establish an aviation museum where they met for the first time. Hussaini holds that as a defining moment for his art career saying, “It was highly encouraging to be appreciated and guided by the famous aviation artist himself.”
Upon learning of his talent, the RSAF gave him a studio to work in and he later presented one of his paintings to Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. Hussaini's fame as an artistic chronicler of aviation and air war history preceded him and when he returned to Pakistan, the then air chief marshal, Anwar Shamim officially asked him to portray the glorious PAF history through his brush and was given a studio at PAF Base Chaklala.
He recalls “I first arrived at this studio in 1983 and retired from PAF after 30 years of active service in 2000. Since then I've been re-employed as the PAF's official artist”. Initially he says many people didn't quite understand what he was doing, especially when he'd barge into fighter squadrons asking officers to show him their aircrafts and take him up for a ride, in order to get a true perspective and to visualise the scenes.
For the huge task of documenting the history of PAF, Hussaini chose oil paints and says, “Oil has always been my prime medium; it's easier to make corrections and it allows much more room for creativity and experimentation, while watercolour is quite unforgiving”.
He started off with painting events from pre-partition days moving steadily on to the post-partition, pioneering era. Next came several milestones in PAF history including occasions such as the arrival of the jet age, key aircraft inductions, historic aerobatics and above all, the crucial wars of 1965 and 1971. Then followed the PAF's role in foreign Air Forces, particularly Jordan and Syria, the arrival of the F-16 era, the Soviet-Afghan war and more recently, the historical induction of the Pak-China jointly produced fighter JF-17 'Thunder'. Hussaini is continuously working on preserving significant occasions on his canvas through strokes of his brush. 
Hussaini is a member of the Artists' Association of Punjab and is a recipient of the Tamgha-i-Basalat and President's Pride of Performance Award. In 1987 Ferris offered him membership of the ASAA and since then he visits the US every year to deliver lectures at aviation art events and exhibitions. His painting on the debut fly-past of the JF-17 'Thunder' on the 23 March 2007 parade in Islamabad was selected for display at the International Aerospace Art Exhibit organised by the ASAA at the Boeing Museum of Flight in Seattle from June to September this year.
When contacted by this writer Ferris spoke highly of Hussaini's talent and devotion to aviation art and said, “It has been a pleasure to watch his progress as an artist and the expansion of his body of work over the years. The ASAA is proud to count him as a life member.”
Hussaini now has over 200 paintings illustrating almost all aspects of PAF to his credit. Four books depicting PAF history through his paintings have been published and there are 10 commemorative postage stamps as well. The most recent book, PAF over the years was launched in August 2007 marking the 60th anniversary of PAF and was highly appreciated by art and aviation enthusiasts.
Another comprehensive book Great air battles of Pakistan Air Force written by Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail, also a veteran fighter pilot, contains some of Hussaini's most significant works which are accompanied by marvellous accounts of actual air battle scenarios. The writer's eloquent narration and Hussaini's spectacular paintings create an enchanting combination for the reader.
Hussaini is also recognised for his accomplished pencil sketches and has sketched apart from aircraft and other air force subjects, portraits of some of Pakistan's greatest war heroes including Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas, Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Rafiqui, Flight Lieutenant Yunus Hussain, and Wing Commander Mervyn Middlecoat.
Today Hussaini's paintings hang at some of Pakistan's as well as a number of countries' most important military and government establishments. Late King Hussein of Jordan was quite fond of his paintings and two of his works hang in the royal place. The British RAF has his painting on the 'Blue Diamonds' aerobatics team while Turkey was presented one depicting Captain Fazil Bey shooting down British DH-9s during WWI. Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, United States of America and Zimbabwe have also been presented his works.   
Hussaini believes that it is most important for his paintings to impress and appeal. Next he admits is historical and factual accuracy. From authentic unfolding of events down to geographical features of the landscape and very importantly aircraft insignia and numbers, all require extensive research and knowledge.
His paintings portray 'midst-of-action' detail creating accurate images of the events. For example, when Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Rafiqui discovered that his guns had jammed during a crucial dogfight, or when Squadron Leader Sajjad Haider lead the daring raid on Pathankot devastating the enemy or when Squadron Leader M. M. Alam became an ace bagging multiple kills. Hussaini's full-colour, visual realities are vivid portrayals of these legendry events.
Combining a sense of action, high speed, beautiful landscape, colourful skies and backgrounds, portraying the fascinating beauty as well as ferocious wrath of a fighter plane and extracting a final version depicting a historically, artistically and visually accurate and appealing painting, is indeed highly pleasing and heart-warming. May Hussaini's brushes roll for years to come, serving Pakistan's aviation and military history! 
On the cover Starfighters arrive
1) 50 years of PAF; 2) MM Alam's F-86 & CAS Humber; 3) Falcons make history; 4) Rashid Minhas 5) Pathankot raid, Sept. 1965;  6) F-16 vs SU-25;
7) Interdiction strike, 1971;
8) Austers patrol over refugee train, 1947