“These were taken out from my grandson’s room; they were too old apparently.” Carefully placing mini ceiling-fan blades up onto his book shelf, Wahab Jaffer stands back to look at them and chuckles. “I thought I’d try experimenting and use the wooden planks for some paintings.”
The fan blades are remarkably rare pieces that profess Wahab Jaffer’s technique and style. He maintains a relationship with his imagery and artwork through the mediums of canvas and typically two dimensional surfaces, stating that often, experimentation will take him away from the main objective in which he is engrossed.
Resembling tribal artefacts or cultural pieces, the polished brown oblong fan blades complement the spurts of citrus cadmiums forming abstract – yet ever familiar – faces which are mellowed with deep purples and submerged blues. Wahab Jaffer’s visual dialogue may be easily identifiable yet one can never grow tired of it; linear vases cut through dabs of paint creating fervor of flowers, women with Grecian and African features stare out nonchalantly and jewels of colour segment into the familiar palette of Ahmed Parvez. When asked about this particular mentor, Wahab Jaffer is open and happy to reminisce about his fortunate training.
“I’m still inspired by Ahmed Parvez; you can still see elements of his work in mine and I’m not ashamed of it, he was my teacher. I was lucky to have teachers ranging from Ahmed Parvez, Ali Imam, Bashir Mirza and Gulgee. They used to invite me to their studios and say ‘Watch us paint!’.”
Wahab Jaffer has ascertained such a position in the Pakistani art world not just because of his prolific career and contributions, but because he is one of the last artists who knew what the country’s flourishing and genuine art circle was like. The walls of his home feature a plethora of artists and allow any visitor to traverse into every corner, as one would wander freely in a museum. From the charcoal Bashir Mirzas on the stairway to the political conflicting work of Nagori, the artist accumulates objects ranging from knick knacks in the shape of fish to rare unseen paintings. Arranged on shelves besides timeless books and literature, sepia-tinted photographs of him during the 70s and 80s with the likes of Latif Kapadia and Gulgee are testament to the legendary company he used to keep. Although, as prominent as the man may be, his hearty smiles and jokes give recognition an artist who is of an entirely different breed to the deeply philosophical and introverted individuals of today.
Upon entering his studio, a mass array of crusty brushes in assorted containers almost distract one from a pair of grey joggers underneath a chair – an unlikely find in an artist’s studio. His cabinets are filed with envious materials from Toronto where he travels to once every year – “I keep materials in Toronto as well because of the climate and you can just go down to the shop to get them. When I’m travelling I sketch on the plane, bus…I paint every day.” Sure enough, a set canvas on an easel sits in the best lit area of the room, with a few initiative strokes of paint. His wholesome and down-to-earth practice seems expresses very little superlative requirements or hidden artistic secrets.
His signature cubist and stylized form of depiction draw attention to the flamboyant headgear the women wear. While the division of each face into halves and different tones symbolize the dual nature of people today, the hair accessories are reminiscent of the fantastically feminine hats English women are adorned with at the Ascot races. Although he studied engineering in England, Jaffer exclaims how he would have loved to attend a school like Saint Martins and receive a formal experience of artistic training but with the obligation of helping his family business he decided to keep those plans on hold.
Known for having an empathetic and spontaneous use of colours, Wahab Jaffer’s canvases exhale a fresh yet mysterious interpretation. He shrugs off any intellectual explanation behind the stylized faces he paints and remarks it must be all the English women he was familiar with during his cricket playing-engineer student days. “They’ve all come back to haunt me, you see.” Evading any pseudo-statements, his approach to art and creativity reflects the accessibility and community of evolved artists he was nurtured by. With meetings every once a week at the Indus Gallery, conversations with artists such as Ijaz ul Hasan and Salima Hashmi were encouraged and the sharing of ideas and experiences was frequent. The fresh dabs of bright colour and spacious energy of Jaffer’s work incites this honesty and open dialogue.
Creating an atmosphere of sincerity and fun, Wahab Jaffer is clearly the person to go to for many budding artists. Not only can he provide us with hysterical tales of Ahmed Parvez and Jamil Naqsh but his guidance and appreciation of art and culture makes him a very special individual of our country.
Veera Rustomji is a Fine Art student at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. She has been a freelance writer for the past two years and enjoys conducting research within the field of art.