Foreword Triptych of friends
This is an exhibition of comrades bonded by art: Bashir Ahmad, Chitra Pritam and Saeed Kureshi, who have had a long relationship as brothers and friends – the common denominator, however, has been painting and drawing. Amongst the trio, there has been frequent interaction and collaboration primarily pertaining to art and its activities. The current exhibition 'Triptych of friends', has always been a desire of this painters' troika to fortify their solidarity and acknowledge their singularity of thought as close associates.
Bashir Ahmad, the living legend of miniature painting, has served the cause of traditional art across the world. His unmatched wisdom and experience in this exotic field of work has been acknowledged extending from the far east to the deep west. His recent workshop in Hong Kong in collaboration with one of his illustrious students, Shazia Sikander, stands testament to his sagacious acumen in the practice of traditional art. He has also delivered lectures and held workshops in various museums and institutes in Los Angeles, Oklahoma, Arkansas among others in the USA. In the wake of his unrelenting services to the pedagogic discipline in traditional art countless exhibitions in-country and abroad, Bashir is now an authority on traditional arts and a master miniature painter.
Having gone through a process spread over decades, Saeed has experienced professional art academics to tutelage under some of the most cherished artists. Based on his extensive pen-and-ink sketches on locations and more than a decade's experience in professional illustration for the print media, he has developed an insight for spontaneous visualization. His paintings reflect these characteristics through the line structure and the paints that build the body of the composition. The fragile female forms maintain their significance in the array of strong colors and bold intersecting lines which never overpower the sensitivity of the vulnerable form itself. One finds the resilient crystalline structures encasing almost a very delicate form that glows amidst gushing shards of translucent glass! Saeed has participated in group shows at Karachi and Islamabad. His paintings are held in private collections and are also displayed in various naval establishments.
It is not why one looks at an object; it is how the object is seen. Different people observe differently and define what they see in their own language, but the language that Chitra Pritam speaks to express his response, is unique. Pritam's aesthetic lingo, a fabric delightfully woven with sensitive tints and hues, has the ability to gently reveal nature's beauty that surrounds us. What he infers from what he beholds, is equivalent to a pleasurable trip to the land of panchromatic fantasy. When he translates this fantasy into pigments, the outcome is a visual chronicle that bears extraordinary definition and magnetism. Pritam is a seasoned artist who has developed a natural interface with the canvas through the acrylic medium, which transforms his vision into amazing compositions that transcend the outer limits of creativity. His painting series of Buddha and those of Seascapes have become his hallmark and are ranked high in contemporary art, both in-country and abroad.
Farishtay Saeed Kureshi
Comrades on Artpath
Painters and their work
Ustaad Bashir Ahmad
It was at the National College of Arts, Lahore, that Haji Muhammad Sharif, once a miniature painter at the court of Maharaja of Patiala, gave a firm foundation to the teaching of the fading art of miniature painting. His successor was Sheikh Shujaullah who continued the miniature tradition, who at his death, left behind his devoted pupil Bashir Ahmad to carry the esteemed legacy forward. Today Ahmed is the most prized representative of the art of miniature across the globe with numerous acclamations by elite international art authorities.
According to Ahmed, "Miniature painting, as we know it today, provides an artistic variety that hails from the early civilization to the present day, and has evolved over the years to become a combination of several cultures and traditions," he further elaborates, "The genre of Miniature Painting took a major turn during the mid-sixteenth century when the regal Mughals urged their court painters to shift their imaginative acumen into high gear, and resort to a more baroque illustration. This may have been because of the trending global art which was moving towards fantasy and realism. The necessary change of expression gave Miniature Painting its much needed rejuvenation which resulted in revolutionary concepts (as we have seen in the contemporary works of one of my illustrious students Shazia Sikander), improved compositions, better modelling and a subtle addition of perspective."
With nearly four decades of extensive painting behind him, Ahmed has discovered countless variations of miniature painting by pushing the discipline's customary boundaries. However, he always remained within the traditional spirit of miniature painting and its essential rituals, which he perpetually kept passing on to his students during his tenure at the National College of Arts, Lahore. Notwithstanding the strict discipline that Ahmed maintained during college tutorials, he ensured that the students also understand the significance of emancipation, innovation and improvisation in the field of miniature painting.
The current exhibition of Ahmed, comprising of four distinct genres – Miniature Painting, Acrylic Painting, Graphite Drawing and Landscape Painting is a culmination of many years of persistent work. Struggling through the trying vicissitudes of life, weathering occasional acrimony and criticism, Ahmed continued to move ahead unflinchingly, shouldering the responsibility entrusted to him by Haji Muhammad Sharif and Sheikh Shujaullah.
