“Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see”
– Paul Klee
Paul Klee, the Swiss-German artist, challenged traditional boundaries by separating writing and visual art. He achieved this by exploring a new expressive and largely abstract or poetic language of pictorial symbols. Along with that he admired the art of children, who seemed to create spontaneous and impulsive drawings and paintings. Klee in his own work endeavored to achieve a similar instinctive simplicity often by utilizing intense colours.
At a private viewing at Khaas Gallery in Islamabad, Rabeya Jalil’s paintings titled ‘Pictionary, she wrote…’ portrays certain similarities between her vivacious imagery and Klee’s effervescent symbolism. Curated by Aasim Akhtar, Jalil’s paintings are an awakening whereby the joyous progression of mark making and colour can heighten the viewer’s senses by capturing one in. Her expressive power of colour has in the process broken the traditional or academic rules of painting.
Jalil is an art educator and a visual artist who graduated from the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore in 2005, majoring in Fine Arts. She completed her Master’s in Art and Art Education from Columbia University, Teachers College in New York. Her visual art practice includes mixed-media paintings and installations that comprise printmaking, artists’ books and ceramics. In her research practice she has worked with school art teachers, children with special needs and individuals from low-income families and culturally diverse populations.
Concomitance and layering is essential to Jalil’s work, as is the cohesion of the textual and visual. Her paintings are seemingly spontaneous yet maintain a sense of aggression. The characters in her work are mysterious and evoke a narrative within the viewer’s mind. They maintain an ambiguous disposition, one that is unidentifiable. They are mementoes of one going through a children’s book and enjoying the colour and fantasy that lie behind the story’s theme.
Jalil’s paintings are off the beaten track because she has rummaged and investigated these child-like drawings and doodles in her work, an exploration not done by many painters and artists in Pakistan. An amalgamation of acrylic and chine-cholle on board, her work ranges from small images to larger paintings in either twosomes or a succession. Imagination is core, showcasing artwork done by someone who has barely been influenced by predetermined impressions. The images portray precarious lines, peculiar proportions and an uninhibited use of artistic authorization.
In Pursuit of Happiness II, Jalil seems to have represented man’s first love, his materialistic needs and desires such as a house, a fancy car instead of cherishing what is more important. The colours are fresh and loud, emphasizing the force with which the paintings are painted. In the Weeping Flush she discloses amusing colours and an outwardly fun painting, but perhaps there is a more ghoulish message behind the enjoyable insignia. In Not the Ghaar-e-Hira Spider II, an obvious examination would be how people in society have double standards and use religion for their own convenience instead of understanding the idea and logic behind religion.
Jalil scrutinizes beliefs she feels very intensely about, social-economic value systems, ethics and morals that govern a common Pakistani’s existence. She makes the viewer realize that these issues are mutually dependent and that we live in a highly opinionated and dogmatic society where we as individuals adapt to society’s standards.
The private viewing of Rabeya Jalil’s works, ‘Pictionary, she wrote…’, took place at Khaas Gallery in Islamabad. Images courtesy of the artist.
Shireen Ikramullah Khan is a painter, art critic and museologist based in Islamabad, and writes for Dawn Gallery, Nukta Art Magazine and Blue Chip Magazine. She teaches Visual Arts at the National College of Arts in Rawalpindi.