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Painting Water with Water

Author: Shamim Akhter      Publications: Daily News–Week Mag.(p.3)      Dated: 31 Jan 2004

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The first winter showers and Ghalib Baqars watercolour painting exhibition in the city went hand in hand. As if Ghalib foresaw that at the time of his exhibition, the city would be having rain, so he painted rain soaked situations. Mostly it was marins life, cityscape and seaside with boats and ships – all watered by rain through the skilful use of watercolours by Ghalib, The show was not any different from what the city looked like at that time. He skilfully portrayed water falling on water. Undoubtedly, Ghalib Baqar is the best watercolourist in Pakistan at the moment. His current show at Chawkandi is representative of abstract art in the true sense. His forms are an abstract from reality. He seems to be abstracting hues as well from his colours. Sensitive to national issues, it hurt Ghalib to find marine life destroyed at Karachi shores by the ugly oil spill. He amalgamated the pleasure of his boyish fondness for spot painting of fisheries during his early years of painting and the present curse of the oil spill and successfully portrayed how man can mercilessly destroy nature without regrets. His marine depictions are shouting, crying and yet showing smile linked with hope. Ghalib earnestly believes that hope should not die. The hope on his canvases lives on through his palette and the timings he paints. All this put together makes his efforts an aesthetic experience.

Ghalib Baqar graduated from Karachi School of Art in 1975. To link his paintings to the soil, he thought it compulsory to have a thorough knowledge of Urdu Literature. He obtained his Masters in Urdu Literature from Karachi University in 1994. He philosophised his choice to paint and said that like a flower that emitted scents without knowing why it did so, he painted out of compulsion as if he was destined to do so. He says. “I am like a tool in the hands of painting. It is not I who has selected to paint; rather painting has selected me for its execution.” The title of one of his paintings explains it to the full. lt is verse from Ghalib the poet where he says that the hum of reed pen is the voice of angel.

His surroundings added to what was inculcated in his blood stream. His home was a place for the intellectuals. His father, Professor Mujtaba Hussain, was a play and short story writer. His circle of friends included poets, writers, and painters. The atmosphere enhanced Ghalibs yearnings. Hence he became a painter for his expression of thought and not a doctor as he had planned during his school days. Instead, he studied philosophy for his graduation and obtained his Masters in Urdu Literature. His linkage with the Subcontinents classical literature and intellectual affinity with its cultural history compels me to call him a painter of the soil. His exhibition of painting at Chawkandi Art in 2000 was a verdict on his mental makeup. At that show Ghalib Baqar had painted with watercolour what was contained in the classical poetry of Ghalib, Yagana Changaizi, Mir Anees and Mir Dabeer and Mir. Apart from the thought behind his paintings, his hues and forms were pleasing to the eye. To fulfil the requirement of the subject, he bordered his works creating an impression of page forms from the classical books where matter was placed within a linear frame. He divided and sub-divided his spaces with painterly skills and some of his paintings were equally attractive if looked at upside down.

Ghalib Baqar is an art teacher also. He teaches at the Visual Art Department of Karachi University. He started teaching art at Arts Council Quetta from 1978. Being a student of philosophy, he studies all the relative subjects, which create positive effects on his paintings. With painterly skills, he brings in poetic realities on his canvas; but his painting overwhelms his canvas as was seen in his paintings on display at Chawkandi Art. He calligraphed verses from the master poets, some of the canvases carried portraits of the poets and yet his colours, forms and compositions put together formed a work of art – a painting, and not a narration. He has equal command on the history of art in the Subcontinent and critically evaluates the works of Pakistani artists. He finds watercolour as a challenging medium.

Paging through the history of water colour in the Subcontinent and in Pakistan, Ghalib Baqar critically views the works of Chughtai and Zainul Abedin who established their individuality through water colour. Despite the fact that Chughtai was influenced by Bengal School of Art and Rajput School and some of the works of Zainul Abedin depicted the influence of Chinese style, both of them were original painters. He calls Chughtai a great mind though, according to him, Chughtai could not come out of the web of Mughal Princes. Ghalib remarked that Chughtais woodcutter carrying an axe also looked like Prince Saleem. He could not face the realities of the time although he was a contemporary of lqbal and Taigore who were writing revolutionary poetry and Sub continent was afire by freedom movement. Ghalib Baqar thought that if Chughtai had come out of his nightmare and worked his revolutionary spirit out on his canvas, he would have had attained the heights of Picasso. He praised Sadequain for painting Ghalibs anguish with oil.

Ghalib admires Shakir Ali for breaking the static scene of Pakistani art by introducing Modern Art. This movement enhanced the scenario of art in Pakistan at the same time damaging it too as any Tom and Dick was labeled an artist by merely throwing colour on the canvas without having   knowledge of ABCD of art. Our painters simply forgot or purposely ignored that they had their roots in the Subcontinent. Art became a product of news instead of vision. A small group of artists worked with watercolours but without much life. In fact, traditional painting in watercolour died in the Subcontinent with the death of Chughtai. The influence of the British in the Subcontinent did not spare even the watercolour paintings of the time. British had a three-dimensional thought process and the third D was also evident in their watercolour painting. Their works were transparent, fresh, soft and spontaneous. They did not use white; instead, they would leave the space on canvas as white. The same British trend traveled to America as well. Ghalib Baqar and others of his group, including Zaheen, Najam and Abdul Hai who started watercolour painting in the seventies, worked under the influence of the British technique and style. The group reached the heights of their contemporaries in England by painting surrounding landscapes and cities and places in Pakistan. Yet the works suffered a weak point. The contents were Pakistani but way of expression was totally British. The painted surfaces presented a situation like an Englishman narrating stories of Britain in Urdu language.

Ghalib Baqar rebelled from the set trend of watercolour in his exhibition at Chawkandi Art. He made a positive use of his intellectual affinity with the Subcontinent by introducing surrounding landscapes and images of Anis, Ghalib, and their poetic lines including those of Dabir, Yagana and Mir in a way that they all become integral part of a whole. He chose a platte closer to the British influence. The panels and borders on his canvases were borrowed from our classical books. Ghalib worked his canvases in his own tradition. He painted without a layout and drawing.

Ghalib went through a short spell of self-contradiction at Zenaini in a group show. With his automatism and experimentation of images, he painted nudes in cubism on small scale when Afghanistan was burning under a shower of bombing by US warplanes. He thought that the Taleban deserved it because they did not let girls go to schools. There he forgot a lesson of logic and ethics as a student of philosophy. Perhaps Ghalib realised the fact that painting is a visual experience and revolutionary philosophies take a secondary position on a canvas as compared to the forms and hues.