‘Painting is a journey of a lifetime’

July 19, 2020

Exploring the colours of life with Moazzam Ali

Hailing from Karachi, Moazzam Ali is an internationally-acclaimed contemporary watercolourist. His work has earned him numerous accolades, including President of Pakistan’s Pride of Performance award; the title of Watercolour Master by Tina Kukielsk of the Whitney Museum, New York; Watercolour Master Award at the International Watercolour Biennale 2020; and Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Watercolour Biennale 2016. A book comprising more than 150 painting plates of Moazzam Ali’s work has also been published.

Here are excerpts from a The News on Sunday interview with the artist.

The News on Sunday: Were you interested in fine arts from a young age?

Moazzam Ali: My earliest memories are of using charcoal to draw on the walls of our house. Sometimes I would get into trouble for this. Growing up, I decided to pursue my passion for fine arts as a profession and joined an art college. In 1980, I graduated in fine arts, securing a gold medal. I have been an art director in leading advertising agencies served as principal of two art colleges. Throughout the years, paintings have been my companions.

TNS: Would you say an artist is born and not trained?

MA: I would say that one is born with a certain talent but that alone is not enough in this day and age. The talent needs to be nourished and polished before it can deliver creativity at its full potential. This is where art education comes in. A college is not just about acquiring skills, there is also an environment that one becomes a part of. The experience is crucial in the early years. An art college is about a continuous exposure to art, artists and artworks.

TNS: Why did you choose watercolour as your medium?

MA: Watercolour always came naturally to me. I never intended to specialise in it or something. In fact, over the years, I have painted in oils, acrylics, egg tempera and tiles etc. I have even done sculptures. Interestingly, watercolour in Pakistan has always been done in a traditional way, a wash technique. However, I approached it in my own way which I think is important as it allows further exploration of the medium.

TNS: Is a unique technique adopted or learnt?

MA: Painting is a process. What you see now in my work is an accumulation over 40 years of painting and study. It has evolved over time. I have travelled over the world to see different types of artwork and attended as well as conducted painting workshops.

TNS: What is the main skill or component to excel in watercolour?

MA: Good drawing. This is a personal opinion. Of all the mediums, watercolour is one where drawing is of utmost importance. Then of course practice is always a component that helps improve your skills such as water and colour balance, the speed at which to paint as watercolour dries quicker etc.

TNS: How did you come to choose to paint Indus Valley civilisation and to highlight women?

MA: Pakistan is my country. I have always been fascinated by our culture and heritage. Indus Valley civilisation has been a life-long subject of my work. It started with Mohenjo Daro. Then I moved on to its beautiful landscapes and the people. I have done several series which included working women of Pakistan, rural damsels, woman with pitchers etc. Painting is similar to a life’s journey, you explore it to its limits and once you are done you summarise your insights and conclude. I have also painted various aspects of the Indus Valley civilisation over the decades. The subject can be summarised in a painting of a woman and a pitcher. The two objects are representative symbols of the culture and heritage of a 4,000 years old civilisation.

TNS: What is painting to you in one word?

MA: Life


The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi and can be contacted at [email protected]

‘Painting is a journey of a lifetime’: Exploring the colours of life with Moazzam Ali