Beauty in the background

January 31, 2021

Ghulam Mustafa’s solo show at Art One 62 comprises the artist’s distinctive work

Early on, nature or scenic elements were painted as a background. However, in the 15th Century Venice, landscapes became prominent when painters like Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione started adding detail to the background. It still took time for landscapes to be recognised as an independent genre. In the Renaissance period, especially in the Western practice, landscapes became significant. Landscape painting has a history in Asian art going further back. Painters like Jing Hao dedicated an important part of their lives producing meaningful landscapes. They also introduced innovative styles of landscape painting.

By the mid-16th Century landscapes were a standard subject and painters as well as viewers had started cherishing the genre rather than looking at it as stumpy art. In the 17 Century, they had started reveling in the scenic beauty and portraying it in great detail.

Pakistan too has had some legendry landscape painters, including Kahlid Iqbal, Chughtai, Zulfiqar Ali Zulfi and Abdul Hayee.

Ghulam Musatafa is one of the country’s most prolific landscape painters. For his distinguished work, he won the Pride of Performance award in 2002. The way an artist looks at nature and observes its beauty is different from how a lay person witnesses natural beauty. The artist’s acumen lies in giving meaning to his paintings that an ordinary person can relate with.

Comprising works in Ghulam Musatafa’s distinctive style, a solo show opened on January 12 at Art One 62. The landscapes are done in oil. Many of the landscapes are done in loud hues.

Some of Mustafa’s paintings remind one of his mentor Khalid Iqbal’s work. His rejoicing in the scenic beauty of Pakistan and its celebration in his oeuvre is convincing and realistic.

A few of his paintings, including Basant view from Cooco’s Den and Canal Road of Lahore, spoke of nostalgia. 

A few of his paintings, including Basant view from Cooco’s Den and Canal Road of Lahore speak of nostalgia. Cooco’s Den was owned by acclaimed artist Iqbal Hussain who had turned this once residential space into a restaurant which became one of the most famous in Pakistan. However, it had to be closed down later. Mustafa has painted a view of the colorful kites in the sky on a Basant day as seen from Cooco’s Den. The other painting commemorates one of the oldest roads in Lahore that runs alongside the Lahore Branch Canal. The canal is eye-catching at all times: in the day, its murky water reflects trees and birds overhead; at night, it reflects the warmth of lights decorating the trees lining it.

Mustafa elucidates his strokes and defines the layers of colour. He glorifies the natural beauty of Punjabi landscapes. From a distance, the brush strokes appear to have been made in haste. On closer scrutiny, one discovers that the artist has utilised the whole canvas.

His images Sarsoon and Village remind the viewers about the beauty of villages in the Punjab plains. The mustard in the fields seems to be in full bloom and fresh. The artist has painted the vegetation in vivacious yellowish tones and captured the peak of their existence. Watching his paintings is actually therapeutic: calming to the mind and pleasing to the eye.

Over the years, Mustafa’s work has remained centred around his love for Pakistan. It seems that he takes pride in making the images in which he highlights the daily life of the bazaars and small shops seen at every nook and corner of the country. His narrative of capturing the essence of the countryside is simply amazing.

Ghulam Mustafa’s landscapes express the visual certainty of nature and remain immeasurably expressive and communicative. His creative clairvoyance, remarkable accuracy, command over the medium and control over the textures and composition are at display in each one of his paintings.

The writer is a   freelance journalist based in Karachi

Beauty in the background: Ghulam Mustafa’s solo show comprises distinctive work