President’s Pride of Performance winning painter and art-educationist, Colin David (b.193 7) is one of the most senior members of Pakistan’s reigning art dynasty. Rather than getting himself involved in art politics or becoming the leader of some lobby, he has always preferred to keep himself busy in teaching art classes and creating on canvas landscape, cityscape, portrait or figurative paintings. As a result, people acknowledge his services for the promotion of art in Pakistan and recognize him as a dexterous master of art.
Retrospectively speaking, Colin David became aware of his interest in art from his childhood. Interestingly, when he held his pencil for sketching any object, he found himself poor in drawing. As he puts it, “while studying at Cathedral School, I was always punished by my art teachers”. Realizing that punishment was meant for his betterment, he started to concentrate on improving his knowledge of the subject. “It was very shameful for me that I was weak in my favourite subject”, said Colin David recalling his school days.
At the time of his education at Forman Christian College, he found himself greatly interested in learning painting techniques. “In those days, film posters had much attraction for me. At leisure time, rather than taking part in games, I used to those posters. Film stars were my favourite subject. I enjoyed in drawing and colouring them realistically according to my own aesthetic sense”. Besides doing this, he said, he remained in search of some ustaad (teacher).
Fortunately, at that time, Shakir Ali had settled in Lahore, started teaching drawing classes at Mayo School of Art, engaged himself in art promotional activities and opened his studio’s doors for serious learners of art. Colin David availed the opportunity of studying drawing there. And, in only three months, his growing interest for the subject led him to acquire proper academic art education.
The Department of Fine Arts at Punjab University set up by Anna Molka Ahmed imparted art education only to girls. Surprisingly, there was no mention in the history of Pakistani art about this Department during the period of 1940 to 56. In 1956, boys were also allowed to study and Colin David was amongst the first batch who sought admission in the Fine Arts Department. Colin David was then studying art under the guidance of Khalid Iqbal. “We were three boys in all. At that time there was segregation but we were free to move around. I graduated in Fine Arts and then proceeded on to do my Masters”.
In 1960, Colin David was awarded M.A. Fine Arts Degree. The same year, he was taken as a Lecturer in the faculty of his alma mater. After achieving these goals Colin David displayed his works along with the works of Sufi Waqar. At that time, he was expressing in the genres of cityscape, landscape, still life and portraiture. Mostly painted in realistic idiom, his works reflected his interest in highlighting socio-cultural life around him in Lahore. His impressions displayed in this exhibition had one thing in common, the perfectionist use of art grammar.
After earning appreciation both with reference to what he had been thinking or painting, and, soon after this successful exhibition, he confidently left for London to study at Slade. From this vision-broadening trip, he came back in 1962 and resumed his teaching job at the University of the Punjab, Lahore. Some of his important dreams proved true.
Even before going to London for higher education he painted realistically just closes to his present work, with his interest in composition being predominant. Paintings of Degas, Toules, Lautrec and Ben Shahn, and Japanese woodcuts influenced him greatly. In art, Colin David had already demonstrated his expertise in drawing according to the conventional rules of art. At this stage he was keen to be known as a painter like Shakir Ali and Khalid Iqbal. To achieve this goal, he enthusiastically started his painting work in figurative forms of expression.
Thematically, the principal subject matter of Colin’s new work was the life of a young woman. For him, she was the most beautiful creation of God on earth. Therefore, rather indulging in the politics of gender representations, he concentrated more on studying and painting her as she had appeared aesthetically in the realistic form, or, as she should naturally be according to his frame of conceptual understanding. Interestingly, she was shown as if she didn’t know of her becoming phenomenal character of Colin’s volume of pictorial fables/ anecdotes, which discussed her age, personality, beauty, modesty, purity, chastity, mood and physical appeal in an artistically designed environment of visual sensations.
Even after leaving Department of Fine Art and joining the Faculty of National College of Art in 1965, Colin David was curious to know more truth about the female form and its realistic and surrealistic associations with other life and still-life forms or objects. In his created impressions every object on micro and macro levels was an essential part of the painterly designed visual whole. For instance, the bottle metaphorically speaks of many things in his evolving codification system. It was full of spirits or empty. It was labeled or unlabelled according to the dramatic situation and mood of other characters. On a geometrically well-conceived, constructed and decorated stage, its mysterious optical appearance always had something of metaphorical importance. Particularly, like the illusionist black and white patterns in Colin’s paintings, the bottle had many interrelated things to reveal about the case of self-absorbed female figure which was shown moderately experiencing day’s social drama and night’s existential conditions.
It was not only the bottle that talked this way, Colin’s other objects too -had what was subjectively desired while composing them together. For instance, in the romantic environment of a painting, objects and characters like the full moon, illuminated landscape, a barren tree, turned-face lonely lady or open book could be viewed and highlighted as metaphorical significations or fascinations of spatial, architectonic and humanistic interrelations.
In 1989, as Associate Professor, before reaching at the age of superannuation (sixty years), Colin David unexpectedly opted for retirement from National College of Arts. However he continued to impart art education with the same devotion to serious learners, till now. Apart from satisfying his urge of teaching art, he remained busy in contemplating and painting.
Colin David draws his inspiration from Gandhara, Ajanta and Mughal art traditions. In Western Art, his favourite figurative painters are those impressionists who’ve thoughtfully treated ideas in realistic idiom, like Degas or Lautrec. Among contemporaries, Andrew Wyeth’s Helga series holds much fascination for Colin.
As far as the philosophy of colours is concerned he has been through different phases such as the black and white phase, grey phase, brown phase, etc.
“In the 60’s I went through more realistic colours. In the seventies I went through the black and white phase, the eighties saw me going through a brown phase, and in the nineties I was more liberal with greens, mauves and blacks.”
Nowadays, besides impressionistically colouring in oil medium various situation oriented moods, feelings, appearances and expressions of his paintings’ main character, that is the evergreen young woman, Colin David like humanist thinkers is found seriously concentrating on conceptualizing workable ideas and structures about our newly developing visual cultures, mainly with reference to happy homes and happy families.
He has every thing at hand at home that he requires at the time of recreating his anthropological concepts on canvas or board. Nothing takes place there against his will. All characters including the female models remain obedient to Colin’s directions and act. One can se~ in his masterly painted civic art exquisite metaphorical renderings of emotional and intellectual contents and can say that figurative formations of his lines and colours have heterogeneous meanings. Although with his focus on figures or objects, Colin David constructs composition very effectively by dividing space in such a manner that large flat area left in the canvas, supports to the subject matter by developing interrelationship of the forms with each other. His painting, therefore, attracts to the eye.
Colin David died on February 25, 2008.
By: COLIN DAVID