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Between the Real and the Surreal

Author: Salwat Ali      Publications: Dawn–Gallery (p.11)      Dated: 21 Oct 2012

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Qamar Siddiquis latest exhibition at Chawkandi Art Gallery, Karachi, centralises on the element of struggle that human beings have to undergo in order to resist materialistic temptations. lt is much  easier to stray away from the path of good than to stay on it and these artworks capture those intermediary moments between reason and passion. A strong combination of skills, style and concept the artists intensely worked paintings evolve from deliberated ideas related to human failings and weaknesses.

Siddiqui initially experimented with realistic renditions of still life and abstract painterly exercises, then early in his career, gave way to figurative compositions based on philosophical or moralistic ideals. His compositions are still predominantly figure-cantered but now his stylistic treatment carries influences of several genres. Currently his works appear to be a mix between contemporary realism, expressionism and a dash of biblical allegory paintings.

Like the modernist Expressionist artist of the 20th century who sought to portray meaning or emotional experience rather than physical reality through radical distortion of subject, he, too, indulges in transforming and hybridising figures to convey their state of mind. But his works remain hedged between the real and the surreal because he is also enamoured by pictorial narration in sacred art which restrains him from tilting too much towards the grotesque and the bizarre.

Technically it is not always easy to balance a quasi-realistic rendition and though Siddiquis paintings have always attempted to synthesise the ordinary with the extraordinary this is by far his most mature attempt to integrate literal applications with stylistic distortion. He now seems to have a defined signature that bears his stamp. When reason and order struggle for supremacy with passion and disorder it represents a collision of two sensibilities.

This juxtaposition of diametrically opposed sentiments is captured in the artists works in a striking manner. Painting subjects resisting or succumbing to desire and temptation he resorts to symbolic and chromatic indicators to emphasise his thrust.

For him the colour red represents materialism, greed and avarice while white signifies purity, innocence and spiritual strength. He creates contrast and polarity with a vocabulary of menacing chequered patterns and assorted textures like abrasive linear masses, wispy feathered effects, fragile cocoons and gauzy webs of latticed plumes.

The use of symbols as covert moral pointers is a common art practice. Checks and patterns accompany religious and spiritual concepts in both eastern and western cultures.

In medieval Europe, contrasting chequered cloth or stripes, when worn or seen in images, designated a person on the margins of society, a performer, necromancer or outcast a role sometimes taken on by contemporary artists. Colourful patterning also demonstrated the closeness of the sacred and the diabolic an ambiguous affirmation of goodness.

Use of specific body language is another manoeuvre employed by Siddiqui to voice his subjects behaviour. Mute, crestfallen or agonised facial expressions chronicle emotional dilemmas. Similarly the self-protective. Shrinking or with- drawing, fatal postures and embryonic huddles speak of an inner battle – the conflicting states of resistance and inclination.

These art works can also be read as an ego and alter ego phenomenon. A visual journey between the two sides of each of us and of everything, an exploration of the concept that good and evil coexist, constantly at war, within one person, art getting one or another of the sides revealed.

Currently a faculty member of his alma mater, the Karachi School of Art, where he is thesis advisor Siddiqui has exhibited widely and his work has been well-received in exhibitions in UAE and Singapore. As an artist he is dedicated to his ideals and his introspective temperament, grasp on painting and drawing skills and the ability to work hard are attributes that will serve him well in his future artistic endeavours.