M. Javed believes: ‘Life is incomplete without art’

Versatile artist Muhammad Javed specializes in abstract and semi-abstract art and cubism. He has experimented with bright colors and gradient hues and drawn strong compositions and haunting ideas. In the words of art critic Dr. Aijaz Anwar, he has

“an eye for dividing his picture areas into varying rectangles so as to emphasize and subdue certain elements and make the composition, the subject and his expressions strong enough.”

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Thoughtful and soft-spoken Muhammad Javed is an ardent admirer of Professor Shakir Ali who was his teacher at the National College of Art in Lahore. It was then called the Mayo School of Industrial Art. Professor Mark Ritter Sponenburgh was its principal (the news of Prof. Sponenburgh’s demise in his Sea Rock, Oregon, home in the United States, was published in Pakistan’s newspaper Dawn on December 12, 2012).

When Shakir Ali took his place, Javed got himself attached to him. A man of few words, Shakir Ali was a competent, kind and affectionate teacher. Muhammad Javed recalls,

Early Phase as a Young Artist

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Throughout my studies, he remained my teacher and I learned so much from him. His influence on my work is so much visible even in the earliest period of my professional life. My other teachers, Professor Sponenburg, Professor James Warn and Professor Mary Lewis taught us from 1958 to 1960. The local faculty members Professor Abbas Abidi, Jamila Zaidi, Latif Chaghtai, Niaz Ali Shah, Bashir Ahmad, Ustad Shafi and the miniature painter Haji Mohammad Sharif taught us with much dedication. Professor Shakir Ali had great concern about the placement of students. He was always urging us to improve.

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Recalling his younger days, he says,I have struggled all my life to reach where I am now. It surprises me when I recall the tough circumstances I faced when I entered the field of fine art and explored it. In fact, when I was young, no artist I knew could explain his own art or what the actual thought was that urged him produce a specific piece of art.

Literacy rate in Muhammad Javed’s village, Sheikhupura, was less than one per cent.Hence, there was no one to teach or coach in basic learning, not to speak of Art. Only three boys were there who went to school but none reached the secondary level except me. My family went to urban areas and I was did get more education. The villagers looked at me with awe when I was in class four as I could read and no one else could.

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“I was a simple and innocent kid with a sensitive nature. I would observe and enjoy natural beauty of the fields, trees and plants; flowers, birds and animals; and cultural activities of happy and joyous villagers. When I studied drawing at the high school level, it impressed everyone a lot and I felt that drawing could capture the beauty of the nature. I practiced it according to the tips got from my drawing teacher and enjoyed people around me appreciating it. I was not aware of the correct use of this skill or any study program, which could let me refine my activity. My parents were not happy about this as they wanted me either to enter in to a service or to pursue further education.

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Observing my interest in art, a sympathetic relative in Lahore suggested that my parents send me Lahore to study at an art institution. My father agreed half-heartedly as he could not afford the extra expense. But somehow he managed. At last, I reached Lahore to fulfill my thirst for art. Despite financial problems, my parents gave me all support that they could during my study at the National College of Arts. In those days, NCA provided art material to the students free of cost. Since I was a brilliant student, I also got the scholarship. I also got wrote on certificates in an artistic script for and received one rupee for each certificate. This helped me bridge the financial gap. The life was tough but I learnt so much from it.”

Art and Achievement

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Muhammad Javed remarked In the sixties, an artist would not like to explain his art. He would rather avoid talking about his work, considering that a painting spoke in a visual language of its own. This was necessary to allow the viewers to see and interpret according to their own feelings, which varied from on individual to another. I, myself, experienced this fact when an art lover while looking at one of my painting said oh: you painted my dream, whereas I painted my expressions about an environment with a shady tree in abstraction. Although I explained my point of view, he did not agree. I realized that meaning of a painting could be different in the eyes of different people depending on their knowledge and perception.

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“I would, therefore, simply say that I try to capture those impressions of my surroundings which haunt me due to sensitivity of the issues relating to socio-cultural and physical environment. I paint in my own style using my inner strength and knowledge for the sake of art. There is, of course, versatility in my art as I select different subjects, which attract me at different times. My favorite medium is oil colors and palette knife but I have extensively used other material such as charcoal, pastel and mixed medium.”

