Jamil Naqsh


Jamil Naqsh was brought up in the atmosphere of old-world refinement and culture cultivated by the economically independent landlords of U.P. (India) of whom his father Abdul Basit was one. Leisurely pursuits, open-house hospitality, respect for personal and society traditions (waza- dari), shikar and even some dabbling in the arts, especially poetry, music and painting, were a way of life.

Abdul Basit (father), Kairana, 1949

These old values are ingrained in Jamil Naqsh though he rebelled and left his life of comfort to seek his fortune and brave untold hardships on coming to Pakistan. Though he may not have learnt miniature painting from his father, he must have acquired a taste and an urge to paint from him. When he joined the Mayo School of Art in Lahore, he chose miniature painting as his subject of study. In Haji Sharif he found a dedicated teacher who passed on his inheritance of generations of this art to his promising pupil.

To the utter disappointment of his teacher Jamil Naqsh felt that in these two years (1953-54) he had gained initiation into the technique of the miniature and decided that it was now for him to use it in his own way, without the need to complete the course and pass the examination.

It is important to mention that while Jamil Naqsh was at Mayo School, Shakir Ali was teaching painting and introducing the students to the latest Cubist and Abstract styles that he had learnt during his long stay in Europe. His influence was decisive in shaping the work of the young artists of Lahore and though Jamil Naqsh was not his student, he could not remain unaffected. Shakir Ali himself was painting very much in the style of Braque in those early days and the earliest paintings of Jamil Naqsh that this writer has seen, dating back to 1961, also are still life (a table cluttered with cups, a newspaper and much else) exactly in the style of Braque. The other shows two women riding on a donkey, rendered with the Cubist linear space divisions.

Very soon however Jamil Naqsh had found his metier and that was female nudes. A 1962 painting shows a tall girl in the radiance of youth, sitting frontally, looking down demurely and toying with her long tresses. An old coloftr slide helps in recalling that the figure is lightly and glancingly outlined with the edge of the palette knife. The pale yellow skin colour of the fair model is just a little shaded here and there to indicate volume.

Ustad Mohammad Sharif, Lahore, 1966


The shading (blue-green in the middle tones and light red in shadows) is so light that the third dimension is not much emphasised. The play of light from top right adds to the ethereal and airy quality of the picture. The figure drawing is impeccable and there is a glimpse of Shakir Ali in the way the narrow waist spreads and joins the pelvis. Even in this very early work one can see that he slightly exaggerate; the thighs towards heaviness, presaging his future style.

With mastery comes growing confidence and the temptation to take liberties. In a 1963 painting a young girl is shown raising up her shirt to reveal all her beauty. It is very roughly executed and even the face is a little awry. Many other paintings of ’63, ’64, ’65 show the same slapdash treatment and a ’65 blue painting printed in “Seep” Quarterly, (bust of two women) shows much greater distortion (round face, long straight nose, very long necl extremely high breasts, strangely bunched up fingers). By 1964 the famous pigeon had made its appearance and even the by now familiar gesture of an upraised hand holding a pigeon close to the face

When he painted the sitting figure (from the beginning, only upto the thighs), he began elongating it, especially the neck and making the tender sensibilities but another almost similar painting done in 1994 in the collection of Mr. Khalil Ahmed, shows the distance Jamil Naqsh has travelled since 1971. There is greater command of the female anatomy and by just a little exaggeration, the curvaceous lying figure is made doubly alluring. There is never any impulsive stroke work in Jamil Naqsh but rather classical clarity and restraint. Still, the rendering of the figure’s rise and fall, dip and swell, is such that it makes it quiveringly alive. The colouring is only slightly varied and shaded and yet the figure has weight and volume. The subdued play of light is shown by showing yellow in the lighted and blue in the shadowed areas, with just a few highlights. The flesh tint of skin has the freshness and transparency of a healthy and youthful body but Jamil Naqsh sedulously avoids making the surface enamel smooth, which would make it inert and lifeless like furniture. Rather, he breaks the smoothness with very small slanting brush strokes of many related colours and so creates an attractive textural effect. This is much more natural and appealing than the uniformly rosy look of a heavily made up face.

To go back to the 70s which were under discussion above, around 1975 he painted a self-portrait and some faces in which the rigid drawing and bright colours of Jain painting were prominent. The miniatures of the Jain School are much admired by Jamil Naqsh. So in some paintings he used the same flaming red background, and also very bright blue and yellow, mostly flat.

From 1980 onward he made many small and large paintings in miniature style using a fine ball point pen and water colour, depicting figures in many bewildering Tantric erotic poses. The olden miniature quality was imparted

also by much naqqashi or traditional ornamentation in foreground flooring and the background setting. The female figures in these miniature style paintings were not stiffly diagrammatic but alive. Their corporeality was emphasised by their slightly plump figures and especially the under-belly.

A picture that breathes an air of peace and tranquillity is that of Mira Bai, the Rajput princess turned mystic poetess, shown sitting nude in a meditative pose, with a white pigeon on one shoulder. It is done in sepia, with oil colour used thinly and delicately on paper.

Around 1980 also he varied the theme of nude and pigeon by painting the nude and horse. Many of these were painted small in miniature style. For example, there is a 1987 picture showing a nude sitting on a horse, both looking backward. This difficult pose has been well drawn. The pupil-less eyes of the woman add to the sculpturesque quality of the figure. This is all done in sepia water colour with a zero-zero brush.

He has also made eight or ten fairly large oil paintings on paper showing a nude female standing beside a horse. Each has a different overall colour tone – reddish, bluish, yellowish, always much subdued, darkened here and there and textured with small brush strokes.

It may be mentioned that since 1980 Jamil Naqsh has been painting mostly in oil on paper. This means use of thinner paint and none of that dense and multicoloured stippling which he did on canvas, creating a rich saturated effect as of carpets (because many of them have a reddish or purplish tonality). Those done on paper have a lighter touch and thinner texture but are not lacking in any of the cunning in figure drawing and colour application found in his other work.

During the last thirtyfive years that he has been painting, Jamil Naqsh has created an immense body of work, with single-minded devotion and the life style of a recluse. It is impossible to comprehend in one small chapter the variety and volume of his work, ranging from Jain style small miniatures to mural size painting —like a twelve foot long calligraphic panel written in Meghrebi Kufic.

One can only sum up by saying that he has an uncanny command of the female human anatomy and the rare ability to make it palpable and substantial with flesh and blood; also the power to capture the bloom of the skin with all the variations of light and colour. There is irresistable charm and allure in his nudes but they are never erotic or provoking because of the stolid looks, the statuesque poses and the matter-of-fact rendering of what could be exaggerated and made exciting.

A whole chapter is necessary to describe the progress he has made in the painting of pigeons. In the beginning they were too stiff and wooden. Then he made the outspread wings as a series of spikes as in heraldic designs of eagles. But now he is painting white angelic birds in all their natural grace and beauty, fluffy, cuddly bundles of feathers whose warmth and softness is almost tactile.









S. Amjad Ali

From his book “Painters of Pakistan” Published by National Book Foundation