The Form


In the 1950s and 60s, a group of American artists reacted against the drips and gestures of abstract expressionism, to evolve a method of their own. A form of abstraction which covered the surfaces of canvases with monochromatic colours. Colour field painters, such as Ad Reinhardt, Kenneth Nowland, Barnet Newman, and Helen Frankenthaler, aimed to bring about a totality of the picture surface.

Frankenthaler soaked thin paint into unprimed canvas, so that the colour became entirely integrated rather than layered across the surface.

Unver Shafi Khans dazzling colour field paintings exhibited at Chawkandi Art, give credence to the conviction that hands-on painting is alive and well. ln the artists latest work, the contemplation of light-infused depths evoke a sensual visual experience. The emotional aspect is strengthened by the sweep of unbroken brushwork, the richness of oils caressing the canvas.

The artist gives vent to his urge for experimentation in smaller, mixed media pieces, registering patterns and forms. Not to say these are merely playful pieces. There is much more, The skilled use of line, removing paint with a dry reed creates an etched effect, textures are juxtaposed with space manipulated with skill and assurance. Among the recurring motifs are dominant symbols of new life, seeds and roots. Organic images abound, often they are fragmented to be reassembled into forms as pristine as marble sculpture.

Unver Shafi Khan first came to light in the 1980s, when as a graduate in literature from an American University; he followed his inclination and began to paint in earnest. His earliest exposure to contemporary art was experienced during his student days when modern American artists spoke out to him in colour. Ten years later, with a number of exhibitions to his credit, he was accorded a National Award at the 7th National Visual Arts Exhibition, arranged by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts in Islamabad. Showing the range of paintings together invites comparison. The canvas works, while leaving the forms and patterns of smaller pieces behind, are undeniably emergent from the embryonic forms. The paintings are resonant with the painters strive to address the enigma of being, an analysis of form that he continues to explore. The reference to columnar structures invites mixed reactions. In Lahore, where there is an active public interest museum and gallery doings, a motley crowd may wander in to view exhibitions at the Alhamra (Unver exhibited in November 1998 at the Alhamra). He delights in hearing the views of the man in the street; He is often amazed at what individuals see in his configurations.

It is not necessary to categorize the artists work in order to enjoy it. There is a classic use of traditional media, satisfaction of experimentation with new media, and confidence in handling either. These elements convey the artists pleasure in his work, a legacy handed down from the cave-painters to present times.