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“In 1989, M.I.T. awarded me the Annual Distinguished Artist Award on my contribution of a mural done on a large wooden plank. Similarly, in the end of 2013, a book entitled A Man of the Arts—Muhammad Javed, edited by Dr. Shaukat Mahmood (better known as>“Maxim” cartoonist) was also published by Pakistan Writers Cooperative Society. The book encompassed more than half a century of my work and life and contained views and reviews of prominent art critics and writers. In February 2016, a book entitled Relevance in Art—Fine Art Masters of 21st Century was written by K. Hienz Playner in the German language and published in Austria. In this work, I was one of the 39 artists that were covered. I was the only one who was not from the West.”

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In addition to my paintings, I have done much work to promote appreciation of art and literature through organizing and curating more than 120 art exhibitions displaying young as well as senior artists, and looking after publication work of about 40 prestigious books from the platform of Coopera Art Gallery, Lahore. I have been able to introduce many young artists.A progressive person is never satisfied with self achievement. Such a person always remains in search of better results. For myself, I would say that I have been able to exhibit my work at home and abroad at several occasions and has seven solo shows at my credit. My paintings are also in the private and public collection. I have been receiving appreciation from the art circle especially from the print and electronic media.

My Art Philosophy

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The values of traditions blended with modernism based on the current socio-cultural and economic conditions of the Society provide directions for creating an artwork subconsciously or consciously. It is the experience of such things, which compel the artist to present his emotional expressions in an art form. I consider a society in a wider term, which also includes physical environment, religion, birds, and animals and so on. Whenever anything struck to my mind, I start thinking about its presentation through the elements, which I see and try to evolve concept and composition in symbolic abstraction easily understandable even by a non-professional. I try to communicate some massage, story, or spiritual values as the case may be apart from aesthetics. The decorative element is not my priority as such work falls in another category, which may be close to craft. I try to avoid using of primary or secondary colors directly in the interest to make the painting vibrant. My focus is always on the application of essence of the colors according to the subject matter close to the life.

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“I was born in a family involved in business of a store and agriculture at small scale. My grandfather was a gentleman and his father was a soldier in the British Indian army. We were two brothers and a sister; I was the only one who was an artist. I have two sons; one is a chartered account and the other is a banker. I kept them away from my art because it was very difficult to pull on day-to-day life in those days depending on painting. However, both have fine aesthetics and like paintings. My life partner has given me a lot of support by giving me time for work. I find my grand-kids taking more interest in art assignments and they sometimes give me very useful feedback when I work on paintings.”

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“Childhood is always considered a golden period by every child as he grows up. Each moment of childhood gives pleasure even if ones family is economically unsound. Similarly, I enjoyed my childhood in an area where urban facilities were not available. There was no electricity in my village but greenery and water ponds surrounded it. It was quite stimulating for me. It was thrilling to see buffaloes swim in the ponds and graze in the fields. I still remember green shady trees, pure milk being mulched right from the udders of buffaloes, cows and goats. Youngsters joyfully played games under the watchful eyes of the elderly. My parents wanted me to focus on study. They had financial problems and had a hard time making the ends meet. On the roof of my house I would study for the most part of night under the light of a lantern. Bugs surrounded the light and no one was there to help or guide me. Those days are still so memorable.”

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There are no words for me to explain my joy, which I got from the pets, games and horse rides. An incident of my felling into a watercourse in extreme winters is unforgettable, as I slipped from its bridge and there was no medical aid of any kind except hot milk. My trend towards drawing and painting was very visible at the beginning as I often draw different shapes and lines on the walls and floors with coal and I felt very depressed when my elders asked me to rubout.He recalls when he was a kid himself.I cannot forget to mention about my primary school teacher Khair Din who was also the headmaster. He a friend of my father’s and often paid a visit to him.

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Recalling his art classmates, he says,

Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq, Mahmood Alam and Dilawer Ali were my classmates at the art college. My contemporaries in design department were Bashir Mirza, Ahmad Khan and Mian Salahuddin. Nayar Ali Dada, Iqbal Hassan, Tanveer Ahmad, Abdul Rehman and seven other students were in the architecture department. It is a well-known fact that that most of the students of first batch have reached the highest level in their respective fields and enjoyed much respect.He rambled on,During my studies, Professor Shakir Ali never gave us any idea how to sell the paintings. He always advised us to concentrate on creative work and to create something new. However, the development of the students was such that they were able to handle all type of assignments relating to designing, interior decoration, furniture and even buildings designing, teaching and so on. That is why the students of first batch were very well placed.

