Unadulterated art

November 15, 2015

At his solo show at Canvas Art Gallery, Quddus Mirza’s finished artwork may look accidental or erroneous but the intention for every stroke, mark and scribble is deliberate and calculated

Unadulterated art

Quddus Mirza is a man of many facets and talents -- an esteemed art critic, mentor, teacher, writer, curator and artist. His show at Canvas Gallery, Karachi titled ‘New Works’ is a collection of artworks that vibrates with the artist’s persona. Lingering under the surface of each canvas, you will find either in his choice of words or imagery, the humorous quips that he is well-known for. Mirza takes the essence of pain and projects it in his works, the implications of which are manifold.

One can almost sense the freedom with which he adds strokes and elements to the canvas defying any sort of restrictions, each mark defining the artist and his intimate relation with the process. The aestheticisation of violence cannot be avoided in the dense socio-political conditions of this country. Many Pakistani artists have therefore broached the subject of violence in their art. It is perhaps almost a duty undertaken by artists to voice the growing frustration (and fascination) of the general public with violence and its many forms.

The mutilated and decapitated bodies, the strewn bones; one cannot step away from the gruesome. Mirza’s imagery is alive with the raw truth in the interest of a desired effect or impact on the viewer. Media has made us accustomed to violence, be it in the form of news or movies we watch -- it has sensationalised the act and desensitised us in the process. It has now fallen upon the artists’ shoulders to personalise violence, to convey and re-establish emotions and recruit human sensitivities.

‘Multiple Choices’ is a selection of 16 words, divided into 4 columns, and provided to fill in the blanks of the sentence:  ‘I will ____ ____ in a ____ _____’. The words are placed on an alarmingly rich shade of red. You are not only supposed to simply view the work, but in your mind’s eye form a connection with the visual. One can spend several minutes trying out various options to fill in the blanks; there are no right or wrong answers. The visual relies on the viewers’ understanding of it as an exercise in helping explore the boundaries of creativity determined by the artist.

One can almost sense the freedom with which he adds strokes and elements to the canvas defying any sort of restrictions, each mark defining the artist and his intimate relation with the process.

What Mirza perhaps aims to do with the artwork ‘Painting’ is to allow us to reach into our very own subconscious and recall. As children we are known to scribble on any given surface especially the walls of our homes, landing us into trouble with the grownups. A crayon in the hands of a toddler is considered as hazardous as a gun in the hands of the inebriated. The artwork is certainly reminiscent of those years of unadulterated creativity.

‘War I’ depicts a battle ground, sketches of two men confronting each other, awash in bright hues of crimson and orange. The physical connection will allow the work to imprint itself in memory, reminding us of the essence of humanity we have so recklessly abandoned.

‘Bones’ features a human torso, a gun and bones. Three simple visuals broken down to the very basics, mere outlines at the most, yet the message it conveys is anything but basic. You cannot walk away from the visual; it is as if Mirza has provided in his canvases a blueprint of cognitive memory, one where you can judge, evaluate and recall every aspect of any form of violence to ever take place. Mirza does not rely on refined renderings, he relies on evoking familiarity and how one nowadays tends to register pain whether emotionally or physically.

‘RIP’ which is oil on fabric consists of the letters of the alphabet accompanied by body parts; for an instant you may think, the way in which it is presented, there is an underlying code for the viewer to decipher, connecting the visuals and forming perhaps a message. That however is not the case; it is almost as if the artist has invited you to play a game.

Mirza’s work is open to a foray of interpretations, the viewer is asked to delve into his or her own preconscious processing and turn it into a conscious awareness instead.

A dark, black and blue cloud surrounded by a shade of pink looms over a decapitated head in ‘Blood Ties’. The words ‘Ties’, ‘Blood’, ‘Kill’ and ‘Cloud’ are featured alongside in different colours. The text is an essential component to Mirza’s work; they help form the connection between paint and pain. A female figure is portrayed in the macabre act of slitting a figure’s throat. The very nature of violence is traumatic but perhaps less so than our own personal feelings, which are in most cases more terrifying in nature than the harm anyone else can inflict. Mirza aims at bridging the two where violence is not just viewed from a safe distance, but allowing it to enter your personal domain and playing havoc with your emotions even if for a brief period.

‘A House on Fire I’ features three canvases joint together, like pages of a story. A sheet of paper with a figurative drawing plastered on top looks like it was taken from a child’s math journal. There is text strewn all over, one can barely make out the words, some acutely visible, others hidden behind layers of paint.

In ‘A House on Fire II’ fiery swatches of orange are accompanied by swirls of white and blue, depicting the sky filled with smoke and amidst it all sits a small house on flames. The house in itself is a quintessential rendition -- a triangle for a roof, a square for the structure and a rectangle depicting the doorway. The entire scene is played out in a dramatic fashion. One can almost visualise the artist, slathering paint across the canvas, using the motion of his hands to guide the application.

For a child, the rules of physics or probability simply do not apply when they sit down, pencil in hand, to create a visual. Mirza’s work is also not encumbered with these notions; he manages to suspend the formal rules of mark-making in art, delving into the inner artist, with the purity of a child’s mind and the guidance of an adult hand, a feat not many artists can accomplish without coming off as pretentious.

Mirza’s finished artwork may look accidental or erroneous, as if elements were added on a simple whim, but the intention for every stroke, mark and scribble is most often deliberate and calculated.

(The show remains open till Thursday, November 19, 2015)

Unadulterated art