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Exhibition: The wanderlust of watercolour

Exhibition: The wanderlust of watercolour

There is something beautifully simple and yet layered and profound about watercolour: it has the capacity to unite and even to inspire.

As a medium of art, it was used in ancient Egyptian and Eastern paintings. In the 18th and 19th centuries it became the choice of the British landscape painters, who relished the medium’s translucent quality.

And in Pakistan, artists such as Mansoor Rahi, Hajra Mansoor, Abdul Haye, Athar Jamal and Qudsia Nisar, to name but a few, exploited the medium to produce masterpieces.As the decades passed, it appeared that interest in classic media had waned and a greater interest was shown in newer mediums.

Yet, art is never static in recent times. It seems that after a brief lull in interest, watercolour is back to make a mark.

Earlier this year, the first International Watercolour Biennale took place at the Centre of Excellence in Arts and Design (CEAD), University of Sindh, with visiting artists from several countries taking part. The exhibition was prompted by the resurgence of local interest in watercolour due to Pakistan’s inclusion in the International Watercolour Association (IWA). The Association was initiated in Turkey in 201l, and has become a global institution with 70 countries opening its branches.

Since then there have been several IWA exhibitions in the country showcasing the work of association members from all over the world. The latest in the series, Hues of Diversity (International Watercolour Show), is a diverse display of viewpoints communicating the individual artist’s view of the world around him and his life experience.

“Hues of Diversity” was exhibited at the Artciti Gallery in Karachi. It displayed the paintings by eight well-known artists from Serbia, Russia, Italy, Iran, England, Greece and Pakistan — with a distinctive, highly personal approach with a purity of colour, context and form.

Pedja Acimovic from Serbia, who has a gallery in Belgrade, brought the paintings of various Serbian artists. This included six paintings by artist / sculptor Milan Tucovic, whose success in the genre of portraiture lies within his ability to express an insight into the life of the subject by the use of colour, gesture and line. It was interesting to learn that Acimovic’s gallery deals only in watercolour paintings, which are extremely popular in Belgrade. “People like to decorate their houses with beautiful, colourful paintings,” he said.

From England came the work of Joe Francis Dowden. He is an artist specialising in landscape and seascape paintings filled with the multiplicity of meaning that appears to measure the relationship between nature and ways of seeing the world. Dowden, who works as a window cleaner in order to view various countries and cityscapes, has shown his work in numerous exhibitions and published books of watercolour paintings.

Also from Serbia, Endre Penovac is an award-winning artist who works with enormous spirit and energy. His collection of artworks titled “Pakistan” is based on an artist’s impression during a visit. Here he used colours melting one into another, with areas of abstraction surrounding his subjects. This included the image of a burqa-clad lady seated on the back of a speeding motorbike and apparently enjoying the experience.

From Greece, George Politis created multiple layers of colour in his work forming organic growth and multiple dimensions. Explaining his work, Politis said, “I can find inspiration in ordinary and commonly overlooked items, responding to them with dramatically different feelings each time …”

The celebrated Russian artist Ilya Viktorovich Ibryaev uses his chosen watercolour medium with superb mastery. His artworks are in museums in his homeland. It is said of Ilya’s work that he “…paints a hymn to nature … watercolour psalms praising its purity and eternity.”

The Iranian artist, Javid Tabatabei, skilfully creates light and dark colouration in his work that emphasises the age-old history and grandeur of his homeland with structures that accentuate cultural relevance with a highly personal approach. In the work of the artist every painting tells a story.

The many moods of Italian artist Pasquoalino Francasso were expressed in the diversity of his subjects and his own changing moods. His paintings included alluring portraiture, wide-ranging landscape scenes, machinery and a sleeping child. Francasso is an artist whose work has been exhibited globally.

Representing Pakistan’s branch of the IWA, Ali Abbas Syed, exhibited five exquisite paintings from the “Malang” series. Heading the IWS in Pakistan, Abbas is currently assistant professor and chairperson of the CEAD. He is an artist who has documented the lives and mysticism of the nomadic Sufis of Sindh. It is a series that has earned him International awards, including the recent ‘Master of Art’ Awards presented to him in Thailand and Hong Kong.

The 2011 inclusion of Pakistan in the IWA was significant as it pushed local watercolour art into an international arena. It also indirectly enabled the organising of the International Watercolour Biennale at CEAD. Such developments can restore the genre’s lost glory by making it a progressive and viable medium once again.

“Hues of Diversity” (International Watercolour Show) was exhibited at the Artciti Gallery in Karachi from November 10 to November 16, 2016

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 11th, 2016

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