Following the tradition of the modern painter, artist Qadir Jhatial mirrors the world around him through colorful abstraction on canvas as showcased in his second solo show Times of the Day. A graduate of the National College of Arts, Jhatial majored in painting and believes that painting as a ‘traditional medium is more than capable of responding to contemporary circumstances1. In fact, the artist recalled that during his time in college, he abandoned artist-grade paint to adopt the use of enamel house-paint on a large scale in order to mimic the style of house painters that flatly apply paint on a wall2. The choice of subjects, color and style of paint application depicted on the canvas makes his works a unique visceral experience.
In Younger Days 1, which shows two women clad in chadar alongside silhouettes of two adolescent boys on a mat, the artist represents a personal moment from childhood with care and sensitivity. The boys can be seen gazing directly at someone outside the frame, alluding to the fact that Jhatial used a photograph as reference. The choice to paint from a photograph is significant here because it allows the artist to achieve the posterized approach in the work’s depiction. As part of his creative process, Jhatial visits and photographs frequently visited sites in the city. With the help of softwares like Photoshop, he abstracts elements from the photograph and explores varying color combinations to realize his paintings. Through this practice, he merges the use of technology with the medium of paint to create a narrative that fabricates the experience within the urban city.
As a native of Larkana/Hyderabad, Jhatial weaves narratives that evoke the past with that of his experiences of living in a metropolitan city like Lahore. While his work is not autobiographical, it intertwines moments and observations by recreating the same curiosity of an onlooker documenting ordinary public spaces that features familiar characters on the streets. The artist consciously paints in a manner in which each figure’s individual identity and dimensions are eliminated. A good example of this is the work titled Under the Green Shade where a group of men are depicted sitting across from each other on plastic furniture, drinking tea. Here, no figural subject is distinct from each other except for one man’s gesture with his hand addressing the crowd, and another man shown looking at the first. The rest of the figures are part of this congregation and, along with the viewer, are onlookers in this tableau of a street-side exchange and performance.
The work’s narrative is complemented by using a palette of tones of only blue and green, yellow and white. These choices of color seem apt with the title of the work, and one can place themselves amongst the rustling leaves and chit-chat over piping hot tea in the cool winter mornings of Lahore.
Demonstrating a significant understanding of color, every work in the show has a distinct color palette. In his painting titled 19 Lodge Road, the artist uses two shades of blue — one for the sky and the other for a road on which vehicles are crossing one another. Amidst the vehicles a boy is seen on a bicycle making his way to the other side, and roadside vendors with their carts also seem to be in movement. While the still, clear sky and the road in the foreground is painted blue the moving subjects are painted in contrasting coral tint. Therefore, it can be seen, in all of his works, Jhatial intentionally juxtaposes contrasting colors in the form of abstracted irregular shapes and contours throughout the canvas. In doing so, his body of work reads as both cohesive and seemingly oscillating, with varying chromatic shapes that allows a movement of the eye around each composition.
It took the artist close to two years to complete this oeuvre, including the previous year of the pandemic. The curator, Aasim Akhtar, writes “Jhatial moves blithely from radiant high sky color combinations to swamps from grumpy greys3”, evidence that there is an inherent change in the artist’s style. Akhtar gives as much attention to the curation of the show, particularly in the way the artist’s images are placed from the least posterized to the most. Evolving in structure and form, the works become more fragmented as we move along in the gallery space.
Through his work, Jhatial demonstrates an earnest effort to develop a narrative around his memory and personal experiences of the city. Despite employing a technology assisted process, he does not paint from a photograph to create a photorealistic image, perfected or enhanced for aesthetic purposes. Rather, the software is utilized to achieve a desired result where amorphous forms and contrasting colors are sufficient for the viewer to imagine a reality in between these shapes.