The professor extraordinaire

December 05, 2021

Dr Ajaz Anwar remembers Prof Khalid Iqbal as a compassionate person and a faithful friend who also had the gift to turn ordinary landscapes into extraordinary in his paintings

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— Image: Supplied

Prof Emeritus Khalid Iqbal was born in Simla, circa 1929. His grandfather had served in Afghanistan and later, after moving to a nascent Pakistan, built a house in Park Lane Street, Temple Road, Lahore.

After graduating, he served as an art master at the Aitchison College for a few years. The former president of Pakistan, Farooq Leghari, was one of his students. He disclosed this in his speech at the convocation of the National College of Arts (NCA).

Iqbal had been a pupil of Sheikh Ahmad, a vice principal of Mayo School of Arts and the husband of Anna Molka Ahmad. He later went on to study fine arts in Slade School, London. After returning to Pakistan, he was appointed a senior lecturer at the Department of Fine Arts, the University of the Punjab. He also taught the evening art classes at Lahore Arts Council.

He had a deep love for his students, and was a dedicated teacher. He was equally good at practical and theory classes. He became a lifetime mentor for his students.

Iqbal was an excellent painter. He usually painted his subjects on the spot, without alerting anybody. He would choose quite ordinary locales that didn’t catch the attention of a passersby. These he would turn into extraordinary.

His subject matter varied, yet it always came from his surroundings. He didn’t employ dramatic effects on his landscapes. His style was impressionist.

He painted in oils on hardboard. He never used canvas. And he never sculpted. His technique was more like coloured pencils where he’d gradually build the forms, sometimes even crisscrossing the brush strokes.

He never used linseed oil to dilute or mix his (oil) paints. The turpentine that he used for cleaning his bristle-hair brushes was mixed with a bit of raw linseed oil as a binding agent.

He was very particular about preparing his hardboard surfaces which had to be neither too absorbent nor too shiny.

In his landscapes, rarely would he show figures in the wilderness. Acacia Arabica, or keekar, was his favourite tree and dotted many of his canvases. The foreground — or the middle distance — would be filled with a typical landfill-like terrain. His skies were all ordinary shades of greys with no trace of clouds, and were rarely deep blue.

He created a three-dimensional effect — that is, the illusion of depth of field — by using different hues. This came from a deep study of the spot that he would select and return to, daily, at a specific time of the day.

Early on, his Volkswagen Beatle was open for a ride to students wanting to accompany him to landscape painting. Gradually, the suburbs were usurped by the housing colonies. Hence, later in his life, he travelled by his motorbike which became his constant companion. Many old-timers from remote villages still remember him.

He liked summers because of their stable sunlight. He did not like monsoons because of the drenched foliage and unstable light. Occasionally, he would paint still-life(s) wherein, again, light was his main focus.

Very few people know that Iqbal was a very good portrait painter. East Pakistani painter Murtaza Bashir’s full-figure portrait with him, seated obliquely in the chair, is more of a figure about to go into action. Anna Molka Ahmad’s life size full figure has been daringly rendered in red shirt (it now hangs in the principal’s office at the Institute of Art and Design).

Iqbal’s subject matter for landscapes wasn’t from the other world, yet he created a world of his own, compatible with his own personality and psyche. He accorded a status to his subjects that he painted — people’s city suburbs, by a people’s painter — for us to see and enjoy.

However, his rendering and pick of subjects gave a melancholic look. According to his pupil, Dr Khalid Mahmud, Iqbal depicted a sad mood.

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Khalid Iqbal never married. To him, all his students were his children. He secretly helped those in need. Not many would ever know that he often paid their fees for them.

I too occasionally benefitted from his generosity. He would never let anyone pay for lunch or tea, or for the cinema tickets.

The marriage of Zara and Colin David gave the art scene of Lahore a severe jolt, from which it took a long time to recover. Iqbal resigned from the university, and Shakir Ali welcomed him at the NCA. Among the many students he tutored, Iqbal Hussain was the most illustrious.

In due course, he was promoted as full professor and bestowed with the Pride of Performance.

When Shakir Ali decided to resign because of internal politics, Khalid Iqbal was asked to assume the principalship. He accepted on the condition that someone else would be appointed soon. During this time, he paid regular visits to Shakir Ali, reassuring him of their friendship. When Shakir Ali suffered a stroke, it was Iqbal who took care of him.

Shakir Ali had been building what he always called his ‘dream house.’ But some of his relatives who surfaced upon his death tried to sell it off. Hanif Ramay, the then Punjab governor, intervened and offered to buy it for the state and turn it into a museum. The market price for the house was estimated to be Rs 155,000. The relatives demanded double the amount. Ramay sanctioned the amount.

Prof Khalid Iqbal, who must have spent a significant amount on Shakir Ali’s treatment, stayed away. That some of those who had been instrumental in ousting Shakir Ali suddenly became his majawir is another story.

Finally, Iqbal Hassan was appointed the NCA principal and it was hoped that the dust would settle.

Khalid Iqbal found it difficult to continue at the NCA. He wanted to go on leave but was not allowed. Hence, he resigned, much to the relief of the hopefuls waiting to be promoted. This scribe, together with Prof Saeed Akhtar, as secretary and president of the Teaching Staff Association, respectively, tried to persuade him not to resign. But he wouldn’t listen. After his resignation, Iqbal began to paint full-time, churning out countless paintings. Of his students, Zulqarnain Haider was the most faithful. He visited his mentor almost every day, even when he wasn’t well.

(This dispatch is dedicated to Zulqarnain Haider)


The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at ajazartbrain.net.pk



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