“The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random between the profusion of the earth and the galaxy of the stars, but that in this prison we can fashion images of ourselves sufficiently powerful to deny our nothingness.” — Andre Malraux.
The concept of experiencing art has changed today. Today’s art is different from yesterday’s — or perhaps our perception of art today has changed. We no longer seek beauty and comfort in art; instead, we tend to investigate the purpose and reason behind creating something.
In that sense artists hold a tremendous amount of power over a society. They project their vision over society and therefore play a vital role in its psychological evolution. Their ability to bring about a social or cultural change is something to which we cannot be oblivious. But for each great feat one has to make the initial move.
Tahir Ali and Qadir Jhatial are young artists who are taking these first steps into the contemporary art world. Recent graduates of the National College of Arts, Lahore, Ali and Jhatial held their first exhibition at Rohtas Gallery, Islamabad. It is always a good experience to encounter fresh artwork, even more so if it is from this century’s young artists who have a lot to reflect back on what our society is today.
It may be too soon to predict, but it seems these artists are headed towards Abstract Expressionism. Their works may be very different from each other but are also similar in nature. Both the artists talk about their mental picture of landscapes, set in different locations and time zones. Qadir’s landscape is illustrated with more of a sublime intent. His interpretation of nature’s peaceful existence is masked by the use of vibrant colours. Tahir’s depiction of landscapes is quite contrary. His experience of a cityscape at night and his chaotic strokes take us on a journey to the dark side of society. His consistent doodles also make the mind question the reason behind them.
Even though their works are distinct from each other, an inward-looking approach has been adopted by both the artists in terms of expression. Their major body of work being “untitled” substantiates the notion.
Qadir has picked elements of his environment and presented them to us in a minimalist, sublime manner. Pop art seems to be his major inspiration. Reversing the negative and the positive spaces, distorting objects and painting in enamel has led Qadir to present some very intriguing paintings. “The interplay of space, surfaces, textures and materials; and the sensitive use of domestic and familiar items are the prime sources for me that make my work personal and imaginative,” he says.
His technique of achieving contrasting tones with the use of enamel has brought sufficient individuality to his paintings, and his flooding the canvas with a vibrant palette adds character and movement to his abstract paintings. Duchamps’s urinal and Jhatial’s sink can be deliberately associated, but Jhatial’s execution required more of a gallant approach.
In terms of concealing notion, Tahir Ali is exposed more in his work as compared to Qadir Jhatial. His subject points to non-conformity, as his vigorous application of paint and other materials dominate his canvases. “The paintings play with the two dimensionality of a canvas – some explore and enhance the flatness of the surface, while others create an illusion of three-dimensional depths through multiple layering, imagination and mark making. The familiar objects present in the imagery are accompanied by a simultaneous feeling that dismisses their recognition,” says Tahir.
His strokes are influenced by Jackson Pollock and they speak of the raging energy in his application of paint. Abstract Expressionism developed in the context of diverse, overlapping sources and inspirations; and artists like Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning valued spontaneity and improvisation and accorded the highest importance to process. That process is very well expressed by Tahir in his paintings.
Although the work of Ali and Jhatial appears loosely constructed and spontaneous, identifying the reason behind this mode of expression was a bit of a challenge in both; however, the two young artists managed to resolve their paintings aesthetically, and their skill elevated their exhibition. Pictorial solutions of a personal kind are definitely an achievement for these young artists. Now they need to develop a bolder approach in their expression to become artists who can plant new ideas and notions in the society’s mind with their vision.