An Artist Of Technical Perfection

DATED: 14 FEB 1992

The decorative extravaganza with high price tags created by the Lahore artist Askari Mian lrani, opened in Karachi. Last week at the Chawkandi Art, displaying two sets of paintings, both unique in their renderings. One set evokes the splendour of Mughal grandeur while in the other calligraphy and numerology play a predominant role. Both the different genres present newly crafted references and freshly designed patterns.

His Mughal portfolio is rich in its lyrical beauty. The decorative masterpieces are made resplendent with gold, silver collage, fabrics, tissue paper, and an endless drip of the colourful waterfall. Here the artist takes liberties with the traditional Mughal miniature in terms of size (over-blown) and medium (oil), and brings in pet white peacocks to entertain the languid damsels and princesses, pining in their solitary confinements; an interesting transposition of the pets, a characteristic of the Kangra school.

Perhaps, after Chughtai, Askari Mian is another artist who uses architectural designs with such enthusiasm and finesse, only to enrich the backdrop and the perspective. In fact, his sense of design is so compulsive that most of his canvases are overcrowded with these designs, utilizing the linear curtain like a stage decor. Here, I must say, he takes a well deserved bow as a set designer. No wonder, as a Professor of Design at the National College of Arts, Lahore, he nurses his first love of architectural design with an obsessive passion. And obviously these moss-covered, emerald-green settings help evoke a nostalgic glimpse of the opulent Mughal past.

He is using the arabesque designs of the Mughal building and has been inspired by their motifs, planning and blue-prints which can be seen in historical monuments like: Badshahi Mosque, the Fort, Shalimar Garden, tombs of Jehangir and Noor Jehan etc. He has also taken hints from all kinds of Mughal draperies: Khilats and the aristocratic regalia of the courtiers, preserved in various national museums.

Askari Mian has borrowed to recreate, to reshape them all over again to fit them in his artistic format. His stylised stage settings and masonry structural enrichment, at times, consume a lot of space, reducing the foreground subject to a secondary object, positioned under the growing weight of the rising walls, minarets Haveli gates, parapets and other refinements of the human figures (noblemen riding in a procession) taken from the pages from the Mughal Albums, are oversized and are in oil, yet they look subservient, just a foil to highlight the back-ground.

Since the human figure, particularly women, are mostly drawn from memory, like the Mughal miniatures, that explains the similarity of the female face with gazelle-like eyes, straight faces with round chins. Askari Mian bullds his architectural edifice Taq by Taq, with the help of repetitive and symmetrical designs and never ending patterns.