A Spectrum Of
Professor Mohammad Ali Bhatti's Portraiture Collection
(by VEERA RUSTOMJI)
Portraiture has long since been a topic of intense study in the field of art. The quest to fully understand and express the human body has promised to captivate every artist. Yet, artists are innately inclined to exaggerate and personalise portraits and this is not just contingent upon individual perceptions but on their respected concerns which they want to portray through the model. Portraits are symbols for how diverse the world is and how similar all humans are. The relationship between the subject painted and the artist has the potential to reveal a multitude of facets of a collection. Stylistic features, emphasised concepts, subtle themes are a few of the many elements which we choose to concentrate on or ignore in portraits.
Mohammad Ali Bhatti's recent portrait exhibition titled 'Simple Improvisations' builds upon this concept of breaking out of the expected and unoriginal style of portraiture. Needless to say his work bears an extremely prominent signature style. Prof. Bhatti has outlined the primary importance of painting for him, "Painting for me is a social and moral duty to explore and widen the understanding of cultural and spiritual identity."
Talking to journalists, the artist elaborated upon this statement explaining, that for him, every artist should be able express his/her emotions freely. Breaking barriers and unraveling the tied knots which are imposed upon an artist's hand is a belief which is not only close to Prof. Bhatti's heart, but seeps its way through the bright paint splattered across the portraits. The compositions and subjects of the collection immerse the viewers into the moment. So much so that we can feel the warmth of the smile upon a Thari girl, we can hear the anguish of a man pulling his hair and the soft clinking jingle of bangles graced upon village women. The ecstatic colouration of the portraits is evenly distributed throughout the canvas enabling the viewer's eye to rotate around the figure, noticing beautiful details such as a protrusive bone, designs on 'matkas' and delicate strands of white hair. However, as Prof. Bhatti is extremely well educated in his field, the artist has nailed basic concepts of negative, positive and light and dark spaces.
Prof. Dr. Mohammad Ali Bhatti has received both a Doctorate and MFA from USA and has found that his intricate education and work experience really extends into his latest artwork. The 'improvisations' are on the surface of course the abundance of colours which leap out at the viewer. This intense colouration is in fact quite suitable for the collection, as the fresh acrylics deliver the emotions of the subjects and the artist's universal message. Inspired by Anna Molka Ahmed, Professor Bhatti has also given back to students and is a well respected teacher in Pakistan. His contribution to education does not only reflect upon Anna Molka Ahmed, but his hallmark colours too, which seemed to steal the spotlight of the exhibition.
Concentrating upon primary colours, the hues of red emerge into Indian reds, the bright ultramarine mix with yellows to create vibrating greens which project a very exciting lyricism on the canvases. Tastefully arranged on the walls of the Oceans Art Gallery, paintings with similar subjects or expressions were placed together allowing the audience to conduct their own analysis of colour comparisons. Whether it is Sufism, politics, depression or inhumanity, Professor Bhatti picks up on the natural environment surrounding him, injecting the moments with showers of bright pigments unleashing intense emotions. Yet many of his subjects are painted in candid, subtle positions. The artist is motivated by the earthly everyday life culture which is embodied by his chosen subjects such as the local music men, the Sufis and the Thar women and children. These subtle, simple yet suggestive positions of the figures are not overcrowded with a variety of elements or colour. The clothes, jewellery and body disappear into layers of paint focusing the interaction with the natural habitat and the subject. Although villages, shrines or roads are not depicted in the background, the portraits do not look detached or displaced, therefore the portraits succeed very much in the aesthetic department.
Conceptually too, the 'local contemporary' genre of the collection gives way to a reverberating style using homeland roots. The Indus Valley Civilisation, Sufi spiritualism and local craftsman all literally translate the unnoticed beauty of Pakistani culture, yet these portraits are applicable to a very 'universal concept'. According to Prof. Bhatti, his prime inspiration has not simply been extracted from Pakistan. It is just the Pakistani culture he uses as the means of projections for his themes. Purity, innocence, poverty, unnoticed physical and internal beauty are all encompassed within these canvases. The figures are almost ablaze with colours, making a very strong collection, one cannot meet the eyes of the subject or pass by a single painting without noticing bright orange folds of a sari or gleaming white paint on matkas.
There is a large degree of movement and layering in the paintings, owing to the spontaneous splatters of paint across portraits which are random but somehow they move with the portrait rather than distract the viewer or take a new direction. Prof. Bhatti himself was so interested in talking about the importance of the people in his paintings that it really pleased many visitors to see an artist who not only has an exceptional understanding of the human form but is equally passionate about his work.
One has to really appreciate the brochure which is available at the gallery, the artist has written a good paragraph on each painting which is very rare for a Pakistani artist. Anyone can see how deeply involved and open Prof. Bhatti is about his work. He writes about composition, visual understanding, aesthetic know how's and his own technical painting process. Identifying his portrait subjects, their origins and importance of his themes as well as the collection, the handbook can evidently provide one with an insight of the artist.