Sensuous Revelations


Anwar Saeed doesnt rush things. He is a painter who has worked at a measured pace ever since he graduated with distinction from the National College of Arts in 1978.

His first solo show at the Rohtas Gallery entitled Windows was a series of delicately rendered pencil drawings. Going on to the Royal College of Art in London in 1984, he specialised in illustration, using etching as his medium. His work continued to be figurative, but the RCA experience seemed to have removed all colour from his images. Anwars work has always concerned itself with both the internal and the external. The socio-political reality that he lives in is distilled into a very personal idiom.

His latest solo show at Islamabads Art Gallery in October was no exception. The mixed media paintings on paper, board and canvas are extremely dramatic, not by way of flamboyant flourishes of colour, texture or gesture, but by their sheer understatement.

Anwars RCA series of prints and drawings drew inspiration from Genet and Kundera, and these literary influences are also present in his new work. Colour has made a comeback as well; deeply saturated blues and greens, with edges of piercingly sharp highlights. Anwar meticulously constructs his surfaces in layers of collage and acrylic washes. His familiarity with collage and ink is stronger than with acrylics, but his figures manage to be subtly embedded in the surface.

The Soul series suggests an absence of being: empty shirts flap on clotheslines or on hangers, seemingly trapped into existence. Shadows form the fabric of his Sleep series, where figures float in a dark landscape, relieved by a half-eclipsed moon. One is reminded of Henri Rousseaus hallucinating moonlit imagery. Anwars work is layered, dense and almost menacing in its pain. Yet there is a lyrical quality to these dark works. The blue, electric in impact, in stark contrast to the white, creates visual reverberations which stay in the memory.

Narrative is a constant in Anwar Saeeds work, implying the presence of tradition. The intent, however, is often mysterious and the vocabulary complex and contemporary.

The image of the winged figure in the Flight series carries classical and literary connotations. Its desperate inability to ascend suggests a personal struggle. The spatial relationships in the Soul series are frontal in a shallow space, unlike the Sleep and Flight series, where depth is suggested. A common theme in all the work is an apparent deep sense of alienation. There are no clich├ęd statements in Anwar Saeeds paintings; instead there is a deeply felt and intellectually formulated state of being.

Anwar is in no hurry to be obvious or generous with meanings. Each painting is revealed slowly, almost sensually. Confronting this work, one is aware that he is among Pakistans finest painters who are patient enough to let viewers discover his work without any accompanying hype.