Energetic, innovative and disciplined Muhammad Javed is known in the community of artists in Pakistan as a practitioner of paintings that used to be creative, attractive and symbolically expressive about life and its various shades. Born in 1942 in a village of agriculturally rich district Sheikhupura of Lahore Division in Punjab, Muhammad Javed completed his secondary education from Sheikhupura City’s Government High School. His interest in art is natural. He explored this when he was growing up under the control of a father who wanted to see him successful in secondary school examination first, before his doing anything else. But Javed continued seeing, observing and feeling every change of natural scene around his village and on way to school.
He loved to draw social and cultural life of his village and landscape that was decorated with rice, wheat or corn fields, small streams, fruit gardens, trees, flowers, birds and animals especially bulls and horses. As he didn’t want to see his parents unhappy so he satisfied his urge of drawing very secretly and preferred to be according to their wishes. He recalls “it was the determination of his parents that he completed his secondary education.” One of his relatives living in Lahore City suggested his father that he must send his son to Lahore for pursuing higher education. This happened because this nice relative had met Muhammad Javed and seen the spark in him that could change his life. He also liked his drawing works. This way he reached Lahore and got admission in the lslamia College. Socio-cultural life and architecture of Lahore fascinated him a lot and he started his hobby of drawing his favourite themes. In those days, in 1958, Mayo School of Arts was upgraded to the status of a college and was renamed as National College of Arts. Muhammad Javed came to know about it and applied for admission in the field of architecture. When he passed the preparatory class which was mandatory for the newly taken up students for all the three disciplines, fine art, architecture and design, an interview was held for their selection. Prof. Shakir Ali convinced the interview board and he was offered the field of fine art instead of architecture. This happened because of his excellent performance in the preparatory class. At that time painting was not a paying profession. It was considered just a hobby. Then, there was socio-religious sanctions too that didn’t allow artists to go beyond the set limits. Accepting the option of studying the subject of fine art Muhammad Javed had to face unhappiness of his parents who thought that by painting figures their son would do something against the spirit of Islam. However, he got the admission and became part of the first batch of the students who were registered to pursue fine art education and training at the National College of Arts. Only four students could qualify including him. The three other were Zahurul Akhlaque, Mahmood Alam and Dilawar Ali.
This way he got an opportunity to receive art education at the time, when there was a very strong faculty comprising foreigners appointed under the Colombo Plan like Prof. Sponenburg, James Warren, Mary Lewis and natives like Prof. Shakir Ali, Haji Muhammad Sharif, Ustaad Muhammad Latif Chughtai, Abbasi Akhtar Abidi, Niaz Ali Shah and Ustaad Bashiruddin. His performance during his stay in the college remained excellent. He was appreciated and encouraged by his teachers for painting according to the learnt-grammar-of-art aesthetically attractive and thought-provoking works. In 1961 there held an exclusive show of paintings at Lahore Museum. Students of National College of Arts were not encouraged to take part in any art exhibition before completion of their scheduled study. Now again, Professor Shakir Ali played role and took keen interest to expose Muhammad Javed’s creative talents before the viewers. This was a unique occasion for him. His paintings displayed in the show succeeded in earning appreciation. After graduating from National College of Arts in 1962, Muhammad Javed wanted a job that could nourish his artistic guts but it didn’t happen. He had to join government service and work against his ambitions. But he didn’t allow suppressing his artistic talents and was able to organize his solo shows held at Hyderabad, Karachi and even in USA. However, he disappeared from the Lahore art-scene.
I met him in Lahore in 1997 when he got premature retirement and came back to his beloved city and started working with Pakistan Writers Cooperative Society (PWCS) and its Coopera Art Gallery and Book Centre. I also got a chance to view some of his painterly handled art works, liked them and wanted to see his full contribution in the Lahore art-scene. The late Nawab lftikhar Ahmad Adni told me that “Javed always on look of finding time to satisfy his urge of painting and created excellent pieces of art. Those were displayed in the exhibitions and are in private and public collections. I love his calligraphic paintings as well.” During the last twelve years, Muhammad Javed has been handling the affairs of PWCS, working for the promotion of art and literature, writing articles on art issues in Urdu language, organizing exhibitions and creating in oil medium his favourite subjects on canvas. Now he recalls but very little about his service experience or going to USA for studying at MIT. He is back on the track of painting as a non-stop practitioner of art.
