Introduction to "Moazzam Ali", The Book (256 Pages):
Authored by Musarrat Hasan
Professor Dr Musarrat Hasan is a recognised painter and author, who is at the moment a Professor in Fine Arts for PhD studies in History of Art at the Lahore College for Women University. She is also a Professor in Fine Arts for PhD studies in History of Art at the College of Art and Design, Punjab University Lahore, Pakistan.
I was introduced to the work of Moazzam Ali after a soft cultured voice on the telephone requested me to look at his web site. After an initial surprise and a bit of hesitation I was able to access it on my computer. I found it to be a particularly well constructed web site which moved with ease and displayed a large number of his paintings to full advantage.
Moazzam Ali – water colour master, it claimed on the title page and even though this claim might initially raise a few eye brows there can be no doubt about Moazzam Ali’s mastery of the water colour medium or his dexterity at handling this illusive yet subtle technique. The home page informs us about the ten solo exhibitions he has held in Pakistan as well as in the USA and Canada. It also tells us about the prestigious locations of many of his art works as well as the several prominent positions he has held during the course of his career.
Moazzam Ali is very keen to document his work. This is quite clearly evident
from the methodical way his website moves. His effort to print a book based on
his life and work is laudable. Since I have spent the last several years of my
life trying to impress the importance of data collection to artists and
writers on art, I am in full sympathy with his objective. That is mainly the
reason I have agreed to write a few quick words so that the main objective of
preserving paintings in one place is achieved and his story is told with a few
additions from me primarily in his own words and in the words of some of the
art journalists who have written about him.
CHAPTER 1 - Moazzam Ali
Moazzam Ali has produced a staggeringly large body of work. He has explored many avenues in discovering the various possibilities of watercolour painting. His dexterity, freedom and the expertise in the usage of this medium are remarkable. He has had the flexibility to learn the new techniques of handling the colours, controlling the tones and managing the highlights and selecting areas in his painting that present rough textures so that the contrasting smooth soft areas are further accentuated.
There is a lot of speculation about the validity, existence and popularity of art that sets out to soften rough edges and evokes unnamed unrecognised sentiments. It conjures up images of far away lands and strange societies and presents the female as an object of aesthetics in various poses and stances inviting the viewer seductively and charmingly to possession. Moazzam Ali has chosen a few constants for his painting, the female figure and the cultural heritage of Pakistan being the main themes. He has linked his images to the Indus Valley Civilisation and chosen Thar as the spot on which he focuses. He has selected the female form as the most colourful and the most representative of the life of Thar. The female as a procreator often depicted in poses that include the presence of a pitcher - the beautiful utensil that carries the life giving water to a thirsty land and people.
Moazzam Ali however looks at the objectives of his work from different angles all the time. He views the female as a mother figure, a giver of life and a protector. He has paid tribute to the mother in his ‘Mother and child’ series and says –
“Woman being the giver of life inspired a series of Mother and Child. I painted many paintings, which imbued my figures with the innocence and love of life in what I consider to be the closest relationship in life, that of the Mother and Child.”
Normally there is very little philosophy behind the art that is so pleasing to look at. It is an art made for the general viewer that has flourished from the 18th century onwards. Its main purpose and idea is to give pleasure to and attract the spectator. In that it is highly successful. Moazzam Ali’s work sets out to assemble an evocative colour scheme; its composition mostly revolves around a single female figure, which is the main subject matter around which he builds his enticing and delightful pictures.
This female figure can be involved in a hundred chores that an average woman of Thar fits into her day. She has to grind her grain, wash her clothes, look after her young, but the most important task is the fetching of water, which she needs to do all the time. Water is the lifeline for the people of Thar. Moazzam concentrates on the life giving properties of water. Water along with the woman are saviours of mankind. They create, preserve and protect life. The women that the artist has depicted carrying water in the pitcher, sometimes sitting protectively beside the pitcher are confident women. They do not display the poverty and squalor associated with Thar. They seem to be aware of the importance of their role in the complicated business of existence and they face the viewer confidently as if to say, “I am the procreator, there would be no life without me.”
