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Inspiration comes in many guises
By Batool Mahmood
A riot of colour assaults the senses as I step into the exhibition space housing the works of three- time (1995, ’97,’99) Sadequain Award winner, Mr. M.K. Baig. Those awards recognised his prodigious talent and creativity in the field of calligraphy and now, Baig’s creativity has been applied to explore the realm of abstract art. The results could be seen at his recent exhibition at the Kunj Art Gallery in Karachi.
The blacks, yellows, reds and blues of the canvases shout at the viewer demanding to be noticed, pulling you into an inner space beyond their two dimensional limitations to a place that sometimes seethes with energy or swirls with a passion implicit in the slashing strokes of his paintbrush. Explaining his technique he says, “I attack (his emphasis) the canvas with a force — whatever comes into my mind I transfer it to the canvas in colour.”
Baig explains that inspiration comes to him in many guises but mainly through music and nature: watching the clouds, the green leaves, feeling the breeze, the dust or even hearing the pressure horns of trucks. Musical rhythms also play an important part in the creative process and every morning he listens to the sound of different instruments. It could be the shehnai of Bismillah Khan or a tabla recording by Ustad Allah Rakha that inspire him. “It all comes into my mind, gathering, then it overflows and I watch my canvas to see how I can express it in colours,” he says.
He might start by putting a black spot on the canvas, watching it for a while until, in his minds eye he sees colours moving on the canvas. He mixes these colours on his palette and is off on a painting spree that engages his soul and reflects his feelings in an outpouring of shapes and colours that are projected on to the canvas.
Baig leaves his paintings untitled and refuses to ‘explain’ them to the uninitiated, saying, the paintings communicate an emotion and the colours are a mouthpiece for what he wants to convey. He likes black and uses it liberally because he looks on it as a bold colour that can be used as a foil for other colours and also, surprisingly, because he sees all the colours of nature in black. For him yellow is a happy colour and he says: “the brightness of yellow is full of life.”
That he should finally move towards abstraction after studying portraiture and calligraphy was perhaps inevitable since he says he has developed an aversion to realism; believing that a painting shouldn’t just replicate what the eye sees but should, instead, distill its essence and present it in another form. This is also why he has never been interested in traditional landscape painting, but calligraphy on the other hand, took hold of his imagination at a young age.
By the time he was thirteen, Baig was studying the headlines of Urdu newspapers, copying them out in the nastalik script. This early practice proved to be useful later in his career when, as head of an advertising agency in Abu Dhabi, he honed these skills through study and research so that he soon graduated to writing slogans for the advertisements in Arabic. His calligraphic skills developed as he studied a number of scripts such as Kufic (an early form of Arabic alphabet) and Divani; practicing for two or three hours every night after returning from work.
He was particularly fascinated by the Chinese script which he says is full of artistic strokes. After careful study he applied these strokes to Arabic calligraphy seeking to “enhance its beauty and give it a new look.’’ It was this innovative work that landed him the Sadequain prize on one occasion.
Through his paintings and particularly by using a bright colour palette Baig wants people to feel joy and to forget their sadness, even if briefly. It is his own words that perhaps best encapsulate his artistic philosophy, “Every painting is an adventure in the search for truth and beauty through the use of colour, form and light. I am always looking beyond the surface to depict how people respond to nature. It is not just what the eye sees but what the soul senses, that I find important. This is what I want to communicate.”