Many renowned Pakistani artists passed away in 2020
At the end of his life
he had money and attention,
and certain towns were known
in connection to his name
He was fastidious, and wore a tie,
was photographed with brushes, with a bird.
Under the subtropical sky
he forgave the things long done.
He hardly saw his children,
by habit was self-absorbed. His atelier
was sacrosanct, with the ocean for a view.
When he painted, it was descent
and descent and descent from the cross,
and when he died
the sepulcher was simple.
His late-life love
wept from another room
As the year 2020 ends, many are in mourning over the deaths of their beloved ones. The void they left behind may never be refilled. The art world too has lost some towering personalities whose priceless art, smiling faces and presence on the art scene would be greatly missed.
Born in 1948 in India, Abdul Hayee was one of the most well-known and celebrated artists of Pakistan. He never painted for money, but learnt art to teach his watercolor techniques to the next generation. He was the first artist to introduce open-air painting. He would paint landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes on-site especially on the dock yards and Malir along with his students. Watching him paint was a joy as the blending of colors, nimble strokes and command over the medium left one in awe. Saleem Akhtar, his student and friend, recalls that he was completely on his own; financially and emotionally – living alone. “Even at the age of 71, he had the energy of a teenager. However, once his eyesight was gone, he regretted not having a companion who could look after him. He was recognised by many as the most humble member of the art fraternity. He would always exchange smiles with the people he met and his door was always open for friends, art lovers, students and the needy. One day I found him lying in a corner of his house. He was shivering. He told me that he had had a fever for three days and had not had a proper meal. He said he had been waiting for somebody to visit him,” Akhtar says.
He painted with the objective of reviving the art of watercolor painting. His art was as simple as his person. His landscapes and cityscapes were a narrative that he weaved by traveling to all corners of Pakistan. He always saw beauty in his surroundings. Hayee was a mentor, teacher and friend to many. To some, he was also a father figure.
Khurshid Alam Gohar Qalam:
“My only reward has been the respect with which I have been treated by the people, particularly my students whose number must now run into thousands.”
Calligraphist Khurshid Alam’s death has saddened his many students, colleagues and fellow artists. Born in Khushab district in 1956, he mastered the art of calligraphy following an apprenticeship with the late Hafiz Yousuf Sadidi.
He authored more than 28 books and taught calligraphy at the National College of Arts. He was honored with the title Gohar Qalam in recognition of his contribution to visual arts, especially his powerful calligraphy. His work conveyed the message that calligraphy was deeply rooted in our history. He was also a brilliant writer who wrote drama serials like Pukar and Musawir. He also wrote poetry and newspaper articles. His work is on permanent displayed at Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Data Gunj Bakhsh shrine in Lahore and in the London Museum. It earned him many accolades. In 1990, he received a special award from the government of Balochistan and another special award from the prime minister. In 1991, he received the president’s award for Pride of Performance. In 1999, he received the Ali Hajveri Award from the prime minister. In 2005, he received an award from the foreign minister of Japan (for his 33 international exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Tokyo).
Shahid Jalal passed away at the age of 72 on August 18. Larger than life, Jalal was one of the prominent artists of Pakistan. He had many shows to his credit on the national and international level. In 1989, he had won the Punjab Painters’ Exhibition award. In1994, he received the presidential Pride of Performance award. His paintings were rich in details and his brush strokes spellbinding. He loved to capture the exquisiteness of life in Lahore that included flowers, carpets and gardens. An accountant by profession, Jalal had benefited from mentoring by Khalid Iqbal.
Known for his extraordinary skills, his art stood unique and distinctive. He was an under-rated and under-discussed artist in the popular media. However, his work provoked much discussion in the art world. He created deceptive figures that confused the viewers initially and provoked them to rethink their beliefs. On other occasions, the imagery was unpretentious and easily decipherable. Most of his images are tightly framed in bold hues and scream for attention. They might appear maddening to some and pleasant or gloomy to others. Farid’s own life was an open book. About a month before his demise, he had opened up on social media about his personal and health issues and requested his friends to continue to be a source of strength for him.
Fasihuddin Qureshi started teaching in 1993 at the Arts Council Institute of Arts and Craft. He was an alumnus of the ACIAC himself. He made a place for himself in the art world by producing a unique blend of abstract, non-figurative, Kufic style calligraphy paintings. His work was wide open for viewers to interpret. Large square boxes and geometric shapes remained a huge part of his work. Qureshi’s abstract paintings became the emblem of his identity. He was inspired by expressionism and fauvism. Among renowned art critics his style and painting techniques were highly appreciated by Bashir Ahmed and Imam Ali.
Zahoor Hussain Multani:
Zahoor Hussain had a humble but ebullient nature. He had benefited from mentoring by A Jahangir. Inspired by old masters, he continued producing commercial art including film posters, banners and book covers, particularly for children’s books. He had a long list of protégés who now dominate the art world. However, he preferred a simple life away from the limelight and devoted most of his time to art. Ghulam Hussain says that Zahoor Hussain was his teacher and a mentor to many. “His death has left us in shock… We still have to reconcile with the fact that the brilliant artist is not with us anymore.” Some other artists who passed away in 2020 were Tauseef Ahmed, Ustad Qasim Kamangar, Rahim Abbasi, Abdul Majid Khaskheli and Muhammad Shafi. Not much of their work has been preserved.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi