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Wahab Jaffers Passion for Painting

Author: Marjorie Husain      Publications: Art – Review (p-14)      Dated: 19 Dec 1994

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Primarily characterised as a brilliant colourist, Wahab Jaffer has been exhibiting his work since 81, using acrylic paint as medium. His style has recently moved towards a more delicate palette in which he explores the tonal values of black and white.

His latest paintings, displayed at the Chawkandi Art, Clifton, show that Wahab has currently discarded the distraction of colour in order to focus on paint quality. In place of colour he creates textural interest and subtle shading to achieve a collection full of light and movement. Working with the minimum of colour – some pigment has crept into a number of surfaces – the artists latest paintings; reveal him in an unusual mood.

The sculptural quality of his work is apparent in the stalagmite symbols which appear in sharp contrast to other familiar motifs used by the artist. Many of his images perhaps subconsciously, are taken from nature; they emerge transposed into visual, half-abstract symbols. Birds in flight, organic shapes and areas of white windows reach beyond the surface to an outer space. Larger canvases are lively with gestural, broad-sweeping strokes that curve across the surface. Differing in scale, the works are linked in the observers imagination by the suggestion of a far-reaching involvement with metaphysics.

The shadowy outline of classic Mother and Child imagery refers to the artists concern with iconography. In these works, spectral still-life images and myriad subdued elements of portraiture are juxtaposed with non-figurative elements.

Wahab Jaffer became involved in art in the 70s. lt was an interesting period of art in Pakistan, with a lot of work being done and new artists emerging on the scene. Many local artists returned from abroad at this time, and hopes and enthusiasms were high. Initially, Wahab`s passion for art was resolved by collecting the work of other local artists and surrounding himself with beautiful objects. Yet the desire to create a personal scenario persisted.

Encouraged by Ali lmam and Ahmed Parvez, Wahab began to paint and in 81 was ready for the first solo exhibition of his work; small-scaled, luminous, abstract acrylic pieces on paper. Since then, there have been more than half a dozen solo displays and numerous participations in group events, here and abroad.

Coming late to the practise of art, Wahab Jaffer has worked at it, hard and consistently. Never has he allowed other areas of his life to come between him and his true vocation. Through books and visits to museums and galleries in other countries, he has learned a great deal about the history of art, artists and contemporary methods as well as the appreciation of antiquates. Along with his very important collection of works by Pakistani painters, the artist has a formidable collection of historic items such as exquisitely framed icons.

At home, Wahab has a studio converted from a ground floor bathroom, hung with his own and friends paintings. He is one of the very few painters to hang other artists work in his house where he feels comfortably geared for work. Undisturbed by outside distractions, with music in the background, the artist spends hours totally absorbed.

In the early years as a painter, Wahab had to struggle to emerge from the strong influence of Parvez. Unlike artist Aftab Ahmed Khan who moved from Karachi to Quetta to escape the shadow of Parvez, he found his own individual idiom by constant searching. Examining different forms, Wahab gradually developed his own signature style, distinctive and immediately recognisable. Producing paintings lyrical and suffused with central light, it appeared the artists brilliant palette accentuated a dynamic outpouring. The interplay between the form and colour elements of his work demanded of the viewer more than just a cursory glance.

An exhibition of pen and ink drawings executed in 85, created surprises when exhibited at a display held in 89. They were the outcome of a period of acute suffering. Hospitalised and surrounded by white walls, beds and uniforms, the artists eye perceived that all things threw a dark shadow. Unable to paint, he began to draw, creating a fantasy world with pen and ink. Encapsulated in a dark period of his own, the artist wrote, “Once I had chosen to draw in the darkness I discovered a new light.”

Returning to health, Wahab also returned to a world of colour, but the surrealistic creatures born of the artists pain, continued to haunt his canvases. On a recent visit to the University of British Columbia, where he visited the Museum of Anthropology, Wahab was enchanted with the beautiful environs. Mountains bedecked with pine trees overlook the sea which appears to change colour throughout the day. In these surroundings and while travelling, he continued to draw constantly, creating an image hoard of small scaled, heavily worked pieces. Perhaps as the artist says, the awareness of the surrounding mountains created the feeling of density which entered his surfaces. Each minute miniature carries intricate areas of design. Hatching, cross-hatching and parallel lines juxtaposed with curves and dotted patterns create a scenario where organic forms with unearthly female faces, appear to grow out of the ground. Exotic birds allow themselves to be worn as decorative pieces, or are part of an esoteric landscape. The drawings are extraordinary, executed without shading or background.

Wahab Jaffers paintings convey to the observer the great joy he finds in art. Simplifying form and moving in and out of abstraction, he appears to move towards an exciting possibility, to arrive at work independent of local colour or illustrative form.