In the paintings ofDr AjazAnwar (b.1946), one can see his splendid vision about the historic city of Lahore and its cultural activities, illustrated in bright but sober water colours. Particularly, our swiftly vanishing indigenous architectural heritage is highlighted in his paintings. All over Lahore, especially in the walled city and close to its vicinity including Shahra-e-Quaid-e-Azam, old buildings were being demolished to make way for modern construction. The committed conservationists like Dr. Ajaz Anwar agitated against the commercialization of historic buildings and succeeded in saving some of them. The old building of Tollinton Market was one such example.
Through his cityscapes, Ajaz is advocating the significance of these buildings and also portraying the cultural life of Lahore. His contributions in this genre are message-oriented, thought provoking and aesthetically rich. Although Dr Ajaz Anwar, who was Associate Professor in the National College of Arts has retired from the service of the college in the end of 2006, but he seems to be more busy and happy in painting the old city of Lahore.
On his art-education and career as a teacher
My interest in art developed at home due to my father, who was an accomplished Cartoonist dealing with the socio-cultural, economic and political subjects. I wanted to get formal academic education in the subject of fine arts. Therefore, I first studied fine arts with other subjects at Government College, Lahore. Then I got admission in the Department of Fine Arts, University of the Punjab. In 1967, I was awarded Master’s Degree in Fine Arts with Gold Medal. My study didn’t stop here. After teaching for a short while at my alma mater, I went to Turkey to do my Doctorate in Islamic Art and Architecture on a Turkish Government Scholarship. ‘Domes of Lahore’ was the topic of my dissertation. In 1977, I was awarded a UNESCO scholarship for doing a course in conservation of historical monuments. Although I’ve equipped myself with academic art-education, I now think there should be greater stress on talent, exposure and practice. And, it is a life long process of learning and effort to achieve.
In 1980, I started my teaching career as Assistant Professor, Department of Academics, National College of Arts, Lahore where I remained till the age of my superannuation.
On what’s common between Eastern and Western Art Traditions
My teaching assignment lays much emphasis on Eastern Art that is, the Sub-continental, Chinese and Middle Eastern Islamic Art Traditions. I’ve found that a thorough grounding in Eastern Islamic Art is important for the education and exposure of the artists of this region. There are a lot of common things between Eastern and Western Arts. Especially, now when we’re moving towards the so¬called internationalism in the visual arts, music and literature yet, one should look towards one’s own history and traditions.
On the history of Pakistani Art
Pakistani art is as old as Indus Valley and the later Ghandhara periods. But its present shape started emerging with Ajanta paintings from where Abdul Rehman Chughtai drew inspiration for colour schemes. Then, the Mughal-cum¬Persian miniatures were taken for decorative vocabulary in his works. I think the real emphasis should be on Pahari Paintings and the so-called Company Art.
By 194 7, the direction of Pakistani Art had already been determined through the Mayo School of Arts, Lahore and pioneer painters like Ustaad Allah Bux and Abdul Rehman Chughtai. However, painters trained in the West brought in more of the western influence, which was also pouring in through books and art magazmes.
On why Art is still ‘English Medium’
Incidentally, the early teachers trained in England, like Anna Molka Ahmed, Prof. Sponenberg and prof. Shakir Ali, and the art books produced in the west, gave the misconception that art-education could be imparted only in English; But Urdu language is quite capable as a medium of expression in the art. However, there is a need to devise and develop art terminology.
On various trends in Pakistani Art
There have been various trends in the art since 194 7. There have been rigid schools of realism, semi-abstraction and abstraction-all strongly divided into camps. Whereas painting is primarily a language of colours, in which messages in the form of subject matter are expressed. Painters have been depicting with considerable feelings their reaction to ‘life experience’ around them. Therefore, some took to painting life around them, while others resorted to village and landscape scenes. Some got interested in cityscape, which incidentally is their first hand everyday experience. The pioneers of cityscape school were Miran Bux, Nasim Hafiz Qazi, Aslam Minhas and Moeyne Najmi. Presently, Ghulam Mustafa, Mehboob Ali and Shahid Jalal are painting in this form. They are trying to preserve Old Lahore as it was once upon a time.
these buildings also imparts to them a rich, harmonizing and fascinating blend.
A painting primarily has to be designed in terms of subject matter, composition, colours and execution. I love to paint in the watercolour medium because it suits the subject matter of my cityscape paintings. My subject matter also requires me to lay emphasis on decorative details. Therefore, some areas in my paintings have to be highlighted and finished in detail, whereas other areas have only secondary importance. My colour schemes may appear to be realistic but they are strongly influenced by shaded and highlighted areas.
On how a spot-painting is different from a camera-oriented work
All academic work during training involves a study of nature for influences/inspirations. All students must learn from nature for subject matter and colour schemes. It is only at a later stage that one deviates from the laws of nature to invent one’s own colour schemes. To blindly follow the camera’s result is harmful. It can be misleading, although it’s very convenient to imitate or copy.
I use a camera to take snaps of the fast vanishing historical buildings.
I may use some of these at a later stage, at a time when I would be ready to understand and paint them. For example, I’ve coloured photographs of Murad Khan’s Haveli taken hurriedly when it was being pulled down in 1996. Now this Have Ii is going to be the subject of my next painting. I use these photographs as a library and the source of architectural details of arches, windows, balconies, half-domes.
Method of working
I visit to my selected spots frequently, make sketches there and take photographs from different angles at different times and in different seasons. Then a master composition is made in the form of a large drawing. From it, the undesired elements of the spot are eliminated and other aspects from elsewhere or from imagination included. In this way, a new vision is given to the spot that emphasizes the particular building—giving the message that it’s worthy of being saved. Photographs are only used as references. Moreover, I don’t think one can make a piece of art only from a photograph. Perhaps, in the future, I would be using computer images for making key drawings for my paintings.
On why his cityscapes are limited to Lahore
Lahore is a city that I’ve experienced since my childhood. I want it to be saved. I’ve lived in various parts of the world, including Istanbul, Rome, Kampala, London, Damascus, Tehran and Mashhad. They are all beautiful cities but I consider Lahore to be the best among them.
On originality in art
A piece of art should be original. It should be the first of its kind, if not, the only one. Only a well-conceived, well-designed and lovingly created work succeeds in attracting the viewers. A work should not be over-done.
On criticism of his works
One should not be afraid of criticism. I welcome it because it can be an eye opener. Criticism doesn’t necessarily mean an outright condemnation. It’s the right of a critic and the public at large to like or dislike a work of art. I have received a Pride of Performance award but it doesn’t mean that I’m the best. There are others equally good and some better than me—it’s only symbolic. The real reward will be as to how history will judge me.
On his achievements and next solo-show
Life is a continuous process. Achievements are never completed. This way an artist does not become complacent but keeps on struggling and expressing himself.
Already, I have had seventeen solo-shows in various parts of the world including last one held at the Gallery of National Collage of Art, Lahore. Since each of my painting takes at least six months to finish, it takes long time to organize a solo show.
Dr Ajaz Anwar