'Jamil Naqsh's demise marks the end of the era of Pakistani modern masters'

Iconic Pakistani artist Jamil Naqsh passed away yesterday. Here, figures from the art world pay tribute to his prowess.
Published May 17, 2019 08:30am

The passing of Jamil Naqsh shook the Pakistani art world today

Naqsh's highly prized paintings of women, pigeons and horses are said to have helped inform the identity of Pakistani art after the country's independence.

Here, figures from the art world pay tribute to his prowess.

Jamil Naqsh was a bridge between modern and contemporary art in Pakistan

Critic Salima Hashmi shared with Images: "With the passing of Jamil Naqsh ends a generation of artists who defined the bridge between the modern and the contemporary in Pakistan - that they started out together as a band of visually articulate, highly skilled and deeply thoughtful friends is something to be recognised and celebrated by all of those who followed and stood on their shoulders - Aahoor ul Akhlaq, Shahid Sajjad and Jamil Naqsh set the highest standards in their art practices which were invested with their individual philosophies.

Each was uniquely different - Jamil Naqsh, was perhaps the most aloof, a persona he cultivated, but which did not take away from the excellence of his craft and his relentless pursuit of a vision which embodied carefully observed cultural phenomena rooted in a forgotten past - he perfected processes and techniques which were as instantly recognisable as his signature. His place is set in a firmament we call our own."

Jamil Naqsh's entire life was devoted to painting

Art critic Marjorie Husain shares: "One remembers Jamil Naqsh with affection and respect. He belongs to the era of Karachi when there were no art galleries in town and no art school. The American Embassy opened an art class with an impressive library, and Jamil Naqsh along with his great friend, Kohari, joined in order to have access to the books. One remembers them reading underneath the street lights near Frere Hall, totally absorbed in the books.

Even then, Jamil Naqsh was an outstanding artist. The then American Ambassador was so impressed, he offered to adopt him and take him to USA, but Jamil preferred to stay put.

Some time later, I was extremely excited when an American couple asked me to contact Jamil and ask him to meet them for dinner at an exclusive hotel in the city, to discuss arranging an exhibition of his work to be shown in the USA. I was delighted to hear this, and immediately got in touch with Jamil to pass on the message. Jamil smiled and thanked me for the message.

Later on the American would-be-hosts met me again and told me that Jamil Naqsh had not shown up for the meeting. When I later on asked Jamil why he had not taken the opportunity to show his work in the USA he replied: 'An artist must be known in his own country before showing his work abroad.' I have never forgotten those words.

Jamil helped many young people by allowing them to work in his gallery. He inspired his daughter Mona to become an artist focusing on the beauty of nature, and his son Cezanne to become an architect, who designed a magnificent Museum for his father’s work.

Since there is such a dearth of Art museums in Karachi, one is fortune that the beautiful Jamil Naqsh Museum has a glorious record of the great artist’s work.

One is aware of the artist’s love of birds, which he managed to feed wherever he was. He never forgot his early experience when as a newcomer to Pakistan at the age of ten years, in Lahore he visited the tomb of the great Empress of India who is known throughout history. Initially Jamil was saddened to see her tomb, broken and neglected. Then he noticed the pigeons nesting there and it made him happy. Throughout his life he allowed pigeons to fly in his windows and painted them constantly.

In recent years Jamil Naqsh made his home in England where his work is much appreciated. His life was totally focused on painting, and until the end, he painted as no other artist could. One mourns the loss of a loving genius."

Jamil Naqsh survived a shrinking appreciation for figurative works

Curator and critic Niilofur Farrukh shares with Images: "Jamil Naqsh's contribution to the Pakistan art scene spans five decades . His series from 'Pigeon and Woman' of the 1970s to 'My Fisherwoman Of Mohenjo Daro' in 2019 are an important part of the country’s modern art history. He is perhaps the only artist in the country to have a museum dedicated to him during his lifetime.

The museum in Karachi houses his oeuvre and is run by his family. Jamil Naqsh cultivated a loyal collector base since the 1970s that eventually founded the Friends of Jamil Naqsh that hosted his exhibitions and support the Museum. The artist moved to London a few decades ago and worked from there.

Since the 1990s Naqsh had become a recluse and took few visitors and did not even attending his own exhibition openings . A skilled painter, his work revolves around subjects like woman and pigeon, woman and horse, mother and child, that he projected with experimental techniques. His early work shows a preference for impasto with layers of thickly applied paint inspired by pointillism. Later he moved to ethereal surfaces with washes of thin pigment.

Much of his work revolves around the female form that he had perfected over the years. He was an accomplished draftsman and has left behind a large body of figurative drawings. Despite the shrinking market for figurative works and nudes in Pakistan, Jamil Naqsh retained the loyalty of his collectors . His work can be found in collections worldwide. His passing heralds the end of a major era of art in Pakistan as he was the last of the great Modern masters still with us."

Jamil Naqsh defied norms in the art world

Critic Quddus Mirza says: "I think Jamil Naqsh is an important artist in Pakistan for two reasons: for professional painters and general public. For painters, he stood for the excellence of the craft, how to move the brush, put paint, draw outlines, capture postures, excel with colour and experiment with tones.

But on a larger scale his work signifies a bigger aspect of our social, cultural, moral and political life. He painted nudes, female nudes, often full-frontal, which cannot be described or mentioned by the public or in the press yet he was keen and courageous to continue his formal concerns despite all the hostile responses to the representation of body.

In my opinion his work is political, because it uprooted and dismantles the norms about art and ethics. I think the greatest contribution of Jamil Naqsh is that it presented the freedom of the artist of what to paint as well as setting the parameters on how to paint, because in my view the physicality of painting was so much related to the physicality of his subject. A true painter in real sense and sensuousness!"

A towering figure in the art world

Speaking to Images, Canvas Gallery director Sameera Raja says: "I am very sorry that Jamil Naqsh is no more. His quiet demeanour spoke volumes. A person committed to art, he practised what he preached. He held true to what he believed in and lived by his rules. The art community is poorer with his loss."