There is another series of paintings of a woman, a bird and a cage. A cage is a universal symbol of bondage and confinement, which the caged animal is unable to escape. The artist has tried to convey the inevitability of life and restricting circumstances that the women living in Thar have to face. They are born in a given situation and however unendurable they might find their circumstances, however resentful they are of the trials that they are subjected to, they cannot escape their environment. As Moazzam puts it –
“Also, the hardships I saw many women face in life compelled me to show that women were encaged in the society. Woman and cage series of paintings showed a woman, bird and cage. The bird with an open cage and yet still not flying away. The woman alongside symbolized the resemblance they both shared in their lives. But that was not all. After all such hardships and grief, a woman still possessed the quality of delicacy, charm and beauty, a thirst for life in her existence that cannot be lived without. When I painted the traditional thari woman, I chose a pitcher along with her because it symbolized water, an essence without which life cannot exist. The combination of the two, woman with pitcher summarized the Society’s beauty and need, both of them being the giver of life and without whom life cannot exist”
Moazzam Ali creates pleasing pictures out of these daily routine chores and builds up an aura of mystery of the unknown. With these mundane symbols and in spite of them, he creates pictures that have a distant taste of the far away and the nameless with a predictable degree of romance attached to them. Indus Valley, associated with a distant mysterious civilisation, whose history has yet to be deciphered, is the location of his pictures. He juxta positions very dark broad brush strokes with sensitively rendered faces and delicately delineated features in the lightest of hues, producing very good results. This might seem to be an effort at capturing visual effects that have no background of a thought process but we have already seen how, contrary to the unconscious expectations connected with the visual effect of his pictures he has tried to attach a seriousness of thought with his paintings. His own rationale of legitimacy for his painting is also worth noting –
“During my youth the early paintings I painted were aimed at truly capturing my perception of the world, a place of grief. I looked and saw sorrowful people, sad and empty like ruins. That was the focus of my attention at the time, man and ruin. Ruins of old civilizations like Mohenjo Daro and then ruins of the Makli graveyards were painted. As the studies on the topic increased and I viewed the Indus Civilization from a different angle, I found it colourful and naturally alive. My brush with a will of its own then started to paint the beautiful and peaceful landscapes of Pakistan. Thousands of landscape watercolour paintings were made and very well appreciated.”
CHAPTER 2 – His Life
After an eventful life during which his hard work and perseverance has at last borne fruit, Syed Moazzam Ali Rizvi can now sit back and take out time from his painting to ponder and recapture the chronological sequence of events in his life. He puts it simply and charmingly when he talks about his own life and his family -
“My parents belonged to U.P, India and migrated to Karachi, Pakistan on independence in 1947. I was born in the year 1956 in Karachi, Pakistan. We are 5 brothers and two sisters. I am the third youngest in the family. In 1986 I was married. My wife Syeda Tanzeem Zehra who is also an artist (Fine Art Graduate) has been a great encouragement for me all the way that brought even more beauty to my paintings. But she herself couldn’t produce paintings as she was busy taking care of my parents and also raising our children, two sons and a daughter namely Syed Mukkarram Ali (eldest), Syed Kashif Ali and Fizzah Rizvi (youngest). My eldest son has completed A’ level and is doing ACCA and also acquiring Fine Art education. My other son is doing A’ level and my daughter the youngest in the family is finishing her O’level. I personally think that all of them also display a considerable talent in art.”
His story starts like fiction, a story we have all heard in the context of many known artists. It is the story of dedication and perseverance in the face of difficult circumstances. It begins with the child yearning to draw, hankering after a passion that he is not able to fulfil or even define. He started with charcoal, the most easily available material in any household. The lure of the pure white washed walls readily and visibly available as a convenient surface at all times was strong and irresistible. It was an invitation and a temptation that was difficult to overcome.
He tells us about an incident during his childhood when as a result of that temptation he got into serious trouble with the elders in his family -
“One day my family left me at home alone. I was very small, I had just learned to hold a pencil and so I drew many portraits on white walls of my home with charcoal, the residue of burnt wood (Koyla). Those portraits are still in my mind and as time passed I met people whom I realized I had captured on those walls and it is really quite amazing to me that in childhood I had innocently sketched some people whom I was to meet in future. When my parents returned and saw the remains of worked walls, they were furious. I was scolded and beaten because I had blackened such white walls. Likewise another time, an uncle of mine, Uncle Zahoor stood behind me and quietly observed while I drew a picture on the floor with charcoal. After a while he lifted me up with joy and commented upon such excellence of drawing even in my childhood. He showered complements on me and forecast that a brilliant future as an artist was destined for me. This inner obsession with charcoal is still to day in my paintings, a valuable element, so raw yet fine and complete with high force.”
And yet in spite of his uncle’s forecast, his family was not entirely convinced about the wisdom of allowing him to pursue art education. This is a traditional attitude prevailing in most conservative families of all classes – particularly the Muslim families that refuse to acknowledge the validity of art as a serious part of any education. It might not directly be related to the taboos that are associated with art in the religious minds but it is certainly affected by it. As Moazzam Ali puts it -
“My family members were not against an education in art but they thought it was a worthless profession and a way to run away from real education. I was studying for my matriculation when I raised the question. My parents told me to first study before talking about my obsession for art, so I studied and passed my intermediate Examination. At the time I also took up a job and again asked for permission to learn art, this time with the commitment that I would simultaneously study for my Bachelors examination as well as work. I was again denied permission, but this time I took firm action and told my parents that I would leave education if they did not let me learn art, “I have a job, and I will even pay for my art education. I will also appear for my Bachelors examination”, I reasoned with them. Seeing the extent and sincerity of my passion they let me take admission in the Karachi School of Art.”
