Following traditional and modem concepts of art, innovative work on subjective and stylistic patterning of Pakistani art started seriously soon after independence of the country. In this context, painter and educationist Prof. Khalid Iqbal’s role is also important like other renowned artists. Landscapists especially hold him in high regard.
Based in Lahore, the family had to shift due to posting of Khalid Iqbal’s father to Simla. He was born there in 1929. And then, whenever his father was out of Lahore on official duty, Khalid accompanied him. “During my early age, I travelled a lot with my father,” said Khalid Iqbal. However, he came back home at the time oflndependence in 194 7 after passing Senior Cambridge Examination from St. Joseph’s Academy, Dehra Dun. He then pursued an intermediate education at Government College, Lahore.
Khalid Iqbal never claims that he is a born artist. He says, “I don’t remember having any interest in art. What I remember is that I loved to see the many faces of nature and its relationship with man.”
At that time, people still harboured reservations about Masters in Arts.
Such thinking was natural because art had yet to carve a niche as a paying profession. For most people, it was just a hobby or a pastime. Despite an air of pessimism, teachers continued their efforts to turn it into a reputable profession.
For some time Khalid Iqbal attended art classes at Mayo School of Art in the evening to learn the basics of art. “Ghulam Nabi Malik was the Principal of Mayo School of Art when I got a chance to study. Very soon, I found myself becoming part of the activity going on there. Ustaad Muhammad Latif Chughtai ‘s way of teaching drawing and painting was very impressive and communicative. He enabled me to see, draw and colour objects accurately according to the principles of art. Unfortunately, before completing this course, I had to discontinue my studies. Nevertheless, I was learning art very seriously”, recalled, Khalid Iqbal.
In 1949, Khalid Iqbal did his graduation from the University of the Punjab, Lahore, in Economics and Political Science. The same year he was offered an art teacher’s job at Aitcheson College, Lahore which he accepted very reluctantly. “Getting this job came as a bit of a surprise because I’d very little to do with this subject. But, this way, Allah put me back on the track of art.”
Listening to ex-President of Pakistan Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari’s speech, on the occasion ofNCA’s Convocation, one could learn how strict a teacher Khalid Iqbal was. Mr Leghari said: “I remember my art teacher Khalid Iqbal who failed me in the subject taught by him when I was studying at Aitcheson. I think he did rightly because I was not fully prepared for his paper.”
Pakistan’s emergence as a sovereign state ushered in an era of change.
Khalid Iqbal observed this whole new socio-political scene and was proud to be a part of it. Besides teaching art classes at Aitcheson College, he roamed about in and around his beloved city and painted what ever attracted him.
The next significant change in Khalid Iqbal’s artistic career occurred when he was seen painting on the spot in Murree by founder of the Department of tline Arts at the University or the Punjab, Anna Molka Ahmed. Appreciating lliH creative nppronch to art, she advised him to go to London for acquiring higher lrnowludgu in lhu fluid or pointin11.. Cousidcring her sincere advice and realizing that art-education of that level was not available in Pakistan, Khalid Iqbal went to London and studied at Slade School of Art from 1952 to 1955.
At Slade, Khalid Iqbal studied art under the guidance of Sir William Menzies Coldstream who was head of the school and one of the founders of Euston Road Group.
Interestingly, in the late 1930s, “some British painters who had previously been experimenting with abstract art were turning to a lyrical and restrained realistic style of painting with accents to simplicity. Repudiating the modernist theories of abstraction and surrealism, they reverted to a quiet and intimate art of commonplace themes——landscape, still life, portraits and nudes. The trend was crystallized at the Euston Road School whose founders were influenced by literary and political trends towards relevance and exactness with emphasis on the factual and anti-romantic and they preferred delicate richness and clarity to emphatic colours or expressive distortions.” (Harold Osborne—–Twentieth Century Art)
What Khalid Iqbal was painting at home was not at all abstract. Neither was he inclined to express things in this idiom. Anna Molka Ahmed had appreciated his art because of its socio-cultural relevance. At Slade, besides working on his course assignments, imbibing impressions of masters of realistic idiom like Constable, Van Gough or Cezanne, Khalid Iqbal found himself inspired by Coldstream and the manifesto of Euston Road School.
In 1955, equipped with a Diploma from Slade, Khalid Iqbal landed back in Lahore and was appointed Lecturer of Fine Arts at the University of the Punjab.
At that time the Department of Fine Arts was running under the Chairmanship of Anna Molka Ahmed and course of studies for Master in Fine Arts for boys was just launched. He had brought with him in his baggage a landscape painting, which could remind him of what he had been studying under the guidance of Coldstream at Slade.
