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| 3/5/2017 12:00:00 AM
“Triptych of Friends” reveals how formal training infl uences artists’ works

It was clearly a case of unity in diversity as three independent oeuvres by friends Ustad Bashir Ahmed, Saeed Kureshi and Chitra Pritam were displayed collectively at the Clifton Art Gallery, Karachi. Titled `Triptych of Friends`, the show revealed the different relationships that exist between the artists` contemporary practice and more traditional approaches to painting, picture-making and image construction.

Ustad Ahmed`s standing as the architect of the contemporary miniature is so huge that it overshadows his other accomplishments.

llaving compiled the curriculum and formalised a four-year miniature degree programme at the National College of Arts (NCA) in 1982 the only one of its kind to date he produced game-changer students such as Shazia Sikander and Imran Qureshi who crossbred it with mix and multimedia disciplines to produce new strains of art.

Emblematic and internationally acclaimed, the new genre remains synonymous with innovation. But Ahmed`s personal miniature art training at the Mayo School of Arts (later the NCA) under Ustads Haji Sharif and Sheikh Shujaullah was in the court style of apprenticeship spread over many years.

The traditional mannerism is deeply ingrained in the maestro`s art practice. He is a purist who retains the Mughal idiom in his art. His figurative forms of royals, courtesans, poets, sages, flora and fauna, and vestiges of landscape and interiors hark back to the past.

Emphasis on experiment is largely through layout, composition and overall atmosphere in his paintings. These shifts are subtle, mild and pleasing, in comparison to the jolting radical upturns we now see in some of the new miniatures by new artists.

The artist`s current miniatures, acrylic paintings, graphite drawings on show vary from fine, intricately painted works to delicately handled, hazy and blurred frames where he plays with time, space and movement. The works of graphite on paper areof a variable nature, some please the eye while others do not.

Pritam first gained acclaim as a devotee of Jamil Naqsh. His work, especially his calligraphic paintings, bore traces of the master`s influence. Other than script he learnt to explore colour layering and surface texture.

He came into his own when he began painting landscapes of his native village Sanjarpur, Punjab, in the impressionist stippling and broken colour technique. He broadened his repertoire by bringing the same stylistic application to scenic renditions of boats resting on the fish harbour. The decorative appeal in his art endears him to his audience and this aspect is particularly dominant in his calligraphic paintings and his `Buddha` series. Here he emphasises his design sense embellished with multiple colour choices but he is at his most authentic and original in painting landscapes and boats.

Kureshi`s paintings will surprise those who have known him as an art reviewer for the last few years. Not everyone is aware that he is a fine arts alumnus of the Punjab University,and according to him `has had the privilege of being coached in art appreciation, drawing and painting by legends such as Anna Molka Ahmed, Zulgarnain Haider, Colin David and Bashir Mirza.` His art on view consists of portraits of urban / rural women offset either by emphatic abstract markings or historical edifices. Semi-realistic, the structured facial contours of the protagonists point to an artist`s hand at ease with drawing.

Similarly the gestural markings, the faceted geometric slashes and cross hatchings in `Defiant demeanour` and `Emerald Fantasy` paintings are confidently rendered. The heritage architecture insert as in `Rohtas Vanity`stakes its claim as subtext in the composition. Boldly applied vibrant colour juxtaposing is another strong feature in his work. The play of primary hues, red, blue, yellow, and then tones of green and orange, remind one of the Fauvist sensibility.

Gauguin believed that colour had a mystical quality that could express our feelings about a subject rather than simply describe a scene. This view gains further credence on scrutiny of the style and content of Kureshi`s paintings. Viewersfamiliar with the subjects and painting styles popular in our art milieu in the `70s and `80s will be able to feel the vague sense of déjà vu that his works emit.

This exhibition shows that the early art education, training and influences of the three concerned artists continue to play an integral role in their art expression, unlike the newer generation artists for whom traditional training is merely a stepping stone to other horizons. -S.A.

`Triptych of Friends` was exhibited at the Clifton Art Gallery, Karachi, from February 23 till March 1, 2017