from the writers
Syed Ali Imam
Jamil Naqsh : A Painter of Significance
After the establishment of the AlHamra Complex and Shakir Ali Museum in Lahore, and the Gallery in Karachi, a group named the “Friends of Jamil Naqsh Museum Trust” has been launched by the culturally oriented admirers of the artist. It aims at the setting up of a museum of Jamil’s work. An ambitious project, indeed that will make a major contribution for posterity. Usually, there are national art galleries and museums sponsored by the government to collect, store and preserve the major works of painters and sculptors for the public.
A museum of a single artist is a rare honor for a painter anywhere in the world. Private collections are usually the prerogative of some passionate collectors who enrich their societies by purchasing rare paintings and eventually gifting or bequeathing them to the nation in the form of a trust named after the collector. Some of them have donated their life-long collections to national galleries or museums, which is the highest act of cultural patriotism. Karachi will have the honor of a museum of Jamil Naqsh who is one of the most versatile, productive and cerebral painters of our country. It is visualized that the trustees will find a better and benefiting habitat for the enormous volume of work which Jamil Naqsh and his family have discretely collected and stored for the nation.
It is relevant to discuss Jamil Naqsh’s background and the experience he gained in his growth in this vast subcontinent. As a child he was exposed to a climate of creativity amid his father’s friends with artistic, literary and musical background. As a sensitive observer, Naqsh slowly but consistently struggled to evolve and develop an original existential heterodox which he interwove with modem concepts involving an extension of his early training as a miniaturist under the guidance of Ustad Mohammod Sharif. With this humble start, he struggled to evolve his imagery spanning various stages of expression which in a certain sense have put him way ahead of the time he is now living in.lt is a kind of transcendental response to collective subconsciousness which blends so well with the perceptions in art of the day.
In ecstasy caged in time and space, he weaved like a master carpet maker, paintings of astonishingly vibrant textures with muted colors. His work energizes the suppressed emotive feelings of the viewers and creates in them, ever so subtly a new and ponderous awareness and perception of the art of today. It evokes a symptom of emotion of love, tenderness and, for some, even an erotic interpretation in an endless dialectics of imagination. The curves, anatomical lines the child clinging to the mother encompassing sculptured volumes give an element of universal prominence to this most tender aspect of life. There is no seductive or melodramatic element in these images, which are garbed, in vibrant and intriguingly evolved surfaces, which lull the elements of nudity and create works of aesthetic propensity. His images possess the quality and the capacity to move forward or retreat optically according to the wishes of the painter.
Like many painters of similar themes or the continuation of other themes emerging from this main subject, Naqsh’s is a case for psychological interpretation designed tq: fathom the motivational, social and cultural forces, which are at work in the subconscious mind of the painter. But this will need an in-depth study to arrive at a definitive conclusion which could be the subject for a thorough investigation based on psychological syndromes and the concurrent characteristic patterns of a state of mind. The Human mind is very complex and trying to understand and analyze it is even more so.
In rubbing shoulders with painters like Shakir Ali, Jamil Naqsh, Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq and Imran Meer, a new crop of enlightened critics and historians will emerge in time. They will, hopefully some day, project their skills in understanding art, writing in-depth books on each different period of the work of versatile painters. It is a pity that most painters in Pakistan are derivative.Hence the growth of the art critic himself is stultified by lack of experience and insight.
It is hoped that the later generation of painters as well as art critics will be able to do justice to the subject. In most major or minor painters, there is an element of repetition. But a matter of interest is to identify points of interactions and interplay of images. Naqsh’s woman and pigeon, mother and child, woman and horse, homage to Marino Marini and, finally, his calligraphic variations all emerge from his roots in the childhood years. His two-year apprenticeship withUstad Sharif is deeply ingrained in his growth as a painter. The variation of concept and execution might be construed as mutually contradictory, yet there is an inalienable continuity in the development of his images. It needs a trained and cultivated eye to discern the nuances which have been instrumental in his emergence as a painter of great significance.
