Shakir Ali's paintings: the mingling of souls and the meaning of love
Pakistani artist Shakir Ali was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, having a keen sense to feel and interpret human emotions and thoughts. The legend not only felt by heart the pains and pleasures of his fellow beings but also described them in colours and lines.
Ali is also singular in that, unlike his other legendary contemporaries Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Sadequain and Gulgee, his students now populate the art scene across Pakistan and abroad, and carry his legacy forward. Shakir was the leader of abstract art in Pakistan. He persuaded the local artists towards abstract art. The artists of the new generation revered him like a sage. He is normally considered as the pioneer of modern art in Pakistan, but his spectrum is very vast and he has deep roots in the soil of South Asia.
Being a gifted painter and calligrapher, Shakir earned great name and fame throughout the Asia. He was perhaps the first Asian painter who adopted the modern art as his mean of expression. Before plunging into this field, he got professional education and training from some of the most prestigious institutes like J. J. School of Art and Slade School of London. He also visited Paris and worked with Andre L'Hote. All these rich experiences boosted up Shakir's confidence and strengthened his instinctive urge to play with colours.
In Shakir's paintings, the red colour seems to be the most prominent as this represent both love and alarm. Moreover, he illustrated birds in most of his products. He tried his best to incorporate the issues and phenomenon of the Asian region with the themes of the modern art. The purpose of this hotchpotch was to make his work appealing to the whole humanity.
It is an interesting fact that Shakir was deeply inspired by the Rajput painting with its simple, crude and naturalistic forms crafted with textured lines and primary colours. In his own style, Shakir evolved as a modern painter whose technique was that of a Western artist inspired more by the abstract style of expression, but whose palette was indigenous and always remained under the red, orange and blue shades; a characteristic associated with Rajput style painting.
As a painter, Shakir Ali was world-famous but he was as happy painting as he was witnessing the emergence of creative abilities in others. In 1953, when he was appointed lecturer at the Mayo School of Arts, this historic institution was in very bad shape - obscurantist teachers who had no interest in the arts; and those students who could not get admission elsewhere. The environment of the school began to change gradually because of Shakir. He would paint in the room all day or would talk to lads by mingling with them; but he neither blew the trumpet of his high competence nor exercised pedantic intimidation.
Every other competent teacher became a part of the Mayo School due to Shakir's untiring efforts and eventually, Mayo School transformed into the National College of Arts. He remained the principal of what was known as Mayo School and then the National College for nearly 15 years, but his attitude towards students and teachers always remained friendly. It was due to him this school became the most respectable arts institution in the country. He was already an institution himself but he left behind an educational institution which will never forget his services.
Shakir never obsessed artificiality or show even in name. He was neither proud of the greatness of his skill nor did he ever talk about himself like narcissistic artists. Modesty and self-effacement were his nature. He spoke little and the softness, slowness and simplicity in his disposition is also reflected in his paintings. He was an embodiment of love. He did not know how to trouble a soul. The whole system of his thought and feeling danced around love and affection. This love was his life as well as his art. Love for beautiful things, the good traditions of Eastern culture, flowers and birds had entered every particle of his aesthetic sense.
Till his last breathe, Shakir remained vibrant and efficient, not leaving anything unexplored in his field. He painted a lot of masterpieces that received immense applause in international exhibitions. Throughout his life, he held many exhibitions both locally and globally. For his marvelous works, Shakir received many glorious awards. His death anniversary is celebrated every year with sheer respect and devotion.
The writer is a freelance contributor.