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“I succeeded in putting up my first solo show after two years of my study in 1964. The show turned out with very good results as my bosses started giving me much respect. It is true that if you had bright ideas, you had an edge over others. I participated in the national exhibition soon after my graduation; and in group shows too. However, as time passed, my responsibilities grew and it became increasing difficult for me to show up in each art event. But I did engage in doing paintings. My second solo show was held at the American Information Centre, Hyderabad, in 1969. It was highly appreciated. In 1963, Bashir Mirza and Jamil Naqsh were working in the National Advertising whereas I was in the United Advertisers where I worked for only a few months. All three of us met for lunch. Bashir Mirza and I lived in Paposhnagar in Karachi.”

My Favorite Genre and Style

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He continued,My journey in art started with realistic art and then I switched over to abstraction in the early years of my life under the influence of Shakir Ali. Soon I felt that my appreciation and understanding were hampered, I made tremendous experimentation to develop my own style blended with realism, impressionism, cubism and abstraction schools of art.I prefer to work with oil colors and palette knife. Apart from focusing on the main forms, I liked to divide the space in such a way that it would extend strength to the composition and create more interest.I try to paint subjects reflecting natural beauty, poverty and pain. I avoid to paint only decorative elements. Selection of my subject consumes considerable of my time as against the today’s practice.

Art critic Marjorie Hussain says about Muhammad Javed:

“When Javed was at Karachi, he became one of the vanguards of young artists discovering new methods and ideas. He experimented with cubism, creating paintings of gradient subdued hues or in alternate moods, painted brilliant images of bright colour.”

Famous art critic S. Amjad Ali has comments:

“He uses purely abstract forms created with fine sense of design incorporating the alphabets of the name. The transformation of the letters has been brought about in an artistic and pleasing manner. What is important is the painterly quality of handling of colors.”

Dr. Khalid Mahmud says:

“Javed has painted a number of paintings and each one represents a different subject matter and themes of different varieties whereas the approach retains his own individuality which makes him stand distinct as an artist among this community.”

Iftikhar Ahmad Adani says:

“Javed’s work is different. He does not invest his ingenuity in producing designs, nor in evolving patterns…. He is primarily engaged in portraying visions and projecting ideas, ideas which haunt him.”

In the words of Dr. Aijaz Anwar:

“Javed has an eye for dividing his picture areas into varying rectangles so as to emphasize and subdue certain elements and make the composition, the subject and his expressions strong enough.”

Remarks Saira Dar:

“His ‘made on the spot’ authentic renderings are enchanting because of the feeling of a moving firsthand experience being expressed artistically and impressive because of the formal grace inculcated by the technical expertise.”

Dr. Shaukat Mahmood opines:

“His paintings provide us yet another technique. A master painter in this technique was one of my teachers Nasim Hafiz Qazi, but Javed has gone a step further in dry-brush technique.”

Says Abid H. Qureshi:

“Javed’s paintings have beauty of semiabstract style comprising simplification and textural values, which allow the viewers to find out multiple meaning and massages.”

Muhammad Javed himself says:

“My aim of art is to highlight and portray cultural and socio-economic activities of the life and capture beauty of the nature as experienced by me to contribute in the history and to provide useful information in decent visual forms.”

Different Phases of Art Life

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Further, he says,Soon after completion of my studies, I did a series of large sketches with ink and reed pen, using washes for indicating dimension and shadows. After this series, I used oil paints on paper and painted figures in the sixties. In the seventies, I did lots of work on canvas presenting cultural activities such as market scenes and town fairs. In 1981-83, I painted Islamic calligraphy. Afterward, I did extensive work on canvas with palette and knife and oil colors, highlighting different subjects. In 2005, I did considerable work in charcoal during my visit to Cairo, Egypt.

“Similarly, when I got a chance to visit other countries, I tried to capture their physical and cultural environment. It is a fact that both style and perception change with the passage of time and environment, which one can always notice. Last year, I was inspired from the foggy days and traffic problems in Lahore which compelled me to paint. Now I am working on the subject of the law and order situation in this city.”

Treatment of the Art World

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During my phase of experimentation for development of my individual style, there was a mixed reaction. Some people I had known realized that I would be able to achieve my objective of producing something unusual and meaningful. The appreciation from the artist community was, however, minimal as usually happens with creative people – writers, poets, actors, etc. I was lucky to get appreciation from men of letters, especially from a senior civil servant I. A. Khan, known as Iftikhar Ahmad Adni—a Sufic writer. It may be interesting to quote an example of receiving appreciation from a renowned artist.