It is generally alleged that Jamil Naqsh is a painter for the elite. This is a fallacious charge. His work has a hypnotic appeal both for the cultivated as well as the uninitiated viewer. It is also alleged that his prices have risen beyond the buying capacity of even his middle class admirers. But, then so are the prices of everything else. Cars, travel, medicine and luxury goods as well as items of common use are all beyond the reach of common man. Then, compared to the prices of major painters on the international market, Jamil’s prices would appear to be modest. However, he is always willing to reduce his prices for a genuine admirer.
We are in the midst of a media-saturated environment with the Internet augmenting our sensibility to integrate our contemporary thinking with global perceptions. Avant-garde artists create novelties every three or four years. Most of what they do is parade as post-modern art but nearly all of it is thin stuff. This has given birth to ‘instant art’ or ‘quickies’, which have become a means to attracting quick attention and success. Jamil Naqsh has been going round and round within himself for years to discipline his mind like a Zen thinker. He alienated himself from interaction with mediocrities and frivolities of life. His involvement with creating art is compulsive and an obsession in his search for the unknown. This is the main reason behind his much misunderstood and often grossly decried solitude that he finds within the confines of his studio.
Plastic art is an intensive visual philosophy. In some visionaries it is a cerebral expression, but in some others, it is an intuitive sensory perception. In the case of Jamil Naqsh, it is a mixture of both. It propels him to wade through outbursts of latent energy in his subconscious mind. His expression comes directly from his experiences in life. One by nature is ordained with such faculties as acquire a spiritual motivation rarely found in the motley of wasteful art education. One has to fight against derivation, influences and the temptation of quick success.
In the mid seventies, Naqsh realized that his search for self discovery had led him to the realm of literature, poetry, music, history of thought and philosophy of art through the ages. He also ventured into the field of mysticism and Sufi philosophy. It was a tough and trying struggle. His multi- disciplinary forays enriched his vision as a painter. As time passed he kept on alienating himself from persons and occupations that could distract him from his work. He met only a selected few he thought were people of the right kind he could communicate with. He is wrongly and ungenerously accused of being a recluse. His detractors refuse to acknowledge that at a certain point in time, as his vision enlarged, he realized that he was wasting a lot of his thinking and working time with those who had little to offer him in return. His inner compulsion to express himself in what had become the passion of his life gradually made him avoid customary visitors. This is an essential element in the eastern way of meditative thinking right from Buddha to Zen and the Sufi poets and philosophers of the East. There was no ego ride. This attitude evolved simply out of his need to be fully occupied in seeking and finding for himself. He does meet people who could be instrumental in his growth. This meditative isolation has brought qualitative changes in his image-building. This we have witnessed in a series of exhibitions. More and best has still to come. Can’t we let him alone to his work?
To fathom the depth of his perception, research oriented critics will have to be involved in the body of his work to evaluate it in its right perspective. But this gigantic exercise could only be undertaken later by cultivated art critics capable of investigating and analyzing the arduous process of his creative urges and problems. This exercise will eventually result in many books on his various thematic expressions as a visionary.
Woman and Pigeons
Most painters, poets and writers have some fixations around which their lives revolve. Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s messages and muses came through the morning breeze. The moon inspired Nasir Kazmi’s creative ambiance. Their hopes, fears, frustration, love and hate found inspiration through these elements. In Christian art, the Madonna was painted for nearly 2000 years, portraying her as a pious, innocent, celestial and divine person worthy of adulation, in different periods of artistic expression. This thematic concept hypnotized painters into creating its countless variations through many centuries.
For Naqsh, the female figure in its different characteristics became a major element around which he painted pigeons in an ideal relationship for over two decades. He kept pigeons as pets in his home. This helped him to observe their movement, their flight and their tenderness in different postures. He identified the woman and the pigeon as an ideal means to express his sensibility.