One must admire the persistence and the patience of our artist during those days. He waited long and studied hard according to the dictates of his parents with the hope and wish that one day they would see his point of view and recognise the burning desire that he had within him to learn the intricacies and joys of playing with colours. Perhaps it was a primordial instinct that linked him back to the prehistoric times when man roamed free and was unshackled by any parental discipline to study useful subjects. He certainly had the instincts of a dreamer who looked back to the past bygone days and ignoring the ugly routines and the mundane details of day to day life, infused the linkages with the past with a romance that was not always realistic.
At that point of his life Moazzam followed a gruelling routine – he was fully occupied with his education, worked at two jobs to pay for his art instruction and then studied some more in a night college.
“Arguing to enter the world of art was easier than keeping up with every responsibility that I had promised. I found that it was really hard. I still remember I left home at 7am in the morning for my job. In the afternoon I would attend art school. I also enrolled in a Night College after which I worked in an advertising agency. I also had to give some time for self study with colleagues. Finally I would enter my house at 2am. Sleep was the most precious thing to me at the time, as I would only get 3-4 hours of rest time.”
This hard work must have been tough at that time, but in hindsight one can see that this habit of hard work is his most important asset. It is this hard work without complaint that has carried him far and made him into a successful popular artist.
CHAPTER 3 – The Turning Point
The 80s began with a flourish for Moazzam Ali. He had worked hard for his art training in the Karachi School of Art. He had gained the respect of his teachers. Rabia Zuberi and Mansoor Rahi were among the prominent teachers of the school at that time. The fact that this school has produced watercolour painters of some merit needs to be recognised and acknowledged. Even though Moazzam Ali did not immediately recognise his particular preference for the medium there were others like Athar Jamal who graduated in 1984 and whose watercolour sketches are also well appreciated. Earlier there was Tariq Javed who graduated in 1974 and Zahin Ahmed who paints abstract picture in water colour graduated in 1972. Moazzam Ali’s diligence and effort for his studies brought him the sort of success that he had worked for. He topped among the graduates of the province in 1980 and received a gold medal for securing the first position in Fine Arts.
“All the hard work finally paid off when I achieved First Class First Position on my graduation in fine arts. I was delighted and transported out of this world.”
After his great success, Moazzam Ali had no problem in getting good jobs in the leading prestigious advertising companies of the time that exercised a great deal of influence in the art world. It is interesting to note that he had the good fortune at that early stage to meet ardent art collectors who became sincere and life long admirers of his work.
“I joined as an Art Director in leading advertising agencies like Coral Communications, United Advertiser and Paragon Advertising. A young director like me was working with highly experienced directors of their time such as Sardar Mohammad, Maqsood Ali and copywriter Shan-ul-Haq Haqqi. It was indeed a great experience for me. I would also spend a lot of time with Sultan Mahmood and Khalid Shams-ul-Haq, who were prominent art collectors of the time. My participation in their conversations and discussions increased over time and with some boost from here and there, and shuffle of ideas from me and other friends, Sultan Mahmood decided to open an art gallery. He called it the Art Collectors Gallery. By the time that the gallery was opened both the above mentioned art collectors and many others had a wide range of my paintings in their art collections.”
“A few years later Maqsood Ali the former Principal of Central Institute of Fine Arts, Karachi Arts Council and I started a large prestigious commercial studio, which I think was a first in Pakistan. In this studio there was a display room for paintings as well. It was highly sophisticated and provided a wonderful atmosphere for both of us to create our paintings, just like professional artists in developed countries do. We worked in the studio for several hours a day and I did a lot of paintings during that period.”
By that time word had spread that Moazzam Ali was producing pleasing pictures that would embellish any office or living space. He had benefited greatly from his earlier outdoor painting trips with other watercolour artists and his extended association with the well known commercial artists of the time. He received commissions by the dozen and fulfilled them quickly and effectively, adding the commercial gloss to his work that made them highly acceptable to his admirers. He must have been painting for long hours to complete work that was given to him, because the minute he seemed to finish one project another was lined up for him. He accepted special projects from the government as well as from private hotels and offices.
“I made a good number of paintings for private galleries back then as well as other commissioned work. I was entrusted with the task of providing several of my artworks for the Governor’s House, President’s House, Prime Minister’s House and each year several paintings were bought by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to grace Pakistan High Commissions and Consulates all over the world.”
He was receiving appreciation and accolades from around him but among his most precious memories is the time that Moazzam Ali spent with an ailing and aging Sadequain. Moazzam Ali had started probing the various possibilities of glazed ceramic tile work. He recalls with pride the fact that Sadequain heard about his ceramic tile work and sought him out. There was an exchange of expertise because Sadequain expressed a desire to work in glazed tile. The association was regrettably of short duration and ended when Sadequain died.
