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The Gallery

March 12, 2005

Ijaz’s descriptive imagery

By Marjorie Husain


Mian Ijaz ul Hassan’s paintings, one is tempted to stretch out a hand and pluck the blossoms from a tree, so convincing is his view of nature and descriptive his aesthetic expression. Yet there is much more to the distinguished artist whose work covers a gamut of emotions. A collection of paintings exhibited at the Canvas gallery, celebrate his return to the Karachi scene after a gap of three decades, and is by way of being a mini retrospective covering as many years in art..... more

A scholar who never abandoned his penchant for art, Ijaz took a Masters in English from St.Johns College, Cambridge, and while in the UK spent some time at St. Martin’s School of Art. He began by painting familiar sights and scenes, the world around him and in 1956 first exhibited his work in Murree. Since then his work has been shown in art capitals all over the world.

An historic event in 1967 saw Ijaz exhibit his work along with Burki, S.Safdar and Moyene Najmi at the Department of Fine Arts, Punjab University. Professor Khalid Iqbal wrote on this occasion: “Ijaz-ul-Hassan, the youngest of the four, is making his debut in a major exhibition. For so young a painter, he has done very well indeed, and is on the way to fulfill the promise shown in his earlier work.” Ijaz revered his mentor, Khalid Iqbal and it seemed fitting recently that Professor Mussarat Hassan, should write a book on her husband’s early teacher. Amazingly the organizers of the book launch had managed to collect fifty of Khalid Iqbal’s paintings so that the well-attended launch earlier this year, encompassed the distinguished artist’s first solo exhibition.

A man of many parts, Ijaz ul Hassan is the recipient of the President’s Pride of Performance award in 1992, the highest art award in the country, he is equally well known as a politician. His feelings concerning world issues and those closer to home have been well documented. A prime example is a haunting, painting consisting of three panels in exhibition that begins with man in an idyllic setting, living in harmony with nature and animals. It ends with Hiroshima and the image of a terrified child. The paintings convey the message with extraordinary force more powerful than written words and warnings.

In the 70s, the artist began to examine images clipped from film posters and publications, and used them to express social and philosophical concerns. On display at Canvas is a painting titled Green Revolution, 1973, again using a child’s image as a symbol of abused innocence. Expressing his horror of the Vietnam atrocities the artist painted the unforgettable image of a mother carrying weapons along with her child in her arms, while a dancing girl strikes a provocative pose. The painting is now in the collection of the Fukuka Art Museum, Japan.

When Martial Law was enforced in Pakistan in 1977, Ijaz expressed subtle defiance using symbols and images in a series of beautiful paintings titled: View through a Window. The series proved to be a definitive example of this era, where the observer gazed from a closed interior to the brighter world without. Not dependent on narrative, the symbolism in the work is found within the landscape, the dramatic variations determined by changing light, the sky and the feelings these elements evoke in the observer.

Following the ‘View’ paintings came: The Girding Vines, and the Lilies, series of stunningly beautiful work acquired chiefly by overseas art buyers. In these pieces, the freshness and clarity of colours appear as enrichment for everyday visual experience. A joyous celebration represented by nature is the four paneled work of art: Let A Hundred Plants Bloom, ushering in Democracy in 1988, and optimistically echoing the words of the great Chinese Leader.

One of my particular favorites is the artist’s interpretation of a snow scene in Lexington, USA, full of wintry, misty light against a translucent sky. During visits to his children in the US, Ijaz painted a recognizably personal collection of landscapes, though he is not fond of that description; “Nature paintings”, he says. With a rich sense of depth, tone and colour, he describes the changing prospects and seasons.

Over the years, Ijaz ul Hassan’s contribution to art has been incalculable as a teacher, artist and writer. For many years associated with the National College of Art, Lahore, he was Head of the Department of Academics, 1966-72, and of Design 69-75. From 1972 - 80, he served as Associate Professor, Academics. One of the founder members of the Artists Association Punjab, he has been Chairman of the Association from 1986 to date, and with a well coordinated team, has organized nineteen annual exhibitions in which artists from all regions of Pakistan participate.. A fascinating raconteur and writer, Ijaz has been regularly writing on painting, art and culture for major national and international newspapers, magazines, and has written scripts for radio and TV. Currently he is in touch with a wide public through a lively column he writes for the Daily Times. A book published in 1991, Painting in Pakistan, was the first contemporary book on art in Pakistan. The author pointed out that it took several years to complete and gives an extensive picture of the art scene of the period. In the book the author traced the links between the traditions of the past with contemporary art movements and in the process, wrote in detail on artists in every part of the country. He also imparted his own significant philosophy of art.

“Good intentions do not by themselves give birth to art. The artists who lay verbal stress on content or good social motives often turn out sterile, uninspiring products because they have not actually experienced or even perceived their subject. Life, which has not been lived, cannot be portrayed, interpreted or expressed in a convincing manner. Ideas and feelings, which have not fired the mind and imagination or touched the heart, are inevitably insipid and lifeless. On the contrary, the artists who worship form for its own sake, who separate from content, aesthetics from ideas, and beauty from meaning, have indeed chartered many unexplored paths, but at the expense of deviating from the grand avenues of life.”

Ijaz ul Hassan’s exhibition in Karachi offers art enthusiast the opportunity to view his work first hand. He is an art legend, full of surprises and definite opinions gleaned from experience. At a recent exhibition he commented with optimism on the state of art in the country: “In the last half-century Pakistan painting has achieved a high level of excellence. It has unusual diversity of styles, expressions and concern that needs to be properly acclaimed. Art in spite of official apathy has forged ahead on its own.” Ironically, this has been a source of strength from where the artist has earned his freedom - the freedom to choose. Pakistani artist has not worked with any national agenda but has created works that have been motivated by his rapport with nature and his concern for people and society with which he interacts.’

(Ijaz-ul-Hussan’s exhibition opens at the Canvas Gallery March 15, 2005)


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