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Hafeez

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Some of his work !


 Please tell us briefly about your background and your education.

During the partition in 1947, my parents migrated to Pakistan. I was born in Nazimabad, Karachi. We are a large family of 7 brothers and 3 sisters. My primary education was at Happy Dale School, which was a great English medium school those days. I then went to Jinnah College for higher education. Unfortunately, circumstances forced me to drop out only to find a job. So I start working in KESC (Karachi Electric Company) as an apprentice. I joined the Karachi school of Art at the same time. So I worked at night and went to school during the days.
It took me 4 years to complete fine Arts. I achieved first class position in fine arts from that School. I wanted to pursue Masters in Fine Art so I applied to get an admission in USA. And came to San Francisco.

Did you get a scholarship to come to America for further studies?

Well, after finishing my diploma from Karachi School of Art, I applied for a scholarship based on my merit. Unfortunately, I didn't get any response from the Ministry of Education of Pakistan. After several tries I decided to do it on my own. I am very thankful to the Consular of USA and his wife, who helped me get the visa. What happened was that once I exhibited my paintings at the American center and Consular’s wife, Mrs. Post, was there. She admired my work very much. She even took one of my paintings. So, really, no one sponsored me. I came to USA for studying and worked to support my studies. I always believed that Allah’s Love and support is much greater and enough.

Which American University did you attend and what academic degree did you achieve?

I studied at Academy of Art, San Francisco, CA. And I achieved Bachelor of Fine Art in Advertising and Graphic Designing.

You are currently working as an art director in an ad agency. What exactly is your job description?

I work for Irwin Levine Associates. We provide all the Sales Promotional needs of other firms such as Fuji Film etc. by developing and producing certain ways to promote their products in American market. My job is to put those sales ideas into graphic forms, which means designing the special packages, promotional materials, and point of Purchase items etc. I have about 12 years of experience in graphic designing.

It is said that writers and artists are born and not made. Do you consider
yourself a born artist?

Well, it is an interesting point. I think we are all born with certain talents. If you recognize your own talents and have a burning passion to pursue them then you can accomplish and grow further in any field. Being creative is like being a mirror. You project what reflects within you depending on your intelligence, knowledge, and the exposure to different experiences in life. When I was in first grade, I knew I like to draw. By the time I reached 5th grade at Happy Dale School, my skills had developed much more.

Can you recall from your childhood, an influence of someone that led you to become an artist?

Yes. When I was in 5th grade in Happy Dale School, my art teacher, Amanullah Khan, used to encourage me to come to school early and spend few hours to learn how to draw and paint. His encouragement had a strong effect on me. Miss Shamim Khan, another kind teacher at the same school used to invite me to her house after school to see my work and to give critique on my drawings. This really helped me to have a strong base. I will always be thankful to both of them.

Observation and good imagination are two powerful built-in tools an artist must acquire. Does place and environment of your upbringing has any effect on yours?

I should say an artist reflects his own feelings through drawings and colors on a plain surface. However, skills are also required to project those feelings. As far as I remember, at the age of two years, I was growing up with my grandmother. I was very close to her and she has a very strong influence on me even stronger then my own mother. We were living in Muree at that time. I still recall the colors and smell of those beautiful serene sights and the smell of fresh bread from the bakery next to our house. And when I visited my mother’s family who lived in Hyderabad, I was always fascinated by those old beautiful houses with mysterious surroundings all wrapped up in history. And those old tombs of Sufi saints all over the city. And the smell of roses as a part of households; the noise of running sewerage (in the old city of Hyderabad); and the smell of horse dung. I miss all of that. Whenever I go to the Central Park in New York City, there are some luxury horse carriages for tourists, and the smell of horse dung takes me back to those old winding streets of Hyderabad. I wonder if those places are still there.

Have you tried to seize those moments in any of your paintings?

My haunting memories of my childhood may not appears in an exact form but they do have their impression in all of my paintings. But then again, even if I explain exactly the same things you may do not see it the way I do. To others its all more like an imagination then the reality.


Have you ever had your paintings exhibited either in Pakistan or else where?

Yes, in Pakistan I had a group show in Art Council and another one in American culture Center, thanks to Mrs. Marium Asfahani. Then one more group show in American Consulate thanks again to Mrs. Post. In America, I had one group show in New York and after that one-man show in Connecticut, thanks to Marvin Hayes ofMetropolitan Museum of art.

Do you sell your paintings?

I do not like to sell my work and that's why I try not to have a show. Once I did sell copyrights of my paintings to a publisher in San Francisco. They published eight of my paintings in the forms of greeting cards. I never took art as a selling object. It is a passion and love and you do not price tag those things. Rather, I enjoy them like I enjoy my own children. However, they have grown to an enormous number. I have now over 200 paintings at home. They are anywhere from 12x18 inches to 48x48 inches in size. Here I can show a little flexibility and let the interested people contact me.