“Over the years I developed a facility and a command over every branch in Fine Arts, I made large number of portraits and paintings on ceramic tiles as commissioned work. Portrait with glazed colours on tiles was my exclusive specialty. One such portrait of Quaid-e-Azam was commissioned by the Governor’s House Baluchistan. Word of my work in ceramics had gone to Sadequain who called upon me to work with him, which I did. He also gave me a gift, i.e. a sketch glazed on ceramic tile that he especially made for me. This tile is very precious to me and I consider it an honour for me to be in possession of it. Unfortunately, Sadequain and I could not work together for long as he fell ill and later died.”
His commissions became larger and larger and the big chains of hotels continuously required some work from him. He had the right credentials for the work. He painted pictures that were alluring and depicted a cultural and historical aspect of life in Pakistan. In a way he seemed to be presenting a link between the present and the cultural heritage and providing the visitor to these hotels a peep into what they imagined Pakistani culture was all about.
“Having seen my watercolour paintings the General Manager of Avari Hotels Mr Moiscar contacted me and asked me to provide paintings for two 12 page wall and table Calendars and watercolour paintings for advertising campaign for Avari every year. I was given the full VIP treatment that is appropriate for an art consultant. Moreover, dozens of watercolour paintings were commissioned to decorate the Hotel. Later on I was given huge commissioned work by Sheraton Hotel to paint more than 600 original watercolour paintings to adorn their guest rooms, corridors, restaurants and halls.”
CHAPTER 4 - Success During The Nineties
The nineties was a continuation of the sort of success that the eighties had brought. There was recognition, there was prestige and there was lots and lots of respect. He worked at two colleges as the Principal and with his administrative abilities made them into smoothly running ventures with the student population rising continuously. After his continuous visits and stays abroad he stopped working in any office and in 1995 he became a full time professional painter.
“Motivated with the self-induced task of promoting art I took charge as a Principal in North City School of Art. With excellent experience and practice in all disciplines of fine art and advertising we set out to create awareness for the generations to come. In only one year, the number of students that had never been above sixty increased by more than four hundred, which was a huge accomplishment for the school and me. I continued to work there for several years.”
“Sindh College of Art, Design and Architecture was a newly established Art College and it was a challenge for me to get the college on a roll. We were very successful and were able to bring the Institution to a high level of proficiency in an amazingly short time. Every one was delighted by the progress and very soon the Institute came to be mentioned amongst the leading art schools of Karachi. Sadly enough when I went abroad, the stakeholders withdrew their support for me in my absence and the management of the institute passed into other hands.”
It had been during his tenure as the Principal of Sindh College of Art, Design and Architecture that Moazzam Ali went for his pilgrimage to the west. It was a comprehensive trip during which he undertook to visit and view the traditional world of western art. He visited the historical sites, museums and art galleries to personally view the work of old masters of the past in France and Italy and not just depend on reproductions in the books for his own appraisal. Switzerland and USA were also included in the tour. It was a fulfilling tour and Moazzam Ali seems to have matured as a painter because his painting went through some thought process before the actual execution.
“It was then that I realised how vast and interesting watercolour really is. Taking inspiration from Andrew Wyeth, Henry Casselli, Alex Powers, Charles Reid from USA and Yau from Canada, I started out with a completely new mindset and attitude to watercolour painting. I am especially inspired by the work of Andrew Wyeth.”
Afterwards, Moazzam continuously visited and stayed in North America.
“My work developed special qualities of boldness, freedom, design and unique technique and treatment. I gave several workshops abroad as well which were highly appreciated by students and professional artists."
He reaped immense benefits from subsequent visits, but his tenure as a Principal came to an end. There must have been some sort of an intrigue during his absence, as a result of which the stakeholders in the College suddenly withdrew their support. He was upset at that point but with the passage of time he realised that it was in fact a blessing in disguise. He found that he had more time for just painting. He also found that he had time for travel and he was continuously travelling out of the country, sometimes staying away for long stretches to fulfil the many demands for his paintings. His commissions flourished as a result of this full time activity as just a painter.
“From 1980-1995 I had worked as a professional artist and continuously provided paintings to galleries and held many solo/group exhibitions at the same time fulfilling my job commitments and commissioned work. But in 1995, after studying the modern art world in SOHO, New York City, USA as well as Canada, I fully devoted myself to work full time as a professional artist. From then started the moulding and transitional period of my work in the international art society eventually marking a signature with a unique style of watercolour, comprising of highly impressionistic and expressionistic figurative paintings.”
CHAPTER 5 - THE WATER COLOUR MASTER
Moazzam Ali has chosen the transparent watercolour technique for his expression. It is a very appropriate choice because it enables him the freedom of rough bold brush strokes that combine with watery washes of diluted colour that many a time enticingly overflows its perimeters and drip down out of the confines of the picture frame. He sometimes uses vertical strokes moving downward to indicate a flow of water, which to him is the most important life giving element. About his work and his technique he has an immense proprietorial attitude. He feels that his great experience and his constant experimentation has created a technique that is unique to his work. He says -
“It was thought till now that there is no flexibility in watercolour medium, no change could be made, and it’s a very hard and difficult medium. An artist is trapped in its boundaries.
