Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
Drawing, collage and painting form the core of my studio practice. I also tend to explore ceramics and textiles. I use a variety of mediums such as ink, watercolour, collage and oil paint. More recently I have also been using my iPad to make studies of paintings.
The type of medium and the supports depends on what I am trying to figure out or communicate. I prefer to work in series and have a few ideas on the go, which usually take a while to come to fruition.
I write and draw daily to capture the most random ideas, with ink sketches and watercolours. When travelling, particularly on a flight, I draw and paint non-stop and the ideas just flow. It could be a mountain range, passengers on a flight, to palm trees and mosques. Drawing and painting on an iPad recently has allowed me to experiment with images and ways to push this further.
Depending on the source images available I like to cut out images, by hand or blade and fragment all of these together. This process allows me to push and pull my various ideas exploring my cultural displacement and nomadism.
I use these together with my watercolours as studies for large scale paintings. It is through this process that I prepare my detailed compositions which help me get started on a main body of oil paintings.
Who are your biggest influences?
Raised in a Pakistani Kashmiri family home in London, provides me with a platform to draw upon a range of eclectic interests. My sources vary from automotive Victorian architecture, American popular cartoons, action shows of the 1980s, Bollywood cinema, car designs (petrol head), Japanese Art, Kashmiri textiles and of course Islamic art, arabesque patterns, floral motifs and Islamic architecture. The list goes to also include Persian-Mughal Miniature painting and the Western art canon of figurative and landscape painting.
Other influencers include my art mentors at the Royal Drawing School, City and Guilds London and the National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore, as well as friends and peers.
As for artists, I draw upon the influences of historical and contemporary artists for different elements in my works. Miniature artists such as Aqa Mirak (d.1576) and Abu al-Hasan whose works are just exquisite. Goya is always a go-to for me for various reasons (particularly as I based my earlier works after his “Third of May” painting).
Van Gogh, Soutine and Cezanne for their impressionistic thick impasto applications of paint and directness in portraits and landscapes.
For collages I draw on the works of Romare Bearden, Hannah Hoch and Wangechi Mutu. For pushing the limits of art and painting and the use of technology: Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter (use of painted over photographs and textiles) and David Hockney (early iPad drawings).
Contemporary artists such as Shazia Sikander, Raqib Shaw, Imran Qureshi, Ali Banisdar, and Michael Armitage for their combination of cultural narratives.
Can you talk about the role Eastern miniature painting plays in your practice?
I am continually fascinated and excited by Persian-Mughal miniature paintings. They are gem-like intricate works which are mesmerising. You can see some of these treasures at the South East Asian section at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
The art works which feature in the Shahnameh (Book of Kings) and Padshahnama (Chronicle of the Emperor Shah Jahan) form the starting point for my works. Aside from a cultural belonging of this form of ‘book art’, there is an element of naivety and play (characters in flat side profiles) as well as looking into a preserved magical world of royal splendour. I am drawn to the use of colours, executed in an enamel like quality. The details of trees and the use of pinks and violets for mountains are elements which inspire me in my own paintings.
I use miniatures as a source and then show how this history and cultural legacy has been blurred. I try and push the idea of the miniature into a larger scale painting, removing the details but retaining the richness, the colours and the composition.
Taking it forward, the concept of the miniatures showed floral patterns and every-day people. I then bring this to the modern context. So for instance, in my recent series I have everyday people in Lahore in an abstracted distorted form.
How important is material in your work?
Material and its application plays an important role in my works. I am very geeky about material and their properties. This covers the use of various mediums, supports and grounds.
For fine sketching, it has to be a fine 4H finely sharpened pencil (as used in my miniaturists), quick ink drawings are executed in Japanese Sumi ink, pilot black ink pen or a Sepia French ink (with a reminiscence of the European masters). There is a historical depth to each of these mediums but I am also drawn to the way in which they can be controlled (or not) and the quality of the mark they provide which allows me to be “in the flow”.
Miniatures have been executed in pigment (watercolour or gouache) and this tradition still continues but contemporary artists have pushed this to also use acrylics. For watercolours, I am particular about artist grade colours and using quality pigments. This is important for me when doing sketches and miniature works as I like my works to be rich and layered. The quality of the brush and how much water it retains is just as important. I prefer to use squirrel hair brushes, which also draws on the tradition of Mughal painting. All of these elements allow my work to open up a dialogue with the works as well as allow me to execute at speed.
The smell and texture of oil paint alone gets me excited. The possibilities of oil paint are endless. The use of oil paint immediately opens up a dialogue with the history of Western painting. Then using oil paint to execute miniature motifs on a large scale opens up a very different dialogue and form of expression.
I like to experiment with new materials and supports, new colours and new technologies to seek to combine various elements. For instance, using enamel paint with gouache, impasto medium and oil paint creates an interesting finish as well as this tension. Using charcoal over watercolour or oil also provides a contrast depending on what I am seeking to communicate or it could be that it provides that missing mark to complete the work.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
My ink pen, Muji A5 sketchbook, watercolour travel set, brush, glue stick and iPad. This forms the basic staple I cannott travel or be without in my studio. Then there are my artist quality oil paints (cadmium red, cadmium yellow and cobalt blue) with one thick brush. A combination of these tools and having them at close reach gives me the comfort and flexibility to make work.
I always need to have my iPhone close by (for music, podcast, Instagram or taking photos of the work).
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
I have a number of books which are important in my practice and help me navigate my place in the hybrid cultures in which I find myself.
The 1952 text by Frantz Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks” has left a lasting impression on the way I deal with ‘my cultural identity and language’. In this text Fanon discusses post-colonial experiences with references to psychoanalysis, the psychology of the effects of colonisation and being part of a minority. What I take from Fanon is what he says about being “oneself with all the multiplicities, systems and contradictions of one’s own ways of being, doing and knowing”. There is an emphasis he states of being true to one’s self which translates to being authentic in making work that affects me. What I have extracted from Fanon is the consciousness of displacement and some of its consequent psychological effect. His discussion of “mother tongue” for me translates to the use of Mughal miniatures as my starting point for a further dialogue in my art.
In “The Poetics of Space” (La Poétique de l'Espace), Gaston Bachelard (1958), the French philosopher provides an interesting analysis of the space in miniatures: “Happy at being in a small space, [the viewer] realizes an experience of topophilia; that is, once inside the miniature house, he sees its vast number of rooms; from the interior he discovers interior beauty”. The details of a thing – which for me is miniatures - can be the sign of a new world which, like all worlds, contains the attributes of greatness. This helped me understand my fascination with miniatures.
All images courtesy of the artist