Lean A Little Closer


KARACHI: Miniature paintings by definition are paintings that are executed with great detail and precision. An epitome of such a painting is that in which every intricate detail is defined, the artist just doesnt decide on excluding some of his subjects features because itll be too tiring to include them, he sits and meticulously represents the exact embodiment of his subject on to his canvas.

The definition of miniature paintings often confused with the paintings physical size. The meaning of the term relates first to the miniature technique and its execution and then to the size of the painting.

Traditionally, the paintings size can be described to be so small that it could fit it a persons pocket, however, this does not mean that one cannot paint a whole wall in miniature. As long as it naturally carries the eye deep into the depths of the painting, to such and extend that with high magnification one can see and separate the immaculate fineness of the brushstrokes. In essence, no matter what its size, a miniature painting should stand out under close inspection and, at the same time, should not lose its breathtaking effectiveness when viewed from afar.

Khadim Alis ten miniatures on display at the Chawkandi Art Gallery till November 28 can be said to be the quintessential example of what miniature paintings should be. Looking at his work one can loosely grasp the amount of time, effort and concentration the technique demands. His work is clean, precise and flawless, like a digitally altered photo. No smudges, creases or smears could be seen on the surface of the canvas.

Alis work illustrates the Iranian poet Ferdowsis Shahnama. However, making Ferdowsis meaning the essence of his work; his illustrations of the poem reflect what he perceived the story to be. Like Ferdowsis characters, Alis are also not archetypes or puppets that can be divided into heroes and villains. The best characters will have some bad flaws and the worst have hints of humanity. Ali depicts his characters having wispy beards, he paints a wise and knowing look on their face, however, the horns, goatish ears and beer bellies Ali adds to their features, confuse one into wondering if the characters are silently wise or subtlety cunning, are they good, or are they evil?

The most captivating aspect about his pieces is the fact that they make one want to carefully peel their complex form into simpler layers so that one can somehow understand how Ali managed to do what he did. The tonal balance, the layering of paint and paper, the abundant use of ambiguous shades green, along with the blood red calligraphy, give them this dramatic sense of depth. As if not only the characters, but also the paintings themselves, have more to them than what meets the eye. They tease you into leaning a little closer, thinking that the paintings details might answer your question.

The delicacy of his brush and the intricacy of his work are in perfect balance with the colors in the painting. Alis choice in color adds to the duality of his characters, one can figure out if the background is bluish black, cobalt gray or algae green. His use of gold films embossed with Urdu of Persian reveals that the painting isnt a flat piece of paper but is a layering of paper upon which Ali has delicately layered color upon color to create shades within shades.

Putting everything together, the elegance of a miniature painting is beautifully seen in his work regardless of the paintings size. Looking at Alis work one realizes that he knew exactly what he was doing before he went about doing it. His work makes the viewer get a glimpse of how a miniature comes into existence, that the work requires the utmost concentration, careful planning and a clean and dust-free environment because even a single grain of dust can spoil the whole painting.