Wahab Jaffer, one of Pakistan’s most respected abstract artists, was born in Poona in 1941. He was interested in art and painting from a very young age and is one of the few Pakistani artists today who have had the privilege to learn from masters such as Ali Imam and Ahmed Parvez.
Contemporary art can be seen as a way to access the concepts and energy that form a culture. Jaffer is an artist whose contemporary exploration of the female form, through the use of bright hues and explosive energy, has exhibited both extensively at home and abroad. Jaffer’s first solo exhibition was held in 1981, at the Indus Gallery. Since that time his fascination with paint and canvas has been the predominant factor of his life and he has gone on to exhibit most notably at the Asia Pacific Museum in Pasadena, California, the National Art Gallery, in Islamabad; and at the Art Gallery of Peel’s, juried exhibition in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, as well as at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai.
His work maintains a strong identity yet remains inspired by his mentor Ahmed Parvez, of whom he speaks fondly in an earlier interview with ArtNow: “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!’.”
His bold and adventurous style has a strong identity and his paintings exude a refreshing energy as he continues to simplify the female form and explore the richness of a full palette. The paintings on display are bright, inventive and symbolic. He successfully captures the mood and attitude of the women on his canvasses. His smooth lines, color coordination and balanced compositions render the image in a sharp and effective manner. In 1985, Jaffer experienced a transition in his work when he underwent heart surgery in Houston. The experience led to a “branching out” in his work, in the form of a series of pen-and-ink drawings he called Life-Lines. ‘’During those months in hospital, although everything around me was white – my world appeared totally black. In a sketchpad I started drawing. Slowly, painfully like a blind person trying to learn Braille I scratched with my pen and gradually light, life itself began to peep through. Slowly, as I sketched, adding texture and line in place of colour, I discovered the light and colour in black and white. I drew the outlines of a woman’s face and birds began to fly in the cage of the tunnel. I could once again feel my heart beating. Once I had chosen to draw in the darkness, I discovered a new light.’’
An intense exploration of color and form has always been a hallmark of Wahab Jaffar’s work. Souza, an admirer of Jaffer’s work, said in 1992: ”There’s a very mysterious element in Wahab’s colours; you must look for it under veil after veil of vivid hues, Carnival, Revelry, Merrymaking. It’s Christmas in Wahab’s art! It’s joy! It’s a feast of light and colour!”
Jaffer is not only an artist of eminent stature but a well-known art collector; his collection is filled with a variation of artists featuring the charcoals by Bashir Mirza to socio political work by Nagori. He has in his collection a total of 127 different artists. According he said to Rumana Husain in a Dawn interview in 2001, “They are not all Pakistani, as although 75% of the collection does comprise of works by artists of this country, I also have various contemporary works from India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, UK and Canada.”
Modern masters and contemporary art dominates Jaffer’s collection, as they numbered several hundred. The collection extends to antiquities like rare manuscripts, sculptures, Miniature paintings from Jain, Bengal, Deccan and Persian schools of painting. He built up his collection through acquisition from private galleries, as well as from auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. At one time Jaffer had some 112 paintings by Ahmed Parvez, the artist who was Jaffer’s mentor and a dear friend. Later the number went down to ‘only’ 65, when he gave them away as gifts to family and friends. The great master, Sadequain is represented by 47 paintings followed by smaller numbers of Bashir Mirza and Tasadduq Sohail. When the Wahab Jaffer Collection (WJ Collection) was sold to the Rangoonwala Trust, it made national history as the first time such a major private collection had changed hands from the private to the public domain. In recognition of its importance in influencing the production of new art and the preservation of old art, art collecting aids the public in understanding and appreciating art. They help form a narrative of the diversity in art over the years.
Jaffer has over the years contributed to the Pakistani art scene through not only his work but with his passion to collect and preserve art for generations to come. According to the future plans for the WJ Collection headed by the Rangoonwala Trust, several different shows with lectures and slide-shows will be developed to help contextualize the work and help further it as an integral part of the nation’s heritage.
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