What is the scope of art education in Pakistan.

I am sure there are good art schools in Pakistan and many learned and educated people who are devoted to teach there. Like Rabia Zubari, who has devoted herself to art and contributed a life long investment in teaching and running an art school. Nevertheless, much depends on the students. It is unfortunate that people think that art is a feminine thing and men should be more into Science, Medicines, and Engineering etc. We do not realize that art is within everything. The way we live, the way we eat, the way we behave, what we wear and where we live. Isn’t nature a piece of art? its all around us. So why not learn art and apply it in our daily lives to add more beauty and joy.

What advice would you give to people interested or intending to become artists?

Like I said, art is a tool to express your own feelings and personal emotions. Yes, it requires certain skills like the knowledge of colors, materials, and different techniques to achieve those goals. If you want to be creative then your work should not just base on copying what you see. Rather, it should reflect your feelings and how you project them. Developing your own style is the most important thing. All the famous artists have there own styles which makes them individuals. Follow your heart without worrying about other peoples’ opinions. After all, art is for personal satisfaction.

A lot of practice makes it easier to draw. But always question yourself why are you doing this? Remember that there is a difference between art and craft. So keep the fire burning in your hearts and do not find excuses from not being able to do it. Sometimes your ego does not allow you to do what you want to do. Do not be discouraged. Do not worry if no one likes your work. As long as you are happy its worth it. Many famous artists had a same problem in their lives but they ignored those factors and kept doing their works. Like Van Gough, Cezane, Delarcoix, Gaugain, and many more. Read about them and their journals and biographies. They will help you to understand not just about them but also about yourself, and you will be able to relate to yourselves better that way. And finally, if you have a talent then you must be thankful to God. Explore it like a duty, and do not feel defeated no matter what.

There are many types of artworks. Which ones do you prefer when painting?

I have done watercolor pastels and many other mediums. Now I paint in oil on canvas. I was taught to draw with charcoal but I like ballpoint pen because it does not smear with my paint and the quality of line stay the same. And even if the drawing sits for a while it does not disappear. Actually, there is no hard and fast rule. I think whatever a person likes, he or she should follow it.

Are there any Pakistani artists whom you are really impressed with?

Well, I love all the artists. Each one is unique. In terms of Pakistani artists, I am very much in love with Abd-u-Rehman Chughtai. I adore his style and his dream-like images and the poetic flow of his subjects. His work is published in Dewan-e-Galib in 1930 and then he did a big book on Allama Iqbal. I realized that most of his work which is superb and extremely beautiful, has a very strong influence from Persian culture and from French Fashion designs from 1920s.
I also like Ustad Allahbaksh. His works carry beautiful folk themes in a realistic manner. And Zain-ul-Abadien from East Pakistan whose influence can easily be seen on many contemporary Pakistani artists. There are many more but the trend is more to follow western world then eastern art.

In the west, it seems as if Abstract art is the most famous form these days. How does it differ from the others?

Abstract art is another form of expressing the feelings. It does not require shapes or forms from object or life. It is free and bold when it comes to expressing. It was developed when art reached a point where craftsmanship techniques and rigidity of art became an obstacle. The artists became frustrated so they decided to do different experiments.
It does not mean that every artist has to follow what is more commonly happening. For instance in New York, you can easily find all sorts of art. A true artist does not need to follow a trend. He creates his own trend otherwise his work would fade away with time. At least that is my opinion. Some may disagree, and I have no argument in return, we are all same yet different in certain ways.

Have you been to the currently controversial art museum in New York. What did you think of it?

Yes, I saw the painting of Madonna. It is on exhibit at Brooklyn Museum of Art.There is a misunderstanding about that painting. The artist is known to use different earth substances in his paintings. This painting is an image of an African woman and he used elephant dung plus some cut outs of human organs pasted over the image. It is done in an expression where he is trying to share his thoughts about his own feelings of what is happening in Christian religion. The mayor of New York, who is considered very rigid, made an issue of it. But control and freedom of human expression has become the main subject. There were many exhibitions like that in the past, one in particular when a photographer used his urine in a glass and put a cross in it.

What are the usual themes of your paintings?

I only paint when thing attracts me. It may be homeless man sitting alone in a park all crawled up, or a flower blossoming etc. I have a big painting 4x4 feet, its a circle of human faces and hands in the middle. Each face represents certain feelings or emotions. The idea came to me when I was once flying over the New York City. I looked down from the window and realized that the heights of all the sky scrappers of New York City were flattened. Then I thought it might all be human perception. In reality there is no height if you look from the above, no left and no right. So this painting has no left or right or top or bottom you can see either way. It can be hung upside down on the ceiling or on the floor.