I have disproved this philosophy, my work demonstrates that watercolour is a very flexible medium: I can mould my paintings as I wish to, such as changing cold colours to hot or hot to cold and back again at once using other elements such as textures, lines, shapes and light, at the same time maintaining the transparency of the medium. My compositions are as has been said “widely rated for their vividness, veracity, rhythm, almost poetical rapture and transport, easily conveyed by a superb sense of design.” Still focusing on the local female figures, images are characterized by an explosion of colours as the vibrant hues of nature spill out of the boundary of their forms and weave a complex web of colours, colours splattered, splashed and washed through the dense background jungle. Looking at my artwork, it can clearly be seen that I go to the soul of my figure, i.e. a Thari woman and matka (pitcher). People of Thar have traditional features, attractive dresses and thousands of year’s old unique heritage of Indus Civilization, which makes them different from others. I chose a pitcher along with a Thari woman as a utensil for fetching water, which is seen by the splashes of paint through usage of latest watercolour mediums and chemicals. I paint in all sizes. I usually paint paintings of sizes 21”X28”, 30”X42”, 42”X62”, 42”X90” and 14.5”X21”is mostly reserved for sketches."
“I learned watercolour by myself and the environment I lived in. There has always been a trend in Karachi for outdoor painting. During my academic life I had one day off from college in which I would go out for watercolour paintings on the spot with professional artists of the time like Zaheen Ahmed, Abdul Hai, Ghalib Baqar, Maqbool Ahmed, Mansur Rahi and others.”
We can easily visualise a group of young artists venturing out to capture the charm and nostalgia of their past in the versatile elusive medium of watercolour. We can sense the high spirits, the intense competitiveness and the will to succeed beyond what others achieve. Yet in spite of the realisation that they were all competitors, there was also the need to stick together, trying to hide the exceptional techniques, the method that produced special spectacular effects from each other. But the group is a support system that binds you to a routine and gives you the strength and the support to continue the work, which might have been abandoned if carried on separately. At the initial stages of a career this strength is vital. This group activity then seems to be the link that provided the impetus to so many painters from Karachi to work and excel in the medium of watercolour painting and also to bond with their common heritage in their own different ways. This is the sort of bonding that occurred in Lahore during the sixties and created an atmosphere of creative thinking that was most beneficial for art and the artists.
“We went to different parts of Sindh like Thatta (Makli and Chawkandi) and sea sides, fish harbour, Maleer farms, and very busy places as well like Sadar, Kharadar, and M.A Jinnah Road in Karachi. We went to these places for 4 years continuously at least once a week for the whole day. Apart from these places we went to Naran, Kaghan, Sawat, Murree, other beautiful northern areas and Baluchistan to make watercolor paintings on the spot, with my own unique style being present in all the works.”
“I have always considered watercolour to be a very strong medium which is why I was never satisfied by the methodology laid down by seniors. They had created limitations as to how it should be used. Though I was young I was heartily disappointed and therefore I set out to research and acquire greater knowledge of the subject in different ways like watching videos and reading books and articles. Furthermore, I travelled throughout the world in the urge to feed my soul and acquire greater practical knowledge of the greatness of the medium. I attended several workshops of many famous artists and visited museums and galleries where I keenly observed the original work and studied the great masters.”
“Though I have observed works all over the world, the paintings I created are unique in technique and treatment. They are highly expressionistic and impressionistic with new forms of textures invented and introduced by me, which are not to be found anywhere in world. I have achieved this by the vast experience as an artist from the earlier stages of my career, which was then built upon by the practical experience of painting a large number consisting of thousands of paintings that I painted in watercolour for different clients and also through keen observance of different arts from all over the world.”
“I observed abroad that they use very bright and bold colors in the paintings. Maybe because over there the atmosphere itself is colorful. For example, the season of fall in the US is very colorful and bright and even the leaves have various bright colors like orange, yellow, chrome yellow, golden, bright red. When leaves are found in so many different colors then just imagine how colorful would flowers be. Maybe this is why my subject "thar" being so dull exerts a sense of brightness in the paintings as well. The drapery and jewels found in thar are colorful.”
Moazzam Ali has received international acclaim for his work. Angela Di Bello, the Director of Agora Gallery and Editor in Chief of the Art is Spectrum magazine writes –
The 2007 Chelsea International Fine Arts Competition was juried by Tina Kukielski, senior curatorial assistant at the Whitney Museum, New York City. Moazzam, your artwork was selected by the competition to receive a review by an art critic. Congratulations on having been selected for this prestigious award.
His work is sought after by even by people who already own his paintings. A typical fan mail would read –
“Dear Moazzam sahib
While recently in Lahore, I purchased one of your paintings from an art gallery. I have this in a dark cherry frame and it is hanging in the family room – every day I admire your work in capturing artistry of the women of the desert.
