Realism, as an art movement, is distinct from the traditional use of the term used to refer to figurative art. Realism had its birth in France and advocates accurate realistic depictions of life and the surroundings in contrast to their idealistic and metaphoric representation. In Bangladesh, realism has been practised since the inception of our art movement in the early 1950s. After that artists transformed their modes of expression into varied genres of art. Realism has been practised in our art scenario in different periods. A number of painters have always expressed their creativity through realism, which is thus their forte.
Unquestionably, Sheikh Afzal is one of the leading realist painters of the late'80s of the last century. Being always intrinsically concerned about socio-economic issues, Afzal has used realism prodigiously to reflect the original unaltered picture of the harsh lives of underprivileged people in the country.
Afzal was raised in Jhenaidah, in the northern part of the country. He has delved deep into the ambience of pastoral greenery and foliage, riverine life as well as bucolic culture. He began his career as a naturist painter, depicting the panoramic world with its rich abundance of hues, views, light, shade and serenity. He prefers seasonal changes, tranquil landscapes, ponds, people engaged in collection of date juice and fishing in knee-deep river, mustard and green paddy fields in autumn, rainy days and winter days. He portrays the landscape in its essential harmony. Though Afzal lives in the city, his umbilical cord is seemingly intact with his birthplace. For this reason, the subjects of his paintings recurrently represent pastoral life and its vibrant fluctuations.
Drawing has been in Afzal's blood since his childhood. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was one of the leading inspirational figures in his career. When Afzal was a student of class four in 1969, Bangabandhu went to Harinarayanpur in Kushtia to speak at a public meeting. Seeing the great leader up close, Afzal lost no time in crafting a superb portrayal of him. The artwork eventually resulted in Bangabandhu blessing him to become a great painter in the country. That blessing is the very force that has continued to motivate Afzal till this day and will possibly do so in the days to come.
Then after completion of matriculation, artist Mustafa Aziz brought him before the then principal of Dhaka Art College, Syed Shafiqul Hossain. Afzal luckily got admitted to Dhaka Art College (now the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka) with outstanding result. He was introduced to a completely new life after enrolling into there. He took the taste of a new flavour fused with cultural and social luster of urban habitation. He nicely adapted himself but his soul was always searching for the past. Though the reality of metropolis life forced him to come to terms with a harsher life, he warmly received it. For earning livelihood during those times, Afzal used to walk through Rankin Street and other parts of old Dhaka. He passionately worked with a number of newspapers and literary magazines as an illustrator.
At Art College, Afzal was fortunately guided by celebrated artists Mohammad Kibria, Abdul Baset and Rafiqun Nabi. He closely observed them and was devoted to them from the core of his heart. Veteran painter Syed Jahangir's wholehearted assistance also came to this stage of his life as a great asset. Afzal suddenly got a scholarship (Japan Government Scholarship, Monbukagakusho) in 1989. He got admitted to University of Tsukuba in Japan. During his study in Japan (1989-1993), Afzal was greatly motivated by the famous painter who was also his preceptor, Professor Yamamoto Fumihiko. Afzal still holds Fumihiko's mentoring firmly in his mind. After returning from Japan, he joined the Art College as a teacher and he is still perpetuating his creative magnificence.
From the beginning of his career, Sheikh Afzal has been successfully documenting underprivileged people and their daily chores, rural picturesque beauty as well as young women in all their curvaceous beauty, fishermen, rural women, oarsmen, boatman, flood-affected people, bucolic panoramic view, riverine people, peasants, working class people and more. Cowboy, disadvantaged people and their daily chores, herds of cows and buffalos, day labourers, goats, and people at leisure chatting are recurrent themes in his paintings. Interrelationship -- among man, animal and nature -- is another noticeable subject in his paintings. His paintings are recogniseable for the quality of highly textured. From the beginning of his career, his prime concerns have circled around transparent beauty of nature, underprivileged people's ecstasy, bliss, longing, pain and yearning. As a true patriot, Afzal has also portrayed freedom fighters and their varied aspects of life as well as the personality of Bangabandhu in his varied moods. He imbibed motivation for documenting them from his father and elder brother who were involved in the Liberation War.
Sheikh Afzal is a gifted portrait painter of our country. Portrait painting is an artistic representation of a person not only to capture a likeness, but also for attempting to convey the individual's mood. A good portrait gives us the essence of a person. It can also show what he or she did for a living, what they wanted to be remembered for, alongside where they came from. Over the years, Afzal has brilliantly portrayed many legendary personalities and celebrities of different fields in our country. Firstly he tries to get grip of the character of the personality he endeavours to portray. For him, painting is an interpretation of tone through the medium of colour illuminated with brush. The width of his brushes varies considerably, with fine points being used for subtle details of faces, in contrast to the sweeping stroke ups which he has used to foreground his desired subjects. The painter has achieved mastery in capturing the quality of light in his paintings. Particularly, the use of light of his paintings has been greatly influenced by impressionists Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Observing his works critically, one gets the feeling of both mellow and uneven textures and the variations of tones. He tries to express his feelings through unique compositions and colours (his colours are romantic and dreamy).
Sheikh Afzal has acquired an enigmatic quality in his paintings that works on many levels from the visual to the subconscious. Subject matter includes depictions of the mind-boggling female figure and people of all ages and situations including children, child-mother relationship, old men and women from poorer social classes.
A number of Afzal's paintings depict happy family life. The figures are superbly drawn and their facial expressions carry jovial mood. He portrays parents and their children with a realistic approach. The paintings' backgrounds are engrossed with large compositions and diverse amorphous forms, which carry his personal hallmark. These works remind us of our family values and the importance of bonding.
Tranquility is one of the vital components in Afzal's works. The objects of his works are in a melancholic mood, which is repeatedly focused on. Lighting is frequently featured in the works and the artist usually prefers luminous light and mystifying background. At times, his figures look immobile and help us think about their experiences. The artist muses to demonstrate their everyday woes and bliss on his canvas.
Afzal's calm and deeply meditative landscape alludes to harmony in nature. He has portrayed the Sundarbans a number of times from different angles. It has been clearly noticeable that the artist has an in-depth understanding of landscape. Some of his floral compositions convey a great sense of rapture. Many of his shadowy drawings are lyrical and spontaneous.
Afzal has selected a certain language so that he may describe the stories of his paintings lucidly; as part of his experiment. He has been eagerly studying movements of figures and arrangements of compositions for a long time. In this sense, he is very careful about his composition and arrangement of figures. The painter is known for his subtle approach. His paintings are seemingly time-consuming and the artist crosses great lengths to detail his subjects.
Sheikh Afzal's solo exhibition titled "Eternal Affection" is now on at Athena Gallery, Uttar Badda in the city. The exhibition will continue till May 7.