It is noteworthy that the miniature paintings of Ahmed reflect the exact characteristics of the work that was produced by the elite court painters of the Moghul emperors. The precise recipes of the conch and sea- foam burnished wasli (multi-layered paper), the naturally occurring pigments and squirrel hair brushes, are some of the tools responsible for these remarkable works. These works depict court traditions, portraits of the royals, gardens, hunters, architectural motifs and flora and fauna. The knowhow of the said paraphernalia has been passed down the generations, without intrusion or modification, in its original nomenclature, characteristic and application. Ahmed, being a diehard student of miniature painting, was an ardent learner – to top this up – Allah bestowed him with an elephant's memory. He keenly imbibed every information, no matter how miniscule, from his worthy teachers, library and museum archives and learnt techniques ranging from lithography to latex molding. Being a walking encyclopedia of art techniques, even today, artists and students revert to him for advice.
During the 80's, while working with various textural experiments on canvas, Ahmed discovered that acrylic paints have a certain glazing quality which with their quick drying ability, facilitated the layering process. Exploding the format of Akbarnama, for instance, with traditional characters and elements, utilizing tantalizing hues and 'macro' pardakht strokes, gave the canvases a blazing impact. Thereafter, students and artists started to explore further possibilities, and soon enough, it became a fervent trend across the world of traditional art.
Drawing is where it all begins, and Ahmed never missed a day when it came to flexing his imagination through graphite. The level of maturity and finesse is evident from the drawings which Ahmed has produced over many years. The meticulous rendering in a medium that is so fragile, and to build it up in layers to achieve the delicate tones, is an arduous task. However, backed by the undeterred passion, Ahmed has lived up to the undertaking he gave to his guru, Sheikh Shujaullah, and has taken the legacy forward.
More recently, while travelling across country, Ahmed was inspired by the unblemished and natural landscapes of the hinterland, particularly the outbacks and rural habitats. He chose to document these in mixed media, in a manner that would bring out the intrinsic soul of the view. An offshoot of the acrylic technique, Ahmed has selectively simplified the landscapes by utilizing only the essential elements. The major ingredients of these landscapes remain to be the composition and color. Granting a certain rhythm to the occurrence of colored clusters creating a harmony, stands testament to Ahmed's seasoned visual judgment.
One of the most crucial tasks that Ahmed undertook owing to his unstoppable perseverance to promote traditional arts, was to lay down a curriculum of Miniature Painting for the Bachelor's Degree Program at the National College of Arts, Lahore. At the time of implementation of this program, this was the first such curriculum to be adopted anywhere in the world. Examples from the syllabus are illustrations of the assignments, how to make wasli and squirrel hair brushes and how to draw and paint a miniature. Having started from scratch, through this easy-to-comprehend syllabus, today the paintings of graduates demonstrate rich genres that brim with diverse subjects and styles which have been acclaimed worldwide. All proceeds of Ustad Bashir Ahmad's paintings will be donated to the Begum and Barkat Ali Malik Trust for the promotion and sustenance of Traditional, Cultural and Regional Art.
Obsessed with the discovery of unexplored areas of the hugely diverse visual terrain, Saeed Kureshi perpetrates deliberate deconstruction of line and form. It all begins with random, but pre-reckoned, linear strokes to form a dynamic skeleton of the intended subject or composition. This structure is then gradually built up with multiple layers of arbitrary colors, with the lower layers trickling through causing an optical interplay and visual excitement. The reconstruction of the dismantled line and the shredded form eventually culminates into a combination of fragments. The resulting assemblage of fragments, as one watches, continues to transform into different metaphors and allegories.
Composing canvases into interesting spaces with colors that set the segments of the painting into motion is what the artist intends to achieve. The choreography of pigments, directed by the layered strokes of the brush, narrates the tacit story of sparkling desires that dwell in every soul. Viewers, I believe, would feel the same vibrant movement of life within their soul when they see these paintings as the artist does. His paintings speak volumes of his understanding of the application of color in its purest form to maintain luminosity, strength and subtle variations. Even though applied in layers the marvel of it all is that no hue is compromised and is seen through the overlapping strokes as rich and original. Most of the subjects reflect the rumored legends of the Rohtas Fort in the fantasized format of a wandering forlorn spirits, be it a lone wistful woman or an affluent denizen in a burgundy blouse. Spinsters seem to sync with their flaming aura, appropriately set against the majesty of the Rohtas - or a resplendent damsel in green echoing graceful dignity of her class, embalmed in the throes of that golden era. The effortless rendition of the artists strokes so exemplifies his dexterity in his use of the brush and medium. Effortlessly rendered to create a symphony so essential in bringing out the essence of his subjects, he continues ardently to plunge ahead! The series of the crystalline emerald structures are yet another challenge that is being tackled by the artist using his inherent visionary skills. For instance, his painting 'Emerald Sapphire' suggests the serenity of the spirited woman in all its glory, emerging through multiple prisms. Similarly, in the painting 'Contemplative glance', notwithstanding the crisp features and a piercing gaze, the contrasting virgin white mimics the birth of a flaming goddess. Amidst the fiery commotion, each of the vibrant interacting colors strive to spring to the canvas surface as if there is a raging optical war of the pigments!
Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, one of the first explorers of the principles of nonrepresentational or 'pure' abstraction, can be considered an artist who paved the way for 'abstract expressionism', the dominant school of painting since World War II. He said 'you have to know how to draw well', and that 'you have to be a true poet' to be able to produce an abstract painting. For an artist, drawing combined with a creative insight, are the tools to produce tangible art from the absurd. Consequently, it is the unbiased attitude that assists the thinking artist to combine bizarre elements and synthesize objects of beauty. These are exactly the sentiments reflected in the bold renditions of Saeed Kureshi who strives to put together shredded fragments that exist around us and endorse a meaning to the resultant form. The sheer beauty and simplicity of the images draws the viewers into their minimalistic elements effortlessly. The use of a generous range of colors as opposed to a limited palette gives way to a visual feast culminating into a pleasurable experience. Maintaining the purity of colors despite extensive mixing and overlapping can be a daunting task which the artist has tackled with meticulous visual reckoning. Integrating a panchromatic palette, he wreaks a medley of juxtaposed colors on the canvas with controlled blending into the compositional elements, structures and forms. The fact that his strong palette sustains the subjects in reasonable sync - void of loudness and gaudy nuances -it conforms to the principals of aesthetics in entirety. There does not seem to be any disconnect within the compositional domain no matter how incongruous the elements are. Solid forms rest rooted without overpowering the painting and every fragment lends place for the other, to become a whole.
There is a unique diversity of treatment in Chitra Pritam's paintings; be it a landscape, seascape, abstract, calligraphy or the Buddha series. These works are mirrors of his inner feelings and emotions that are painted for the viewers to sense and interpret. The use of deep colors and scrupulous strokes, such as those in the collection of 'Buddha', has become a source of rich inspiration for others as they depict his own belief in nature's exotic creations. He endeavors to narrate what he feels about the subjects in a manner that his soul agrees with.
The kaleidoscopic experience of browsing through Pritam's work is akin to a ride through an exotic universe parallel to our own, but rendered in untold splendor and excitement. The constant movement of hues within hues, and shapes within forms tend to usher the audience into a dimension filled with visual pleasure. As the eye moves, there is desire to pause within the delicate microcosm that the artist embeds into the occasional intricacies across the canvas. Ostensibly, the time almost seems to stop and snapping out of the artist's delightfully addictive wonderland appears to be disagreeable. Nevertheless, the urge to explore the variegated forms peppered with subtle nuances, liberates the eye to move further.
It is not why one looks at an object; it is how the object is seen. Different people observe differently and define what they see in their own language, but the language that Chitra Pritam speaks to express his response, is unique. Pritam's aesthetic lingo, a fabric delightfully woven with sensitive tints and hues, has the ability to gently reveal nature's beauty that surrounds us. What he infers from what he beholds, is equivalent to a pleasurable trip to the land of polychromous fantasy. When he translates this fantasy into pigments, the outcome is a visual chronicle that yields extraordinary definition and magnetism.
Naturally altering light unleashes the beauty of nature, ranging from the delicate nuances to the vibrant imagery of crisp forms and dazzling colors. It takes decades of visually analytical experience combined with perpetual expression to overcome the challenge of the constantly altering light. Pritam, with his persistent painting, continues to discover new frontiers of creativity in a domain where constituents of painting converge as daunting opponents.
Pritam's versatile hand in the area of landscapes, seascapes, calligraphy and figurative art, aims at giving an opportunity to diverse audiences to observe the work from individual perspectives. The objective of the artist is also to evolve a universal language of art that can nurture a greater understanding worldwide. For example, the Buddha series in its benign semi-abstract representation, can be displayed at any international forum.
Pritam's precise calligraphy in extremely sensitive strokes and the pastoral landscapes of his childhood village ooze with empathy, owed mainly to their impressionistic rendering. Furthermore, the sensuous depiction of Buddha in varied postures, moods and rich embellishment, narrate the artist's intense perception of the world around us. He targets at creating a stimulus by deciphering subjects of simple nature and reveal what lies beyond their trifling appearance.
With the passion to stretch his creative potential, Pritam took on the challenge of painting dynamic scenes along Karachi's shores. Boats, people and the azure waters of the sea are the artist's subjects which are constantly changing with the movement of the sun. The feat that Pritam has triumphed in the series of seascapes is the capture of moments of the customary life of seafarers and fishermen. The dreamlike portrayal of the colorful boats in the harbor and at sea takes advantage of the artist's huge arsenal of colors, organic stippling and sensitive strokes.
The apogee of Pritam's work dwells in the manner that he seizes the atmosphere that he paints. From broad daylight's shimmering waters to the placid sea at dusk, the artist maintains strict awareness to the time of the day and the lighting. The clusters of boats along the jetties and shores with their multiple booms and derricks have been painted in compositions ranging from one to twelve square feet in size. What the viewers observe, it seems, is what the artist felt when he painted these seascapes doused with a palette of a countless colors. According to the artist, he observes the sea and the boat people with the intention to absorb the spirit of their cohesive existence which he paints with conviction.
Pritam is a seasoned artist who has developed a natural interface with the canvas through a variety of mediums, which transform his vision into remarkable compositions that surpass the outer limits of creativity. His calligraphic painting, Buddha series, landscapes and seascapes have become his hallmark and are ranked high in the challenging field of contemporary art, both in-country and abroad.