Emotional account of Art Fairs

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Recalling time he was highly appreciated, Muhammad Javed said,It was a happy moment when Sayyied Qavi Ahmad, Principal, Sindh Government College of Commerce offered me to sponsor an exhibition of my work which I did in a period of more than four years at Hyderabad. He was visiting me off and on with Professor Qaseem Baig Chughtai who was my friend. Both appreciated my work. They were great art lovers and motivators. They organized the exhibition very well at American Information Centre, Hyderabad, in 1969. Media at that time also encouraged me a lot. So much so that Radio Pakistan broadcast my interview. Prior to this solo show was also held at Hyderabad in 1964.
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It was organized by Iftikhar Ahmad Adni and inaugurated by Mumtaz Hassan, a renowned scholar and managing director of National Bank of Pakistan where Faiz Ahmad Faiz, S.M. Waseem, Commissioner of Hyderabad Division and Secretary Al-Hamra Arts Council, Hyderabad, were also present among others art fans. Later, five more solo shows were held at Karachi, Lahore and abroad. Art critics, art lovers and the media appreciated my shows, but my family asked me what I made for them. So, after a month or so, feeling of exhilaration started falling down. It was hard to explain my cheerless sentiments.

“A number of commercial art galleries have sprung up during the last decade but one can feels that artists have been influenced due to demand of artworks with vibrant colors and decorative elements which is reducing the creativity aspect day by day. No doubt the directions of art are rapidly changing not only in Pakistan but also throughout the globe. Most of the works being done consume less time due to shortcuts.”

Old and New Masters

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Since the history of art from the pre-historic age to the twentieth century was taught to the students, the work of old masters such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Paul Cezanne and Pablo Picasso influenced them. I also learned a lot from their works. Likewise, the work of my teacher Professor Shakir Ali greatly influenced me. Shakir Ali did not allow us to see the works of Ustad Allah Bux and Abdul Rehman Chaghtai, perhaps due to the problems in the anatomy of the figures painted by Ustad Allah Bux and extraordinary exaggeration or stylization in the figures painted by Abdul Rehman Chaghtai. Anyways, I enjoyed the colors used by Ustad Allah Bux and continuous thin lines and wash technique of A. R. Chaghtai. However, Shakir Ali liked the work of Zain-ul-Abedeen a Bengali painter, who often visited NCA. Mostly, his art reflected poverty and miserable conditions. Therefore, I too got some influence in selection of the subjects. Although Shakir Ali was not very happy with the work of Sadequain, he was a very special artist who along with presenting the life and myths produced large quantity of work. He said to me in Karachi about two years before he passed away,

‘There was still too much to do but the time is running fast…. I had not painted in acres but in miles.’

Foremost Ambition in Life

Muhammad Javed has painted a Quranic verse ”Am Lil Ansaan-e-Ma Tamna” (Urge of a man never ends) in which he has shown on the right side an image of a fort (the symbol of power) and on the left Taj Mahal (the symbol of death). He thinks it was enough for him that his work is receiving appreciation and he wishes to continue his efforts and contribute in the field of art.

Art Selling and Buying

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He thinks,There was almost no room for sale of the paintings until nineties, after that art market gradually started developing but patronization remained lacking. During 2000 onward, although the emotional and literary approach of the artists affected with the establishment of private commercial galleries but, of course, artists facilitated.However, with cropping up the disturbances in the law and order situation in the country, the graph of sale has fallen down. Similarly, focus on the frame rather than the artwork also spoiled the situation from art point of view. I think an artist should try to satisfy himself. In this way, awareness will take place and people will start buying creative work, which also have great aesthetic value.

Artist Statement

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I try to portray my emotional sentiments about the sensitive issues associated with social, cultural and economic conditions, physical or hidden in the life as I feel. Efforts are made to create due interest with treatment of colors, texture and strokes in layers together with space division to strengthen the composition and beautify of the painting. One can feel the characteristic of my work as symbolic abstractions and simplification of forms, which may help the art audience to understand at a glance. I do not like to indulge in superficial concepts or emotions in the interest of maintaining the reality of the life. My trend towards spiritual activities some time compels me to high light the meaningful work based on the Islamic calligraphy.”

Message to Art Enthusiasts

Says Muhammad Javed to art lovers,

“Art is essential for the life as it provides pleasure, satisfaction and useful information. Although its direction are changing rapidly, but it is necessary to maintain identity as art contribute and document the history especially socio-economic and cultural values of the regions.”

“It is also a fact that any creative activity cannot flourish without due recognition and support, I therefore, wish that the artworks be considered it a very valuable contribution to the history and life.”

—M. Khalid Rahman