Pakistan’s Modern Master is referred to in India art circlesas: `The M.F.Husain of Pakistan’, but unlike the venerableIndian artist, Jamil Naqsh is not to be seen outside his studio.Refusing invitations to attend as guest of honour a recentexhibition of Picasso’s work in Paris, Naqsh declared he was toobusy to spare the time. He will not be in Karachi for an exhibitionof his work in the series HOMAGE TO PICASSO, scheduled to takeplace at the Momart gallery, January 2009.
It is almost five decades since he said good-bye to his mentor,the renowned miniaturist Ustad Mohammad Sharif and leftLahore, but the obsessive urgency with which he approacheshis work never wanes. Almost all his adult life in changingcircumstances have been spent in the limited boundaries of astudio where, aware of time fleeting, he begins his day beforedawn. Currently based in London, the artist is buffered bythe presence of his muse Najmi Sura, who sees that he is not disturbed by either callers or the telephone where none but hisinfant granddaughters may hear his voice. He works in peaceexploring the multivalent possibilities of his chosen subjects,and in common with the artist he pays tribute to, Jamil Naqsh’soeuvre draws upon the imagination of the viewer.
The four exhibitions in this series taking place in India, Pakistan and the UK, consist of different selections from a very importantand extensive body of work that has long germinated in his mind.In recent years he has eschewed putting the date on his workwhich he regards as an unnecessary detail. *“I strongly feelthat I am the same as I was years back. There is no changesave for refinement. I have only become more expert in myexecution.”
In recent months two selections from the extraordinary collectionof drawings and paintings have been shown in Delhi andMumbai. Another selection has arrived from the artist’s studio inLondon. For exhibition in Karachi, and a fourth exhibition in theseries will take place in London around June 2009 In Delhi at theNitanjali Art Gallery, in association with the Alliance Francaise,a number of over seventy drawings and twenty paintings weredisplayed, one painted canvas divided into multiple sectionsshowing variations of an angled face. Viewing this artwork onerecalled the élan with which Naqsh in the late nineties exhibitedone hundred paintings of a single pigeon that covered one wall ofMomart gallery.Working with pencil Naqsh described his work: *“My pencildrawings are a complete painting. There is line, formand shade of light minus colour. Colour does not conveyanything for me.”
To an informed audience, viewing the work of Jamil Naqshinitiates selective interpretation. The frames of referenceappear from a deeply sourced phenomenon, seemingly freelyand dramatically blending allusions to the roots of his artisticheritage, with the refinement of the school of classic miniature36 37art. These elements are interwoven with the immediacy of histimes in the form of Cubism and Abstraction. It is magnificentmarriage.Manipulating the forms of the bull, the horse, single andentwined forms, and the signature pigeons that hold greatmeaning for the artist as symbols of his life, portrayed is thetension between sharp angles and voluptuous curves.
In drawingsmelding shapes of light and dark, luminosity is created bynegative space juxtaposed with the use of graphite as one hasseldom seen before; it is an awesome visual experience.A headless form is a recurring image in the oeuvre, the headrepresented in diverse ways. This innovation began for the artistyears ago when he was sculpting a subject life size and returningto the figure after a break, he found the head had broken off fromthe body and was resting in the lap. Naqsh was so intrigued bythis arrangement that he began the series in which the head issymbolic of many emotions.In several instances a bull appears, dominating the surface with apowerful presence. Numerous interpretations may be explored. Itis traced back to pre the Indus Valley Civilization, when images ofbulls appeared on seals and other artifacts. The animal embodiedthe male essence of nature, a fertility symbol linked to water asa source of life and associated with the Earth Mother.
Numerouscultures adopted the bull as an emblem admired for its might. InGreek mythology Zeus adopted the form of a white bull to abductEuropa; it is frequently seen in Tantric Tibetan art.Naqsh’s references are wide and personal. Roaming the east inhis youth, he studied the historic art of diverse cultures past andpresent, and the knowledge gained during those formative yearsappear to be ingrained in the artist’s psyche.One finds the graceful form of a woman merged with that ofa horse, a metamorphosis of poetic fluidity. The horse enteredthe Indus Valley Civilization with the invasion by Aryans in theirchariots. It is one of the four sacred animals of the Ashoka pillars,and throughout history it has been a significant symbol of manycultures. In historic China the horse represented masculinity,and as in previous series of work devoted to the sculptor MarinoMarini, Naqsh has for many years adapted the swift, beautifulanimal to his personal interpretation.
Marjorie HusainKarachi based author and art critic, Marjorie Husain has playedan important role in promoting Pakistan’s art and artists both inPakistan and abroad. Her articles have appeared in numerousnewspapers and journals and for over two decades she had beena regular contributor to Dawn and She.