This was a period when Jamil Naqsh used oil colors in a variety of unbelievable textures woven like a carpet. He used muted colors in an aesthetic division of surfaces, which made each of his paintings different from the other. His intuitive inner sense of design gave a new meaning to each of his creations. Although the subject was repeated over and over again, yet the division of space vertically or horizontally was instrumental in giving each of his paintings a new meaning. The tactile quality of pigments and the intensely concentrated and worked surfaces added a quality, which is rarely found in the work of most of his contemporaries.
It is in point to mention an event when Jamil Naqsh brought his painting to a gallery where Shakir Ali was working. Shakir eagerly came forward to watch his new work which was so vibrant and aesthetically so satisfying that the master broke the brush he was holding unconsciously. In another event, Faiz Ahmed Faiz with Shakir Ali and Zubaida Agha came to acquire the paintings of the artists of Karachi for the National Gallery.
Jamil Naqsh failed to submit his work at the Arts Council. This annoyed both Zubaida Agha and Shakir Ali. But Faiz said he would go to Jamil’s gallery to select his paintings as he was having a show there. Zubaida and Shakir were upset because Jamil had not presented his work for acquisition and they refused to go to his gallery, but Faiz Sahib remarked that Jamil was one of Pakistan’s best painters and he would go personally, unaccompanied by Shakir Ali and Zubaida Agha, to select his works. This shows Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s largeness of heart. The following day, Shakir Ali and Zubaida Agha accompanied him to acquire three of Jamil’s works for the National Gallery.
Mother and Child
This theme is inalienably connected with man, birds and animals by instinct. Jamil Naqsh as a student of history of thought and art must have been pondering this subject for a long time, till he decided to make definitive statements on it. He has a fertile mind to create variations of similar compositions which the uncultivated mind of some of his critics is unable to comprehend. The subtle changes that he makes in his compositions and the variance of textures, surfaces and optical spaces are the elements to be reckoned with. The biased and untrained eye of some of his critics cannot recognize the concepts of modern painting. They reveal their own ignorance by not being able to come on the wavelength of his perception; they cannot appreciate the subtle building of his images. Experiments in modem expression are very complex and sometimes bewildering for an uninitiated mind to comprehend. Ignorance for some is a bliss to show that they know more than what they think they do. Jamil Naqsh is callously indifferent to his critics because he is confident of where his destiny is carrying him. He has a job to do. And he seems to be in a hurry to express in his own inimitable way all that has been torturing his restless mind.
Homage to Marino Marini
With the growing realization of his hidden forces of creation, Jamil Naqsh finds another outlet to branch out of his familiar themes. He had minutely observed the beauty and the agility of the horse personally as well as in the illustrated manuscripts of the subcontinent and also in the Chinese art. Instead of painting the woman and pigeon, he conceived the woman and the horse in exciting depictions. The series afforded him an opportunity to diversify his imagery. In his study of modem painters, he was fascinated by the horses that Marino Marini painted. Painters and poets have a tradition of paying homage to masters in their discipline. Jamil Naqsh, in his humility, did a series of paintings which he entitled Homage to Marino Marini. But in doing so, he did not lift any element from Marini’s imagery. As an original painter, he worked out fascinating compositions of the two forms, which created a unity in the discord of physical variance. As a matter of design, Jamil succeeded in structuring his images in division of forms, using his skiltin texture and surfaces never before seen in his work. At the same time he maintained his expressive link with his earlier works. Marino Marini was only a stimulus; the outcome was Jamil’s very own. It seems in order to mention that before embarking on this project Naqsh made hundreds of studies, creating symbols for use in his paintings.
In evaluating Naqsh’s work in his journey through various periods one notices that he had a rational growth of a painter charged with the dialectics of a visionary. He was eager to branch off and give a new meaning to his work. But his modern calligraphic painting had altogether different problems in comparison to the work at his earlier periods.
