Jamil Naqsh

Master Craftsman, Creative Painter at Cross-Road, By Amjad Ali

One of the most brilliant painters of Pakistan, Jamil Naqsh has distinguished himself for his personal imagery and for its imaginative, eloquent and forceful expression in paint. He has achieved this position of distinction in spite of the fact that he has imposed upon himself an arbitrary limitation by selecting “women and pigeons” as the subject of his paintings. He has stuck to his motifs with religious faithfulness for the last ten years.

This self-imposed confinement has left him little room for manoeuvering, yet the agility and the ease with which he moves about, and the remarkable felicity in painting his motifs in a variety of different designs, demonstrate his superb self-discipline and his command over the medium he uses to express himself.

A man of few words, Jamil Naqsh has been enigmatically silent or evasive about the meaning or the reason for the selection of his motif. A few years ago, he did not contradict the suggestions from art critics that his motifs had some philosophy, meaning or message. Once in a few ambitious words, he tried to say something which gave the idea that his “women and pigeons” symbolised “love, peace and beauty”.

Jamil Akhter Khan, Josh Malehabad, Z.A.Bukhari & Jamil Naqsh, 1967


“Didn’t pigeons carry love letters in the olden days?” Jamil Naqsh had said, perhaps in an effort to satisfy the uninitiated onlookers by establishing a link between the women and pigeons of his paintings.

However, today, when he has achieved maturity in his style, in his method of expression and in his thinking, Jamil Naqsh appears to have given up his previous reticence, and he has become bold enough to do away with futile attempts at justifying his motifs or at providing the raison d’etre of their perpetuation in his art.

Recently he told an interviewer: “I have no story to tell, no symphony to play, no poem to recite, no plot to carry through, no climax, no anti-climax. All these things are expected of a painter by the uninitiated audience”.

This does not mean that Jamil Naqsh’s paintings have no meaning or message. Those who want to find them must give up paying over-importance to his motifs alone. They must look for them somewhere else. Explaining this position, Jamil Naqsh said: “If you must find a plot or a story, music or meter, then you should find them in my treatment of colours on the motifs that I paint, in texture, form and composition. Most certainly not in my motifs”.

However, the re-occurance of thesi motifs gives for the casual spectator a look of similarity to his paintings. But those who have developed an “eye” for fine arts, acknowledge that each of hh canvases is a “different painting”.

A close study of Jamil Naqsh’s worl unfolds to the viewer a surprisingly pleasant panorama, with each painting containing a refreshingly new arrangement, a new balance, a new colour harmony and a new point of view. The manner in which he arranges his forms, constructs his figures, evolves the geometric shapes, breaks his colour into segments, uses his palette knife, creates tonal variations, develops textural quality, dissolves forms into forms, allows contrasting colours to peep through to create an ethereal harmony and delineates his figures with sensitive lines, can be termed as an accomplishment of an imaginative master craftsman, who gives strange vitality, compactness, sensitivity and a rare aesthetic charm to his creations.

Jamil Naqsh, besides being a superb craftsman, is a creative artist who does not “reproduce” forms, but who “transfigures” them, or to be exact “creates” them. A creative painter raises the senses to that condition of insight, in which his motifs are not actually transfigured, but in which for the first time some aspect of theirs is revealed, is given a new form, and thereby for human eyes, newly created, newly communicated. Jamil Naqsh exactly does that.

How Jamil Naqsh discovered his now famous motifs, is an interesting story. And how he developed his present style is still more enchanting a tale. They show the gradual blossoming of a natural flower to spread its captivating fragrance, despite all the hostile and talent-killing environment. It was only the inherent talent, the inner fire, the strong willpower and the insatiable desire to win freedom from the shackles of traditional obscurantism, Oriental sentimentalism, Occidental rationalism and above all his presistent, conscious efforts to develop an individuality for himself and for his style, that enabled him to create an art of an ageless variety.

Jamil Naqsh belongs to a family which was known for its love for art and music. His maternal great-grand father, Moqarrab Ali Khan, a class fellow of Emperor Jahangir, had a good collection of books with miniature paintings. They are considered as prize collection at the Delhi Museum today.

