Afshar Malik is a multifaceted artist who has had an impressive career that spans over decades. He graduated from the National College of Arts in 1978 with a specialization in Painting which was followed by a higher diploma from UK as a British Council Scholar at the Slade School of Fine Arts, University College in 1988. He retired from the National College of Arts, Lahore in 2014 but he has, throughout this time assumed many different roles for he is a print maker, painter, designer par excellence and a teacher/ educator with a charismatic personality who has earned a devout following of students and admirers. His keen wit and insightful ruminations have been considered invaluable at juries and discussion in NCA, with students basking in his ineffable oratory style that is both inspiring and eloquent.
Extremely prolific with numerous group shows and Solo shows to his credit, what really distinguishes him from many of his contemporaries is his impressive oeuvre: it transcends definition owing to its sheer diversity. Given the wellspring of experimentation that he is, one drinks in his bold and varied amalgam of materials, techniques and technical virtuosity with a sense of awe.
Comfortable working with a variety of mediums, Malik effortlessly flits between monochromatic and mix media paintings,photo etchings, collographs, and even calligraphy to some degree. Collograph seems to be his preference where a variety of disparate objects are arranged in a collage like format and passed through a printing press.
The result of such exploration is the creation of a quasi fictional world suffused in colours and textures: this is the visual amphitheatre of Afshar Malik’s contemplations where tragedy, humour and nostalgia resonate with us through a unique interpretation of personal anecdotes, events and musings.
This preference for a seemingly deceptive disparate and fragmentary dialogue between colour, space and form formulates the backbone of all his compositions, irrespective of medium and defines his style. It allows Malik to conjure an alternate a temporal reality where events that are unfolding defy the laws of the natural world; they embody the vagaries of time, so to speak and therefore within this fantastical realm emerge several sub categories of such experiences that predicate on this foundation.
His expressive and tactile techniques as well as the nature of both representational and non-representational elements within these compositions are his hallmark, this is what makes each of his works unique as in some cases they become cogent signs that set the distinct tone of the sub categories within his narratives.
This is evident in his monochromatic photo etchings many of which are steeped in references to the monumentality of time and historical events. For example in the intensely surreal “God Must be Listening while Sleeping”the fate of a marching army seems to hang in balance, the nature of power and destiny is challenged and reflected in emblems such as coins and astrological charts. A doomsday like scenario is played out as the heavens unleash ghostly forms which dominate the composition. Portents and plagues manifest themselves in such elements and Afshar Malik emerges as a grim disembodied voice drawn from the crevices of time.
Echoes of this tone, so primordial with trees, moons and clouds are also embodied in his monochromatic figurative compositions which are a visual antithesis of his photo etchings; the spontaneous, frenzied mark making is balanced by measured smudges and spaces. It is almost as if the dust is not allowed to settle as we make are way through the compositions; while his nudes are sewn with the same primeval sentiment it is their intimacy that asks us to pause for the figures are often in pairs either sharing a private joke or communicating silently in a language we yearn to know more about. In some compositions the duality and angst of identity is explored through the figures so they become metaphors: winged and headless, dark and light, heavenly and earthly, headless and happy all fade and emerge through interplay of visual poetry and colour.
Cue colour and Afshar Malik’s vibrant visualjoie de vivre sets an entirely different tone for a spatial harmony and lyricism of three kinds, one that creates fanciful Lilliputian worlds with objects and creatures that read like a never ending story while the second is akin to a series of vibrant compositions in ink inspired by calligraphy; his interest in storytelling and music is quite evident for they resemble clusters of effortless visual renditions of letters, melodies and musical notes that flow, ebb, pulsate and flicker with energy .
The third recalls Gustav Klimt’s predilection for texture coupled with Marc Chagall’s colourful and free flowing compositions. One can hear the music playing and the breeze blowing even within the interplay of colour, hue and abstract amorphous forms. Something akin to a car hovers, landscapes float in the phantasmagorical dreamscape and a will-o’-the-wisp looks back. Nostalgia? Reminiscing?Whispers and wisps of fragmented memories? We can hear Afshar Malik’s “hmms and harrumphs”, the pauses in his thoughts and reflections yet we are carried through because to dwell too deep spoils the fun. Perhaps that is the illusion. Truth is a chimera.
As Stephane’ Mallarme put it “meaning too precise is sure to void your dreamy literature”
This deceptive nature is also revealed in the making of his latest body of work that Afshar Malik has produced in 2014 for his exhibition at Canvas Gallery in Karachi, it represents a landmark of sorts and a departure from his usual style.Elaborate compositions in wire are created as a relief, they are painstakingly joined together bit by bit so that they are transformed into a single unified composition which is then passed through a press resulting in a deep impression on paper.
Relentless in his pursuit for reinvention and discovery, these “wire drawings” require an enormous amount of work but visually represent a harmonious new marriage between form and content for Afshar Malik’s creative trajectory in experimentation. Harkening back to surrealist overtones that drew on automatic writing and Klimt’s simplicity, Malik takes it to another level; the interest in storytelling both personal and historical as well as Afshar Malik’s love for musichas manifested and coalesced in a unique way with a love for the line.
The line in Afshar Malik’s drawings is a metaphor.It is a conversation where all the small curls, curves and coils are commas, semi colons and full stops. Pauses, exclamations and gasps. The line also becomes a path, the path becomes a journey that we must keep up with or fragments of stories we must chase after to see how they converge, merge and possibly end or we will lose our thread as we traverse through Malik’s ”Jugalbandi 2” , but if we stay alert we can go skipping through a visual and literal orchestra of instrumental players embedded in a dense yet carefree web of linearity that hums with energy, timeless tales and above all Afshar Malik’s visual lyricism.