This Solo Show of Hanif Shehzad at Chawkandi Art, was mainly a collection of various cityscapes of the city of Karachi. A space he wants to keep alive in his paintings, knowing that at one point they will not look the same or may even cease to exist. The artist is known for his particular interest in painting old buildings and street views in various perspectives, mainly with elements which identify the local cultural icons such as the shalwar kameez clad women and Rickshaws and mini-buses which are a rampant presence through the streets of Karachi.
Most striking about his paintings are the contrasts created by nighttime scenes in comparison to the daytime scenes for the newer areas such as the Port Grand .The older areas such as the streets of Saddar, Tower and Tariq Road were mainly done as a night scene.
The illumination by streetlights and other forms of man-made light sources has a gentle cascading-light effect over surrounding trees, buildings and people populating his canvases. The buttery yellow light of tungsten splattered across the road itself makes one recall one’s own personal memories of the space. This is not to say that someone who has not seen these areas before would not be able to appreciate the way these night scenes are painted in its full splendor, keeping in mind dominant effect of artificial light sources. They truly steal the show in my opinion, be it a headlight of a Rickshaw, a motorcycle or a lamppost emitting the warm tungsten hues—all of them essentially painted to bathe the streets with a carpet of comforting warm tones.
The Port Grand walkway in the nighttime is highly appealing to the eye since the ships that stand at the port are so masterfully painted to reflect back the artificial light sources, depicting how it keeps the area alive and bustling. One dusk scene painting of the Port Grand area highlights the natural orange of the setting sun, beautifully rimming the outline of clouds with such precision that it evokes a hyper-realistic feel to a very high degree. The photographic feel, mimicked by the “star burst lens effect” is also a very intriguing and signature element of his paintings which at first glance makes one assume that it is a photographic capture instead of oils on a canvas.
Hanif Shehzad when talking about this solo exhibition mentions how this time round he has taken a liberty with unrealistic colours, especially for the old monuments. It is true that my realistic eye may not feel at ease looking at the blue and pink hues, in areas where I know for a fact cannot be real hence creating a “detached from reality” look in almost all of his monumental paintings. That is the liberty that only an artist can take to give his perspectives and views. It is this detachment from reality, through colour, which makes the viewer stop and assess and then reassess what was just perceived through our reliable, sense of sight.
The main buildings that dominate the show are the Mohatta Palace and Hindu Gymkhana being the subject of multiple paintings with differing colours and perspectives. Also then we see Baldia Building, Denso Hall and the Church along with a few paintings of the Karachi Seaview. One-off Street Scene paintings of Tariq Road, Saddar and Tower are also in the show, which are mainly painted as a night perspective.
The imaginary aspect in foregrounds are a further pull away from the realistic landscape surrounding the older buildings that the artist has painted in multiple colour palettes. For instance the painting of the main gate of Mohatta Palace with its imaginary foreground is completely an exercise in imagination since it is the sidewalks and roads which is what memory tends to recall and not the natural vegetation as is visible in the painting. Again, such is the liberty that only an artist can take.
It is mainly the blue and purple colour in the artist’s palette which speaks profoundly of the “detached from reality” aspect, being more so audible when one gets to see them splattered in buildings which realistically are made of red bricks or visible in the leaves and grass which most obviously is not to have such unbelievable hues. All in all speaking boldly to the viewer, and being upfront about how it is what the artist wants it to be and not how it should be.