The general atmosphere of Kairana, a small town on the bank of the river Jamuna, where Jamil Naqsh was born in 1939, was simply romantic. The town is renowned the world over for its musicians of the classical Kairana School. Like all other residents of the town and the members of his family, Jamil Naqsh also developed a love for music.

From his very childhood, Jamil Naqsh was deeply impressed with the lush green vegetation, the army of colourful birds —especially the pigeons which lived there in millions — -and, of course, the village damsels, who inspired the artist in him, but who were shy, reticent and uncommunicative. It was perhaps this childhood image of feminity which developed unconsciously into the stony, expressionless women of his earlier paintings.

The atmosphere in his father’s “haveli” had a lasting impact on the sensitive mind of Jamil Naqsh. Its huge carved wooden doors and carved stone pillers had great fascination for him. His father’s “baithak” (drawing room) was a centre of attraction for politicians, poets and musicians.

His family presented a unique example of freedom of expression, which could not be even imagined in many families in the subcontinent four decades ago. His father was himself a staunch Muslim Leaguer, but he never tried to impose his views on his sons or other members of his family, who used to hold divergent political and ideological opinions, from orthodox religious to reformist, and from

nationalist to communist. They all lived under one roof and held free discussions, but without bitterness or rancour.

Being the youngest member of the family, Jamil Naqsh did not himself take any part in the discussions. But he was highly intelligent and listened with rapt attention to their talks, imbibing and assimilating all the good points from them. It was this childhood impressions which created in him an undying desire to investigate, search, experiment and to develop an independent personality of his own.

Jamil Naqsh, Agha Abdul Hameed, Zubaida Agha, 1968


He inherited the love for art from his father, an amateur artist, who used to take pride in drawing human figures, mostly in the nude. A liberal at heart, he did not discourage his sons also from copying his works. Perhaps it was the impact of his father’s art that created in Jamil Naqsh unconsciously an irresistible desire to excel in painting the human figure like a perfectionist.

The images that his young sensitive mind captured in his childhood became his lasting companions as soon as Jamil Naqsh developed dexterity and technical competence in painting. Just a chance appearance of a pigeon in his courtyard and his marriage with an obliging, obedient girl, who loved him as much as his art, rekindled in his heart the apparently forgotten images. And Jamil Naqsh, who was for years in search of subjects to paint, realised suddenly that all these years he yearned to paint nothing but nudes and pigeons. Maybe it was the outlet of the supressed emotions, or a conscious effort to make his obscure impressions intelligible that he selected women and pigeons as subjects of his paintings. The essence of Jamil Naqsh’s artistic creation and the originality of his art lies in the fact that he has been able to convert his notional essence into concrete and tactual material. He has, through persistent efforts, been able to establish his sense of reality by creating for his clarified and detachable experience, clear and appropriate symbols.

It is a fact that like many other artists, Jamil Naqsh also began with a period of apprenticeship of slavish imitation. For years he reproduced like a craftsman.But the artist in him revolted and he made a serious attempt to effect a clean break from imitational art.

It will take another full length article to analyse the evolution of his style over the years. However, after passing through various stages of development —from Mughal miniatures, learnt at the Mayo School of Art, Lahore, under Haji Sharif, to slavish Braque and others, Jamil Naqsh entered the stage where he refused to stick to traditional faithfulness to “reality”.

As Jamil Naqsh marched towards maturity, the motifs which were at first of paramount importance for him, gradually receeded into the secondary position. Today they are there just to demonstrate “continuity”, he insists. However, though Jamil Naqsh is still a figure artist, his individuality, originality and creativity demanded of him not to stick to “realism” conservatively, and to create new forms on the basis of his two selected motifs.

process of the evolution of his art by sticking to his motifs. Now when the figures and motifs of his paintings have ceased to maintain the past importance, and it is his style, texture, colours and composition which have acquired greater significance and which convey his message eloquently, then his conservative

approach and uncalled for “faithfulness” to the meaningless, messageless, unpoetic, unphilosophical, non-musical motifs are only putting unnecessary restrictions on his natural development. Jamil Naqsh is not a traditionalist painter. For continuity he must seek not the help of his motifs, but that of his treatment, his style, and his method of expression. He is still young and if he does not irrationally restrict the logical development of his thought process and his art, he will surely become one day one of the greatest painters of Pakistan.













S. Amjad Ali

Artistic Pakistan May – June, 1971