Stepping into Imran Qureshi’s ‘Idea of Landscape’ at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, is akin to stepping into a glowing mirage of colour. Large canvases glisten in glittering gold or dull turquoise, speckled with splatters of deep red and vibrant blue paint. From a distance, the red flecks resemble blood, violently flung across the surface of the work. Exuding an energy that envelops the viewer, these works invite oneto step closer until delicately painted designs of leaves and flowers, in a deep red, reveal themselves amongst the flecks and blotches on the canvas. Beauty amongst the blood.
This grand exhibition is spread over four floors of Ropac’s spacious gallery in the Marais, one of Paris’s trendiest locales. Consisting entirely of new works from 2015, this exhibition is primarily concerned with depicting life and death, and the precarious balance and interplay between the two. Several of the works in the exhibition, including Side Effects and Opening Word of This New Scripture, allude to this equilibrium in their construction, with vines and patterns spread over distinct but connected halves.
Qureshi has been internationally lauded and admired. In 2013, he was invited to create a work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s prestigious summer Rooftop Commission and was awarded the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year award, amongst several other accolades. Inspired by traditional Mughal and Persian miniature art, he is one of the most powerful proponents and practitioners of Pakistan’s contemporary miniature art movement. This group of artists has modernized and revived this ancient art form by adapting its rules to a current environment. Some artists do this by modifying the scale of their works, while others insert contemporary scenes into traditional miniature painting frameworks.
In his large-scale works in this current show, Qureshi chooses to emulate the decorative floral motifs of miniature art, which are primarily found in the borders surrounding the delicate paintings. In addition, the artist has expanded the use of gold leaf accents within his work – in some cases using colours to act as highlights to the burnished gold. The exhibition includes a video of a fragment of gold leaf as it floats through the air; while the artist’s smaller works in the exhibition resemble intricate paintings of individual plant forms.
Living and working in Lahore, Qureshi has witnessed terrible violence and tragedy during some of Pakistan’s most recent difficult years. The repercussions of that aggression have seeped through segments of society and are manifested in Qureshi’s work. The aftermath of a forceful bomb attack inspired the artist’s celebrated site-specific work, Blessings Upon the Land of My Love, at the Sharjah Biennale 2011.
In ‘Idea of Landscape’, the unexpected beauty of the elegant floral motifs and the resilience of the vines, which spread across his works, represent hope to the artist. Hope despite death and hope despite hardship, a hope that throbs throughout the fabric of his works. A hope that continues to resonate within his fellow countrymen – taking the form of optimism for the future and a faith in their nation.
Contemporary miniature art can often be a nostalgic reminder of a lost splendour – a particular kind of opulence that is now rare and difficult to find. Qureshi’s iridescent paintings, which at times resemble abstract sunbursts, smolder within the space at Ropac. They each reflect his philosophical Sufi-esque message of hope and beauty in the face of adversity.
‘Imran Qureshi: Idea of Landscape’, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris, France – 12 September – 17 October 2015. All images courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg. Artwork images photo credit: Usman Javed. Installation shots photo credit: Charles Duprat.