Eqbal Mehdi II

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Eqbal Mehdi II

His Master’s Voice

By Shamim Akhter


Eqbal Mehdi II
Eqbal Mehdi II

Eqbal Mehdi’s mortal body left this world on May 19, 2008, but his soul breathes in his pupils.

Mehdi is the only artist in Pakistan who has produced a number of artists in his own linage of work. About three decades ago, he entertained young boys eager to learn painting at his studio cum residence. He was carrying on a tradition which was practiced throughout the Middle Ages.

At that time it was the only art education given to apprentices in workshops of their masters. The aim was simple and the method technical. The pupil engaged at the age of ten or thereabouts, was to learn his craft so well that he could assist his master, first in purely mechanical operations and later in the painting of complete pictures, which the master could sell, as his own work.

Mehdi cultivated almost similar attitude at his studio cum residence. In his last interview, he remembered his pupils — Tanveer, Naveed Ashkal, Rehan, and Farrukh Shahab with affection.

Despite his excellence in drawing and pen and ink renditions, it is hard for Tanveer to collect enough work for an exhibition because his work sells off immediately from his studio. Ashkal has been painting regularly like his master in letter and spirit and displaying his works every quarter of the year at his personal outlet — ‘Ashkal Realistic Gallery’ unless abroad.

His body of work includes calligraphy (a subject Mehdi did not touch upon), portraits, horses, Moorish street scenes and landscapes, local cultural events and figurative renditions executed in oils, pastels and pen and ink.

Ashkal handles his various subjects according to different definitions of Realism. His maidens are executed in the stylised form of the term. His damsels on canvas are absorbed in their own thoughts or self-adoration. Remaining in the realm of Realism, he makes an effort to rise above the level of an illustrator of themes. Whether it is a damsel or a horse or a garbage picker, he idealises their profiles on his canvases.

Remaining in the realm of Realism, Ashkal makes an effort to rise above the level of an illustrator of themes. Whether it is a damsel or a horse or a garbage picker, he idealises their profiles on his canvases.

When Ashkal paints gypsy girls from the north, camel riders from the desert of Sindh, families from rural areas visiting shrines etc. he, like Courbet, depicts life and activities of the common people. The similarity between the two artists is confined to the subject only. He glorifies the dignity of the people with his paints and lines.

He sure is a realistic painter as he does not paint abstract in the common sense of the term which applies distortion. His paintings land him in the arena of Naturalism, i.e. aspiring to paint like natural objects. Sometimes he surprises his viewers with a work of still life.

Designed by Ashkal’s Digital Art, Ashkal’s current work is based on Buzkashi, a popular game played between two groups in Afghanistan. The members of the groups try to pull and pick a slain sheep with their spears while riding on horses; whosoever gets the sheep is a winner. He has applied the skills of colour mixing he learnt from his master as an adolescent and as a young man while in France. Surely he will fill the vacuum left behind by Mehdi.

Ashkal had the good luck to visit Europe and America to study art. He painted while in France, US and London. At the end of 1998 Ashkal came back from USA. He held his one-man show at the Arts Council in March 1999. The young artist decided to open his own art gallery because of the discouraging attitude of commercial art galleries. It did not take him very long to materialise his decision. Exactly after one year, on March 7, 2000 Eqbal Mehdi inaugurated Louve Art Gallery. The inaugural show displayed works by fifteen artists. That was the first and last show by artists other than Ashkal.

With the passage of time Louve became Naveed’s 101 where he displayed his 40 works of calligraphy. On the advice of Eqbal Mehdi, he cut short his name from Naveed Akhtar to Ashkal and renamed his gallery Ashkal’s Galleries which finally culminated into Ashkal’s Realistic Art Gallery.

Ambitious, restless and hard working, Ashkal has adopted a banner name — Ashkal’s Fine Art for Ashkal Realistic Gallery. Only sky is the limit for him.

Ashkal’s current work is based on Buzkashi, a popular game played between two groups in Afghanistan

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