Do you pre plan your paintings or do you just let them happen depending on your mood or your emotional or physical environment?

Well, I was taught how to compose and create but I have a problem with that. Let me give you an example how I work. When I walk in a park and I see an autumn leaf already departed from its tree, rolling and buckling, I tend to pick it up. Its curling beauty and its uncertain colors of red, orange, and yellow fascinates me.I take it to my studio, pick a canvas (I keep all the sizes handy in my studio), and start painting its emotions. Just before I draw I usually put my brush down and say my prayers. I ask Almighty that He is the only and true Creator. I am too His Creation which will one day be dissolved back in this earth. Until then, I ask Him to hold my hand and let me appreciate His other Creations. I want to thank Him for the beauty He created. And that is my philosophy about painting. No planning, no thinking just let Him hold my hand and let the paint flow on its own. It is a spiritual experience to me.

You use beautiful range of vivid colors in your paintings. Is understanding of color mixing a part of art education or self-learning?

Every art student must study color theory that all the colors come from three primary colors: Red, Yellow, and Blue. And that there is a range of cool colors and warm colors. It is important to know all the colors. However, I work differently. It took me a long time to flush out this information to paint freely and not to think of colors. I do that because it is just my way of painting. I let my hand decide the colors. I know its hard to explain this part but I do not think of colors when I paint. I do not like my work to look rigid and feel like it is composed and painted in more traditional way. By the way, my paintings have much more importance in the background then in the subject itself.

You said you like poetry. What kinds of poetry do you like and who are your favorite poets?

I have always been fascinated by poetry. To me, the composition of words create an imagination and provoke emotional feelings. I have read Galib, Iqbal, Meer, Faiz, and many more. One day I discovered Maulana Jalauddin Rumi, (Allama Iqbal wrote many times about him and considered him his spiritual Master), and I saw Maulana’s influence on others as well. Since then he became my favorite poet. I also like Hafez Shirazi, Sadi, and Fariduden Attarad. Unfortunately, the best poetry even from Iqbal and Galib is in Persian language and even the best of translations do not do any justice to their work. I think in English you can find better translations, they are all very popular in USA.

I see you are inclined towards Sufi poetry and wisdom. How do you blend Sufism with your art?

Sufi Poetry is all about love of Almighty. Its wisdom reveals many answers of our own beings. I find it very soothing and comforting. It makes me understand God in a much better form. It also leads you to your own core and to your own heart. I think my subject of nature and feelings are driven from those sources and indeed it brought me a better understanding of nature.

Are you interested in calligraphy too?

Calligraphy is a very beautiful form of Islamic art. I have not done any calligraphy before even though I am thinking of doing some work by using 99 names of Almighty in much more free style and flow of emotions. Lets see when happens

Art is still not so popular in the Islamic World. In fact it is discouraged. Do you find any conflict in your faith and in your interest?

Well, this question is the most interesting one and I would like to write few things. I think there is some misinterpretation about Islam and Art. If we look back in time we see the Persian influence on beautifying the Kufic script. Also the art form of reciting Quran in many styles. And the art and architectural styles of Islamic periods from
Ottomans, Moors, Persians, and India. It flourished in many different styles and reached its majestic heights. I have no conflict about being an artist. In fact, we do not realize that art is in everything. It is simply an expression reflecting the love of the Creator. I would like to quote Allama Iqbal the famous poet: "All that I can say is that I look upon Art as Subservient to life and personality. I expressed this view as far back as 1914 in my Asrar-i-Khudi, and twelve years later in the poem of Zubur-i- Ajam, wherein I have tried to picture the soul movement of the ideal artist in whom love reveals itself as a unity of Beauty and Power. The spiritual health of a people largely depends on the kind of inspiration which their poet and artists receive. But inspiration is not a matter of choice. It is a gift of which cannot be critically judged by the recipient before accepting it." He further wrote: "The artist who is blessing to mankind defy life. He is an associate of God and feels the contact of time and eternity in his soul." Mohammed Iqbal, Lahore, 21st July 1928.

What message would you like to give to Pakistani youth in general and intending artists in particular?

Do not let your curiosity die. Always search for answers. Keep that two years old child alive within yourselves. Well feed him with knowledge and wisdom. Art is not a choice its a passion and love. If your love is true you will survive all the obstacles. Be determined and positive. Do not be too harsh to yourself. Love yourself, then you will be able to love all, and it will reflect on your art.

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