Author: Gregory Minissale | Dated: 7 Apr 1988
Printing is like learning to play a sitar, you have to do it every day for years to get better and better,” says Anwar Saeed, one half of the duo from Lahore displaying their prints at the Chawkandi gallery.
Both artists are seasoned printmakers, Naazish Ataullah having studied printmaking at the Slade School and Anwar Saeed, illustration at the Royal College of Arts. But simply learning the craft, the techniques and the jargon of printmaking is not enough. Without an artistic sensibility, without intuition and inspiration, mastery alone becomes mere science.
In Anwar Saeed’s and Naazish Ataullah’s prints, technical mastery has been subordinated to artistic will. In turn, the way the inks respond, the way the nitric acid bites into the zinc plate is something that is never fully predictable. “It’s often a great surprise how things will turn out” says Nazish… “It’s like a process of self-revelation.”
The symbiotic relationship between inspiration and practical execution becomes a struggle that reaches an impasse in both their prints. Some prints become a display of the complicated, painstaking processes of printmaking and the artist’s struggle to translate his design through them. Other prints tend to display the peculiarity of printmaking as if to say “any other form of art could not possibly achieve this effect” and so an entirely new approach is needed to appreciate these pieces.
Popular misconceptions about printmaking being too graphic or hard-edged, objective and mechanical are bound to disappear after a study of both their works. Both artists have been able to introduce emotional intensity and aesthetic considerations into their prints. Perhaps most importantly both artists have an essential sense of mystery that enables them to avoid the didactic and the literal which are recipes for the prosaic.
Anwar Saeed’s prints are often singular works while Naazish tends to work in cycles or conceptual suites of work.
Often in Anwar’s work his Illustration background surfaces, as with his Faiz Peace Mala 1987 which is a riotous composition and very effective in presenting to us, in a classical collage manner, a multiplicity of realities (images of news papers, calligraphy, moons, parts of anatomy) which we perceive simultaneously rather like the “montage” device in cinema.
Often Anwar is overtly political, displaying extracts of political newsprint about El-Salvador, South Africa or Lebanon. But still an element of mystery remains and rather than protest, these works are only gestures towards political situations, fragments that do not subordinate his art to political diatribes.
Other prints use the same device with elements from Gandhara or Tibet. With the simplification of his compositions and the reduction of details a more serene mood prevails which is more suitable for his changes of theme to the birth of man, the waxing and waning of the moon, mythic prehistory and other cosmic themes.
His diaphanous forms seem to dissolve in green hues, while others remain constant, opaque and heavy. One tends to feel more excited by the turbulence of his urban subject matter rather than enchanted by vague prehistory.
Naazish’s prints are to a larger extent more impenetrable. Working more consistently in sequences, Naazish leaves much unsaid and much to the imagination. With her “Shrouded Form” series, a conch shell has been isolated and decontextualised, its photo-image transferred into print, reminiscent of Man Ray’s ray graphs or solarisations.
Here the textures are far more varied with acquaints and various viscosities of ink. Sometimes a dream-landscape lies behind the isolated object; sometimes an amorphous backdrop but there is almost always, recurrent ‘jali’ work from the Shish Mahal, on the border of the prints.
The incongruity of disparate objects meeting on the same plane fills our minds with new associations. The shell is symbolic (sea, nakedness, secrecy and also presents us with formal qualities (dome curves, natural lines, slits).
We are also presented with a dilemma of artistic creativity: the artist is not the creator of the shell and natural forms but encloses the image of a shell in the picture and therefore claims authorship of it, like a “found object” in an “assemblage” sculpture.
Another interesting series centres around the chaddar as a gamut of meanings and associations. Again the same border is used as a kind of unifying pictorial element so we move through recurrent themes of nakedness versus the hidden and veiled to an obliteration of identity with her dark clothed forms, evoking the presence of an absence that is woman.
The pattern of the scrim has been pressed out on the covered plate so that a complex, highly suggestive form with folds is created. In one print, that is perhaps one of the most superior, she has rudely cropped the chaddar, introduced some red ink and a downward thrust below. The effect is violent and disturbing.
The cerebral approach to these works gives way occasionally to the emotions but revelation constantly eludes the viewer. This “hide and seek” intellectual game is what makes art stimulating and sophisticated at the best of times. Reveal all and you empty the picture of enigma and interest.
The exhibition at the Chawkandi Gallery is an extraordinary one because of the heights the artists have reached with the medium, achieving a remarkable complexity and variety.
One tends to feel the artistic struggle, over their tools of expression, like a child learning to speak. But this is a visual language which is a continuous struggle, as the artists move on to new forms of expression. As one of them said “We’ve learnt a lot but even someone after 30 years of this is still learning”. This rare spirit of enquiry and experiment in art is an invigorating force that distinguishes their art.