Since I am still in the process of gathering more art work for my new house here in Pennsylvania, I was wondering if you had other paintings for sale here in the USA.
Other people have wondered at and discussed his technique at length. Local art critics like Shamim Akhtar writes in the daily News –
“A watercolorist throughout, Moazzam Ali has proved wrong the time set norms of watercolour applications. He does not struggle with the white of his canvases and makes full use of it wherever it is required; but when it comes to applying colour, through his subtle strokes he shows the flexibility of watercolour. He has negated the concept that a watercolour stroke could not be undone. A painter with a liberal attitude towards life, Ali fights his freedom out of the boundaries of watercolour.”
Tipu Salman Makhdoom writes in the Nation –
“Moazzam has very successfully achieved intense energy in his painting by blending watercolours with occasional sketchy trends. The environment is dull, though colours and their use are not really. The blotting effect has been carefully used in colours in order to highlight selected elements in prominence while subjects have been placed sharply in contrast to the backgrounds. The real strength of Moazzam, however, lies in his excellent use of heavy tonal expression mingling with fuzzy backgrounds and sketchy figures. The basic theme of the painting is the grace with which feminism of eastern woman in traditional life is expressed by her, despite hardships of her daily life. Exposition of figuration beauty in Rajisthani dresses and aesthetic appeal of these figures has been expressed rather decently.”
About his unique technique Marjorie Hussain writes in the daily Dawn,
“Using surfaces larger than the standard water-colour size, the artist's personal idiom consists of variety of methods that vary from carefully balanced brush strokes to frenetic optical mixtures. Aiming for spontaneity, he achieves a fresh; appealing surface quality, with strong design element involved. Often forms are sketched in with charcoal lines or with a brush. His paintings assimilating abstract and impressionistic elements, work as a whole to capture the timeless charm of his subject.”
His use of the white paper peeping through the darker shades to create highlights is also worth noting. Even in paintings in which he leaves more than half the picture surface unpainted the white highlights create another intensity of whiteness that does not in any way diminish the effect that he wishes to produce by leaving a lot of the picture surface sketchy. We see the lower part of the body, the hands and feet drawn in charcoal or pencil in that raw area without being painted, but these untouched white surfaces are not as bright and do not in any way clash with the highlights that are accentuated on the face or the upper part of the body without the use of any pigment, with just the positioning of darker shades that make the unpainted white paper gleam.
The inspiration behind his paintings comes from a force outside even his own conscious thought process. He says –
"When I feel the inspiration move me, then I start painting and continue painting for many days. I think and put a lot of effort in creating the first couple of paintings. Then as the rhythm starts to build up a great amount of flow and force is created and it is then that paintings are created effortlessly as if by themselves. Every line, brush stroke and the various splashes have their own significant value and come out perfectly balanced automatically. The paintings that are then created are what I consider my true paintings. The first few then seem to me like 'Raag se pehle Alaap' (alaap is the preliminary melody that sets the tone for the real song that follows). But if then, I break off and stop painting and start after few days, then I again I have to put a lot of effort to create the same rhythm".
The spontaneity in his paintings is unmistakable. Most of the paintings seem to have been done with a brush that is unfettered and uninhibited. The strokes, be they with a brush, charcoal or pencil, are free and sure. They seem to proclaim that the artist is confident of what he is doing and seems to enjoy the freedom that he has achieved through vast experience; to wield the pigment loaded brush according to his own whims and fancies. The fact that he often leaves half the picture plain unpainted adds to this feeling of freedom and spontaneity.
CHAPTER 6 - The Perennial Theme
There was definitely a conscious and calculated effort that Moazzam Ali made to carefully choose a topic and discover its striking features so that he can weave an array of colour around it to make it even more enticing. He chose a subject matter that could excite the imagination, the sympathy and the curiosity of the onlooker. The Indus valley is a civilisation that is more than five thousand years old. It is among the few oldest civilisations in the world. Historians and scientists have collected a great deal of data on this culture, yet it is still surrounded by mystery. We don’t know too much about the people who lived and made this great civilisation. Their language is still not deciphered and their religious beliefs are still a mystery.
But we do know from a small figurine that was dug up in the ruins of Mohenjo Daro that the women of that bygone era wore bangles that covered their full arms. Thari women of today like their distant predecessors also wear bangles that cover their arms and the silver jewellery has miraculously also survived the ravages of time and still clingingly covers their necks and dangles down their ears and pierces their nose. It makes a striking picture for people who want mementos that have such a charming and alluring aroma of a distant past connected with our own heritage. Moazzam Ali says about the theme that he has chosen -
“Era’s pass by but cultures don’t die, they are remembered forever, and so are people that are associated with it. I believe in this philosophy and therefore I produce work that is linked with my culture so that I would be remembered not only as an artist but also a representative of the art and culture of Pakistan.”