Explanation of this major diversion goes back to his childhood. He was lucky that at a tender age, he could respond to, and understand, the cultural climate of work that his father’s household and people of different disciplines provided. His father, in addition to other passions in life, was also a miniature painter. Miniature painting found an outlet in the Persian tradition of illustrating the books of great poets, treatises, philosophic work and historic events. As a young disciple of the late Ustad Sharif, he assiduously discipline himself in the painstaking exercises demanded of a student of miniature painting.
Since his inner self was bubbling with energy to discover himself, he took to calligraphic paintings in water colour. Different painters during this period were looking towards the west for inspiration. Only a few tried their hand in the art of calligraphy in Pakistan. In doing so, they mostly utilized the 30 different modes of calligraphy in the building of their images, derivatively using Western idioms of expression. But for Naqsh, this posed quit a challenge. He began to study the history of art and calligraphy with diligence and care. Haneef Ramay, A.J.Shemza, Sadequain, Shakir Ali, Guljee and Rashid Ahmed all used Arabic scripts in their paintings as a base for crafting their images. But this bothered Jamil and he started studying and practicing the art of calligraphy to gain proficiency in this discipline. He discovered great variations in scripts in the illustrated books were a part of a tradition ingrained in our subconscious. This study brought about a qualitative change in the use of calligraphy by a modern painter in expressing himself as an artist of the new vision.
His study for long periods helped him to digest, assimilate and recreate a way of expression, that was a continuation of the illustrated calligraphy as also of the great books of calligraphy in different periods. He used a modern grammar in the structuring of his images but, at the same time maintaining the nuances of traditional calligraphy. Jamil Naqsh evolved his own signs and symbols in creating the central structures-the form and volume tension encompassing these images with a sensitively-structured border which is reminiscent of the floral or abstract filigree down the ages. This was not done with a vengeance to belittle the modern calligrapher who mostly used one or the other type of traditional script with individual distortion. In creating his calligraphic images, Jamil used water color and pressed into service his years of discipline in drawing to emerge as a truly modern calligrapher. He has produced scores of variations to prove the point.
Lines as vehicle of expression
Early primitive man cried, laughed, created sounds, drew and painted before he learnt to speak. It is man’s primordial heritage as lines and forms are derived from nature both aminate and inanimate. His creative impulses were manifested in a new entity inspired by necessity and observation. Man in his creative fervor is a performer, like a magician creating unfamiliar relationships, in the pictorial language. At times what he draws or paints is symbolic and analytical and at others, he creates art out of the necessity for communication and survival.
Jamil Naqsh always considered drawing both as an academic and an unfamiliar reality. His drawings possess a magnetic crosscurrent of lines and forms in variations similar to musical notes, particularly in his calligraphic paintings. The optical effect is of a composite note pictorially. The contemporariness of his work is understood only by a few modern aesthetes. His linear dynamics emerges from active planes against passive blanks. The rhythm of vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curversive and linear division has a magnetic and kinetically mobile inner essence as distinguished from the outer form of the apparent subject. This is aimed at giving a new meaning to his configuration of images. It is an inductively intuitive and heterogeneous manifestation of his expression.
Jamil Naqsh plays an aesthetic game in the construction of his compositions. In fact, he paints as he draws or vice versa. Painting and Drawing are synonimous in the evolvement of his subject. It comprises either linear or plastic forms. Where the two colours of different keys or tones meet, a very nervous line without being a line is formed. In doing so, Jamil Naqsh plays an aesthetic game. Paul Klee, the most cerebral painter, was like an actor playing innumerable games on the stage with his multitude of variations of lines which seemed to walk, run, hop, get electrified or modulated in scores of different ways.
Jamil uses lines in a definitive manner like a water current with modulation creating volume in flat colours, in the tradition of the early paintings of the subcontinent. One has to take pains to fathom the variations of his lines which he has intentionally used in structuring his images, particularly in his water colours.
Critics with a jaundiced eye or prejudiced mind cannot shed their malice to notice Jamil Naqsh’s contribution to modern art. He rightly refuses to comment on such criticisms. He is absolutely sure of his destiny as a painter of significance.