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Exploring Frontiers of No-Mans Land

Author: Hameed Zaman      Publications: NULL      Dated: 10 Dec 1992

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KARACHI: Anwar Saeed, who has been trained as a printmaker at the Royal College of Arts, London, and is teaching at the National College of Arts, Lahore, has renounced the richness of the colors “because I have reached a conclusion that minimum use of colour can create greater impact, than all the colours put together,” he says. So, in the fashion of Reinhardt (black-on black) he paints blue- on-blue, making the colour so opaque that the submerged images live only in a state of silhouettes and shadows.

The exhibition of his 25 paintings-cum-collages opened at the Chawkandi Art last week. This is his third exhibition in Karachi. It is interesting that within one month three exhibitions mounted by two known painters Salima Hashmi and Anwar Saeed and one by Dr Syed Ali Wasif, a consultant psychiartist, moved around depth psychology, dealing with the areas of subconscious, memories and dreams, evoking a world of intangibles: phatasm Lgorias illusions and visions.

Anwar too is digging deep into the subconscious world of twilight zone, exploring the frontiers of somnambulic no-mans land. The world beyond presents, for the artist, an eerie scenario of rejection and alienation. Its a sombre realm of loneliness where figures: humans, animals, fishes, trees, rivers, etc are seen in the opacity of various tonalities of blue and ultra-marine with a touch of green to intensify the blues. In the endless space which opens in a haze under the moonlit backdrop, objects are suspended in their levitating existence, defying gravity.

The liquid overlapping of greenish-blue make it possible to conjure a misted and cloudy fumes of oneiric sphere. His archetypal posturing figures, standing, sitting, lying and even standing upside down, live a passive existence, silent, trapped and enigmated. The artist seems to have an insight which could sense beyond the domain of optical, where tigers prowl, and horses roam without their riders. At best, a rider can cling to the horse-back before he stumbles down. Men either sleep, seeking escape in dreams or play chess with the unseen opponent or await for the dead spirits to visit them. The result is a strong sense of associative viewing.

Anwars dream-like canvases draw immediate attention with their still silence. Here creativity is not speaking a language of turbulence, though there is an obvious undercurrent of alienation, simulating a kind of silent protest against the prevailing socio-political ends.  The images float through gauzy paint screens, awash with the tonal harmonies. The expressiveness of internal state is shown through blue radiance of endless space. The space for him is a state of subconscious, the birthplace of dreams which give vent to the fears and apprehensions originating from the fearful environment of suffocation and repression.

His work does not confront or overwhelm. Instead, one is drawn into its vortex, the inner vision, and to strengthen this perception, he makes his colours transparent, ethereal and haunting. The images blend gently with the background as the dividing lines melt away, creating an effect of haziness, increasing a sense of depth and penumbra. His blue-on-blue series are convincing enough to allow a suspension of disbelief.

Deeply introspective, Anwars work is intersection of his experiences, cultures, thought process and philosophies. His existentialist slant is too obvious. The passivity, desperation and hopelessness surround human figures that are boxed in the tightly drawn divisions. These Chirico-like proto-realistic figures (man facing a tiger) delineate artists passion for third-dimensionality in a manner which is more felt than represented.

These are not paranoiac monologues where figures curl up in a kind of moist intra-uterine security, but are images of concrete irrationality, which exist only in dreams. Though phantom presence of horses, fishes and human figures, the artist is trying to pass beyond the mirror, an impossible task. The harsh realities can only be faced under a kind of drug induced hallucination and their harshness can only be experienced when reduced to dreamlike unreality. Men with one wing sprouting from their shoulder try to escape but cant, man sitting before a tiger is paralysed, moons are going through their eclipse, clouds are about to burst, and the three horses are unable to break their circle of solitariness.

These figures glow in the nebulas of moonlight, bringing an element of melodrama. As such these paintings, at times, I look theatrical and somewhat artificial. The work, through done with painterly dexterity, looks rather self-conscious, literal, illustrative and obvious. Literal and concrete in their conspicuous rhetoric, some of the paintings are deprived of their mystery, which is there in many others. Once the title is known, the paintings become routine. In their clear-cut descriptions, even the Freudian sexual illusions and metaphors could not save some of the paintings from obscure disjunction.

It seems that Anwar Saeed is dreaming without protest. These are escapist dreams, rather than showing any political or social promise. Or, is it a blind alley of helplessness which shows no promise at all.