IMMORTALISING HOMELAND

Review by SubhraMazumdar
February 15, 2017

 

Chromatic Harmonies
Paintings by ZargarZahoor
Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi
January 9-15, 2017

 It is a common belief that scenic scapes are best painted in situ and at the moment of its happening. On closer examination, this appears to be but half the truth, for an artwork is much more than a photo reality captured on acanvas. It becomes a piece of art when the same setting is infused with moods that its creator has experienced through the course of this journey. At no time is this truer than with the art of ZargarZahoor who paints the landscapes of Kashmir, his homeland, in a language of deep sympathy and understanding.

Having arrived in Delhi several decades ago, on his appointment as a lecturer at the Faculty of Fine Arts in JamiaMilliaIslamia, he has made a satisfying career of his assignment, retiring from the institution recently as Dean and Head of Faculty of Fine Arts, JamiaMilliaIslamia, where he has trained, encouraged and furthered the art aesthetics of generations of students who have come in contact with him.

Even today, there are a number of them who are under his wing as research scholars, for whom, Zahoor sahib is more than a mentor and guide. In his company, the conversation resembles that of an artwork in action, for while he is inquiring about the progress made by one of them, he is pointing out to them the works of other artists on display at the gallery. “Look at the backdrop of the painting… the colour red has overpowered the frontal figures completely and the backdrop shows the same colours as the front. Perhaps the use of red in the work could have been avoided… Imagine it that way…” The students learn to look at works with a new vision and with the tools in their immediate surroundings, they have acquired yet another aspect about the techniques that shape conventional art.

Yet it would be an incomplete assessment to restrict artist ZargarZahoor within the confines of an academic instructor on art. To the art fraternity at large, he is known for his sensitive depictions of the Kashmir valley, and in particular his hometown of Srinagar.

“My mind and art has always come out at Kashmir’, he reiterates ,’My home, my roots, the 1970s Kashmir when there was a huge jasba for the ideal kashmiriyat,” he enlarges, as he takes viewers through his recent works under the title of Chromatic harmonies. The colours in them are a dictionary of thoughts. It is a tragic beauty of sorts for while the resplendent landscape and the clouds above soar into an iconic image of Kashmir, the decisive sprawl of a red mass above the tree line, captures the effect on the city immediately after a bomb blast, thereby defining the told and untold stories of this land. The memory of the yesteryears is therefore brought up to our times, which he has done through his reconstruction of parameters the artist had witnessed last June, when he had gone back to his roots.

Of course the works are not a storytelling device to recount the state of affairs prevailing currently. The show also brings to mind the harmonious quality of mother nature, imbibed through the spectral grandeur of pale sunshine and smoky and dusty hues of blues and beiges. At times, it is a mist laden water expanse which reflects the artist’s capacity of making a colour spread through brisk and firm brush strokes coupled with an innate boldness. Thus the vocabulary of colour used in a diffused appearance, aptly conveys human emotions both tender and loving as well as graphic and destructive.

Besides the outdoor settings envisaged in his canvas spaces, there are flower studies on display, which too, were sourced from memory. Though the subject matter in them is a throwback to a still life work, it is the words of the exhibition’s creator that explain their inclusion. Their tonal coherence and the impressionistic feel of their naturalism, subsumes the senses completely, leaving one in a pensive silence as the mind tries to define each outline into a graphic simplicity. Their naturalism is a far cry from his outdoor based works and suggest a cocoon-like safety net in contrast to the vulnerability suggested by his panoramic studies of a Srinagar caught in the cross fires of beauty and pathos.

 

Yet the secret of his painterly finesse is not through a three-cornered formula of inspiration from his roots and execution through the application of rule book commands. The mysterious third element in them is the ‘salt’ factor. Drawing comparison with the culinary arts, he states, ‘Just as a good cook has to learn the right proportion of spices and their application as also know the right amount of salt required to make a dish tasty, in art too, the artist has to develop the understanding of the right amount of colour, content needed in a work. The colour variations are a thing of instinctive learning and not a copybook formula in the same way as a drawing is not a perforation of scribbles.’ Indeed so emphatic has been his emphasis on this principle of colour application that his students have dubbed him ‘Mr Salt’ to compliment his competence.

Seeped in his homeland studies one can easily be led to presuppose that immortalising his homeland in the garb of the seasons would be fulfilling enough. But that would overlook a large part of this painter’s personality who is as adept behind the teacher’s desk as he is before the easel. ‘I strive to make the next gen understand that art is not gimmickry. They must read the masters and even when doing abstract works they must not give up the grammar of art. That will simply destroy their art.’ Through his dual roles of art maker and tutor, this artist has held a beacon to his profession as also reminded his viewers the need for firm draughtsmanship to express naturalism through impressionist strokes.