On environment created by Prof. Sponenburg and role of Prof. Shakir Ali in making the First batch successful
It was very tough study as the students had to spend a lot of time in the College over and above its timings. The students who did not have aptitude for art were gradually screened out. That’s why out of forty only four students could pass out in the first batch of Fine Art Department. Principal, Prof. Sponenburgh and other foreign as well as local faculty members were very strict due to which there was high discipline in the College. Fine Art Department was being headed by Prof. Shakir Ali who was working hard for giving his output for the newly established Fine Art Department. He therefore, wanted to see good performance of his students. Ustaad Mohammad Latif Chaughtai, Niaz Ali Shah and Ustaad Muhammad Bashir were assigned mainly to teach drawing. Their drawing was very good and they were also teaching with full dedication. Although local faculty members were found a bit upset due to administrative changes but they were giving due attention to meet with the newly designed curriculum. Therefore, the first batch was very lucky. Prof. Shakir Ali rarely visited the class in the first year of study. Perhaps he was waiting for the start of life drawing. He was working to promote modern art for which a strong base in the drawing subject was necessary. It was felt that he did not mix up with the teachers taken up from Mayo School of Arts. Haji Muhammad Sharif a well known court painter was teaching Miniature Painting. He was very particular about his students arid wanted them to work hard. However, he was not happy as English language was a barrier for him. He some time did not speak high even about Prof. Shakir Ali because of his focus towards modern art. I think that first batch of all the three disciplines got a golden chance to acquire latest knowledge in their fields of Fine Art, Architecture and Design, which was not less than international standard.
Prof. Shakir Ali was a man of few words and it was very difficult for us to understand him. It was the third year of my study when I started to pick up his gesticulations. Prof. Shakir Ali always wanted that we should put all efforts and work in the College even after its timings. He used to pay for the model from his own pocket, whereas art material was provided by the College free of cost. He always approved requisition slips for the art material without any hesitation to encourage and motivate us. During those days the environment of the College was such that every student had to work very hard. I may quote one incident of Prof. Spononburgh as an example of high discipline in the College. He was delivering lecture in the class and suddenly asked a question to one student who perhaps was napping. When student could not reply to his question he at once started striking his head on the black board. All students rushed to save him. But he went to his office and did not come in the class for three days. After this incident every student remained very alert during his class.
On his painting social and cultural issues
I know you saw my work for the first time in 1998 in an exhibition, which attracted you because of its subject, technique and style. You noticed that a hawker was selling some food and he was being attacked by hungry crows under a shadow less tree close to some road side structure and a cyclist was passing without giving any attention to the hawker. The painting was composed in a cubist style rendered with knife work and you surprisingly asked me that where [ remained before 1998.
Right from start of my career as an artist socio- economic, cultural, and even political issues functioned like a gravitational field for me. This was perhaps due to the environment in which I brought up, which developed my trend towards such subjects. You may find that my early paintings also reflected labour, poverty, weakness, power and so on, of course with required aesthetics, an important aspect of a painting. I focused on simplification of forms and symbolism and their relationship according to my own experience. Creation of textural value always remained on my priority because one could see variety of colours and their depth to highlight the meaning of the subject. I also some time felt that texture gave a look of third dimension to a painting very intriguingly, but this all depended purely on the artist’s way of rendering.
Let me a little bit elaborate that a painting not only provides an aesthetic satisfaction but it plays an important role in strengthening cultural, social and economic values. That’s why I tried to communicate something alarming along with aesthetic values.