Khalid Iqbal had a taste for literature. Before, going to London, he met with Saadat Hassan Manto. Now, he had both writer and artist friends including Shakir Ali, Moyene Najmi, Habib Jalib, Shemza, Zainul Abidin, Nasir Kazmi, Sheikh Ahmed, Taufiq Riffat, Nawab Natiq and Kamal Ahmed Rizvi.
It’s a misconception that before the advent of the British Raj forms like landscapes, portraits, still-life or nudes didn’t exist in our art. Early impression of these forms can easily be traced through history. In traditional art, one can see all these forms becoming part of one’s developed and stylized form which indigenously is known as Mussawari (art of painting). For instance at the time of the Mughals, painters very consciously made landscape a pleasant part of their paintings while illustrating public and private life accounts of emperors and wealthy courtiers.
Similarly, other forms also got full subjective independence now under western influence. Trained at Slade, Khalid Iqbal’s art too appeared influenced by western traditions, particularly with reference to nineteenth century landscape art.
After his return from Britain in 1955, using western techniques, Khalid Iqbal expressed his socio-cultural ideas simultaneously in landscape, portrait and still-life and became one of the first modern realist painters of Pakistan. In 1965, after teaching art at the University of the Punjab for about ten years, he chosed to head the faculty of Fine Arts at the National College of Arts (NCA).
He imparted art education at NCA according to the newly structured system and became a favourite among his students. Besides performing his teaching job, he was also anxious to paint. But, long hours of official duty, left him little time to paint on the spot.
In 1981, before reaching the age of retirement, he decided to give up his professorship at the National College of Arts. “The decision to say good-bye to my job was for living with art according to my will “, said Khalid Iqbal.
To be a painter has always been more important for Khalid Iqbal. He says, “Rather than wasting time on fashionably overrating myself as some kind of intellectual, I prefer to remain what I am, a painter. Because, I believe, it’s one’s purposeful creative art which makes one important in the history.”
Throughout his entire artistic career, Khalid Iqbal has been studying the aesthetic relationship of art with reality and creating in oil medium all that has pleased his senses in the colourful environment of Lahore; particularly with reference to landscape and its various seasonal effects and moods.
Working in the landscape genre, (unlike Ustaad Allah Buksh’s romantic way of seeing and painting the social-cultural life and environment of rural Punjab), he appears to concentrate on his style in the realistic idiom for painting the existing, changing and vanishing visions and sensations of Lahore’s natural beauty. Very soon, not only his impressions in this form succeeded in attracting viewers but they also earned him encouragement, appreciation and the reputation of being a modem landscapist.
In an innovative manner, rather than creating snap-shot effects of his beloved subject matter i.e. familiar scenes of landscape of rural and suburban areas of Lahore, Khalid Iqbal has always been interested in using his palette for capturing effects of sunlight and shadows, and conveying sensations produced by the landscape. Thematically, the relationship between man and nature as depicted by him thoughtfully and intellectually can be seen in his paintings.
For instance, the changing faces of buildings and disappearing representatives of indigenous trees became a dominant character of Khalid Iqbal’s visual vocabulary. And ultimately, in the total silence, happy and sad whisperings of trees can be sensed saying one thing only: “Nature serves you beauty and love.”
About his landscape art, Khalid Iqbal says, “after seeing a natural scene, I continue to paint it on the spot until the original impression left on my mind is transferred on the painting surface.”
Like Coldstream, conceptually and technically, Khalid Iqbal’s landscape has been a dominant source of inspiration for many who take interest in this form. At the age of seventy-seven, Khalid Iqbal does not seem tired. Allah has blessed him with the energy to continue his painting work. In 1977, he won Pakistan National Council of the Art’s Quaid-i-Azam Award in Painting. In 1980 he was awarded Pride of Performance Award in Paintings by the Government of Pakistan. He also accepted Chair of Professor Emeritus at the National Collage of Arts, Lahore in 1993.
In 2004, National College of Arts published a book “Khalid Iqbal – A Pioneer of Modem Realism in Pakistan” by Dr Musarrat Hasan to pay tribute to Prof. Khalid Iqbal. On the occasion oflaunching ceremony of this book, admirers of Khalid Iqbal’s art were able to see long-awaited Solo Show of his Paintings in NCA which was considered to be close to the reality with emphasis on capturing atmosphere as he felt at the time of painting on the spot. He selects and paints those spots which normally do not strike to a common eye, but his unusual approach and skilful handling makes the same spot very important in his painting. Khalid Iqbal creates interesting and eye catching effects through simplification of form, brushwork, careful composition and use oflight and subdue colours according to requirements of the subject. His contribution in the field of art is very valuable.
By: Khalid Iqbal