“The search and display of beauty was my motive, so I concentrated on Pakistan’s beauty and traditional thar culture. What better way to symbolize cultural beauty than with typical rural women? And so, I began painting working women of Pakistan which was a subject especially loved by art lovers of foreign market. The 12 page Calendars of Avari Hotels on this subject and others subjects for different years is worth mentioning here.”
“Everything that exists as time passes starts to go back to its roots. The journey I started from the Indus Civilization humans and ruins continued and I revolved around it grasping the powerful aspect it preserved within itself, the people. Women of Thar though belonging to a 4000B.C old civilization wear the exact same dress and jewelry and even more, they carry out the routine and chores of their lives in the same manner as they did millenniums ago, searching for water to survive. Thousands of years have passed by and still their history is alive making it one of the strongest civilizations in the world, which encourages me to paint it with even more enthusiasm and devotion.”“
"As for the series, Series relating to women were painted from the start. Like Woman and Cage series, Mother and Child series, Working Woman of Pakistan, Cultural and Folk paintings and Portraits. But these series; Woman with Pitcher, Sleeping Woman, Rural Damsels and Landscapes series, were painted from the start alongside other series and have been continuously painted to this day.”
Various writers and art critics have written about the subject matter in his work. Shamim Akhtar, says in the Daily News -
“With semi abstract strokes he created images of Pakistan depicting scenes of life in the rural areas of the Punjab, Sarhad, Baluchistan and Sindh. Khattak Dance of Kohat was his favourite subject because he could express his power of movement and restraint through this delicate medium. Intelligently he picked subjects of folk dances of various regions of Pakistan that added more movement to the strength of his strokes.”
Mohsin Jaffery discussed his work in the daily News –
“His subjects come out live talking to the onlookers telling their stories. For that matter stories are many, from simply village-life to that quiet game that young women play innocently, yet making life that much meaningful. Moazzam has gone into aspects other than obvious. He calls a series of figurative work on certain specific subject as, 'Thari women with pitcher', 'Rhythmic working women', and 'Sleeping Thari women'. Another series of paintings in abstract is titled as 'Ralli', the famous patch-work of colourful cloth-pieces stitched together as a decorative spread usually made by Sindhi women.”
Rabia Zuberi, Principal of Karachi School of Art wrote in 1982 –
“Moazzam later on adopted his special field of interest, Folk Art of Pakistan. He is now working on Pakistan’s heritage and culture, which is of realistic and impressionistic branch. His natural talent has been polished by his untiring work and sustained dedication without which even talent cannot create an accomplished artist.”
Women of Thar, is a theme that is a constant topic, which has stayed with him throughout his painting career. He has produced series after series of paintings on this theme yet he nor the viewers ever seem to tire of it. It is amazing how many different poses Moazzam Ali has painted in his one-woman compositions. He manages to imbue each figure with a different light, that either shows the direct rays of sun creating charming effects on the face or the body, clearly and meticulously delineating the contours. Sometimes these light effects are dramatic and create a chiaroscuro effect that hints at the stark realities surrounding his models. Other paintings are more subdued, indistinct pastel hues, which add a mystery that is so relevant and so evocative of the past that is connected to his theme. But it is amazing how many shades of subdued colours Moazzam Ali can assemble in each different painting from one palette.
He uses the charcoal to good effect, because of his confident line. Sometimes he merely draws a figure and uses one tone very sparingly, leaving the paper white so that his control over his medium and his drawing skills are very clearly visible.
He has created a number of sub topics out of the constant theme of Thari women. Sometimes it is a women and a pitcher - that useful utensil that is filled with the life saving water, which the Thari woman carries, often from distant places to satisfy the most demanding need of her family. Moazzam Ali attaches a double meaning to the combination of the pitcher with a woman. Apart from the fact that they make a charming picture together, both are givers, preservers and protectors of life.
Then there is the reclining women series, which has all the attributes of colour combinations and free and unfettered brush strokes with visible portions of charcoal or pencil drawing. He has in a few paintings experimented with washes of gold and silver colours on his figures. We have already mentioned the mother and child series, which accentuates the role of the mother. Moazzam Ali seems to make the woman the focal point in the Thar social set up primarily because of her role as a procreator who after giving birth to a life also cherishes and cares for the child. She is the one who undertakes to protect it and also provide food and water that are so essential for its well being.
His paintings over the years can be divided into several series under distinct headings, “Women with a pitcher series”, “Sleeping women series”, “Women series” and “Rural Damsels series”. All these depict women in various poses that the titles suggest, each one different from the other, each one trying to be more provocative than the other, made with the precision or with a careless expertise that dares the observer to object to the unfinished unpainted areas that fit in so well with the chosen topic. Rural Damsels series differs from others in a way that it involves more than one woman in the composition.
CHAPTER 7 – Landscapes And Other Themes
Even though his main concern has been the Thari women, he has by no means confined his work to the depiction of that charming theme.