On influences of Mughal Art on his modern idiom Paintings
Haji Muhammad Sharif taught me the subject of miniature paintings reflecting the Mughal eras, whereas there was a strong influence of Prof. Shakir Ali who was strenuously making efforts to promote modern art. Both these schools of art were quite opposite to each other. My feelings were that a miniature painting was based on traditional technique which could help in making the drawing perfect and learning the colour mixing with its application on a small surface, whereas I found modern art more creative and attractive for expression of day to day observations and knowledge. We have seen that some of our artists have also used forms of miniature paintings in their modern work. But I have tried to create my own style by mixing both realistic and abstract styles, because interaction between art and audience was not encouraging in this pa1i of world at that time. Of course influence of Mughal art cannot be denied. The art critic would be the best judge of my style.
On highlighting Lahore’s social and cultural life
Lahore remained attraction for the artists due to its rich and glorious culture. Especially the walled city with narrow streets, interesting Jhrokas, Balconies, Carved Designs and Brick Work, Pillars, Minarets, Wood Work and socio-cultural activities drew the attention of this class. The imposing buildings of Mughal period played very important role in enhancing the beauty of the city. I too was very much impressed and for the first time I went to Mochi Gate and did a sketch on the spot in 1960 during my study in NCA. I made its litho print and later on painted it on canvas with oil colours. That painting was a turning point for me as it was sold at a cost of Rs. 3000.00 in the college when I was short of money. Prof Shakir Ali was very happy on this event. Later on I continued to capture interesting forms of the city at intervals in my own style.
In fact carts, tongas, cows, buffaloes, horses, goats and milk / sweet shops, kite shops, fruit shops and so on added to the interest of the artists. You would see the paintings mainly of the walled city. Railway road have also the similar structures worth painting and preserving forever.
On how his oil on canvas impressions were viewed by connoisseurs
How can I answer this question as all the connoisseurs will have a different point of view? I paint my expressions what I see and feel.
On circumstances that stopped him for painting
You might not be aware that I participated in an exhibition held at Lahore Museum in 1961 and after graduation my work was displayed in’ the National Exhibition of Professional Artists held at Karachi Arts Council in 1963. My first solo show was held at the time of opening of Coopera Art Gallery at Hyderabad in 1965, which was inaugurated by a renowned writer and scholar Mr. Mumtaz Hassan, MD, National Bank of Pakistan where Faiz Ahmad Faiz was also present The second solo show was held in 1969 at US Information Centre, Hyderabad which was organized by Sindh Collage of Commerce. My third solo show was arranged at National Institute of Public Administration, Karachi in 1985 which was attended by a selected gathering and Mr. S. AmjadAli reviewed the exhibition. There was again a fourth solo show in 1987 inaugurated by Haji Hanif Tayab, Federal Minister. Fifth solo show was held in US where Annual Distinguished Artist Award was given to me by MIT in 1989 during my study there. Sixth solo show was held at Al-Hamrah Arts Council, Lahore in 2006 which was inaugurated by Lt Gen. (R) Khalid Maqbool, Governor of the Punjab. Besides, I participated in different group shows. I remained regular painter despite my official duties. How an artist can keep himself away from art? However I could not move freely in the art circle due to limitations of time till 1997.
According to Iftikhar Ahmad Adni you had been painting Islamic themes Yes, one solo show was held at Karachi in 1987.
On when did he come back to Lahore
I came back to Lahore in 1997 and since then I am on the art scene of this city.
On making drawings of Islamic structure during his visit to Cairo in 2005 Actually I didn’t visit Cairo with a specific plan to draw or paint, but the Islamic structures of that city impressed me a lot and I started to make sketches with charcoal on the spot. The exhibition of this work titled “Perccpliom; o I’ old Cairo and past experience in Lahore” was held in 2006 at Al-hamrah, Th Lahotre Arts Council, which was inaugurated by Lt. Gen.(Rtd.) Khalid Maqbool, Governor of the Punjab. You know• that this exhibition received considcrublc appreciation from the artists, art critics and art lovers.