He has painted appealing landscapes of all the exotic locations that have ever exited public interest. He started doing that when he was painting with the Karachi group of painters and has continued painting landscape throughout his career. These landscapes depict lakes, mountains and far off mountain cities, sometimes a mist seems to descend on the mountains far away and sometimes snow seems to lurk around near the lakes making them shine in the icy cold weather. He seems to handle the reflections in the water particularly well.
He must have thought hard about the need to diversify his work. Between the years 1986 and 1990 he painted a well appreciated series on Polo, the select sport of an elitist minority. He has captured the rhythm and the movement of the game admirably and has done it in his own range of colours. These paintings are sketches really, which is what makes them very exciting because they seem to have been done on the spot where the action was fast and furious. These paintings have a more spontaneous and a different quality from his well thought out and more conscious and studied figure compositions of women.
“Abstract Ralli” also seems to be a result of his visits to the foreign capitals. This series was painted from 2002 – 2003. It has a relationship with his earlier work because Ralli is the well known craft of the thar. It consists of a large cloth on which patchwork of different colours is stitched together so that it makes a beautiful design. Moazzam Ali has used this design element and the vibrant colours to create abstract compositions. These compositions are blobs of paint really, coordinated patches of colour that vibrate and are painted with fluid watery strokes that drip outside their reserved space. This series must have been Moazzam Ali’s rejoinder to modern movements as if to say, what is the big deal, I can also effectively paint popular abstract pictures.
As a result of this series we see Moazzam Ali use the same recognisable patchwork of colour in which he later adds the hint of a female form. Some of the forms are more distinct in a few paintings with a bit of an outline to delineate the female body, but by and large the female form appears unfettered by the confining outline and seems to blend with the ralli, so that one is at a loss to distinguish the ralli and the human figure. It is Moazzam Ali’s unique attempt at abstraction.
But some of the most vigorous work in Moazzam Ali’s repertoire is his series of sketches. With his confident expressive drawing he has sketched the Thari women, added a judicious amount of colour here and there, left more than two third of the page with just the drawing and wrapped it up with just the sparkle of white highlight here and there. Sometimes he takes the trouble to delineate the features in pencil more thoroughly at other times he leaves them mysteriously vague leaving the rest to the viewers’ imagination. Sometimes when the face is more thoroughly drawn the hands and feet are left half done. When he concentrates on the hands and feet the face is more blurred.
He uses different pressures on the pencil to create shadows and sometimes he uses the shading all round to focus on the light, which he shows with the white surface of the paper. Even when the face is half hidden by the veil on the head of the model, the torso draped in the short choli is always well drawn with a seductively low neckline and shows all the curvatures behind the choli to their full advantage. The jewellery consisting of the ever present armful of bangles and the nath dangling from the nose is always carefully drawn and makes the linkage of the painting to their area and to the past easily discernable.
Moazzam Ali has painted hundreds and thousands of pictures. He has at his disposal an expertise and a facility for painting, which very few people possess, which can only be achieved through hard work and the experience of painting so much. The present book sets out to collect and publish some of his work, so that viewers can to a degree experience the impact of his work in one book.
History is a great leveller. It picks up artists who have been forgotten and abandoned by their own societies in their own time and makes them into icons. It snatches the ones floating in the skies during their life time to dump them unceremoniously on the earth. We have no means of knowing what the judgement of history is going to be. But one thing is certain. Only that work will survive and stand the test of time, which has sincerity and is the result of passion. We have seen that Moazzam Ali has expressed both. He has also given a great deal of pleasure to lots of people through his work. There can be several logical explanations as to the reason for that pleasure – is it the evocative theme that takes them to a subconscious journey to the past – is it the provocative theme with its sensuous undertones or is it the decorative element of his colour combinations, his bold brushstrokes and his strong drawing, or is it a pure appreciation for a very popular work of art. We can never say with any certainty. We can only let that great impartial judge called History to make any kind of decision. By publishing this book we have created a data bank, so that tomorrow when posterity is in a judgemental mood there will be enough information both visual and written. That is the only way to ensure that a true and valid judgement is made and history has a verdict that is based on facts and not heresy and fiction.
Solo Paintings Exhibitions In Art Galleries:
2004 – New York, USA
2003 – Karachi Pakistan
2002 – Lahore Pakistan
2002 – Karachi Pakistan
1999 – Karachi Pakistan
1998 – Toronto Canada
1996 – Toronto Canada
1995 – Karachi Pakistan
1994 – Washington D.C., USA
1982 – Islamabad Pakistan
Held countless group exhibitions.
· Paintings commissioned and collected by the President's House, Prime Minister's House, Governor's House, Embassies, Consulates, Banks, Five Star Hotels, Museums, Palaces, Organizations and Homes of Art Lovers and Art Collectors.
· More than 600 original watercolour paintings commissioned by Sheraton Hotel to grace their guestrooms, corridors, restaurants etc.
· Principal for 6 years in 2 Art Colleges.
· Worked as an Art Director for 8 years in reputed Advertising Agencies.