Embodying Exploration On The
(by VEERA RUSTOMJI)
It is usually observed that different materials and mediums tend to frighten the 'conventional' artist. The decision to advance onto an alien surface or to understand an unknown subject is a technical detail which many artists who are only interested in selling their work do not care to pay attention to. Ceramists however are some of the few artists who really nourish their materials with the interest in finding a variety of ways to showcase not only their talents but the material's flexibilities as well.
Masood Kohari is acknowledged as a ceramist essentially because his most exuberant and celebrated work has been done in clay. Yet his use of clay cannot limit him to the category of a ceramist or potter only. The intricate development of the arrangement of clay pieces to create abstract forms which also mirrored figures, and his trademark 'collage' of clay and glass emulate his artistic approach to be profound yet sensitive. His recent exhibition at the Citi Art Gallery however, concentrated on a collection of around twenty oil paintings. While oil paints are exceedingly different from clay, somehow, the artist's interest in 'fire', 'motion' and 'texture' radiate through his canvases.
His work exudes vibrant strokes of paint, and whilst the direction and appliance of paint differs within the canvases, they build upon layers of colours. The spectrum of bright hues which captivate the audience range from cadmium yellows, reds and cobalt blue. At times Kohari blends and smoothens the paint immaculately, recreating the softness and suppleness of human skin. The paintings do not venture into the realistic depictions yet the essence of human emotion and structure is translated onto the canvas. Many of the thick brush circles circle the women he has chosen to portray and draw the viewers' eyes around the entire composition, encompassing his placement and distortion of the subject.
One painting for example showcases seven main faces, I write 'main' because the artist has employed a visual trick by dividing faces into side profiles which meet exactly at the lips. This triggers the viewers' interest to pay more attention to the faces and the divisions in them. There could always be a specific reason behind the faces being divided, yet the style in which the lips meet each other illustrate the idea of communication. The lips seem to be unable to open yet are pressed together, which perhaps reflects society's inability to speak and the confrontations we face everyday. These confrontations or more adequately titled, 'conflicts' are one of the main interests of the artist as stated on the artist's invite. What is even more interesting in this particular painting is the way in which Kohari has manipulated the faces. The profiles share one nose, yet their lips and pupils dart into slightly different directions. Sometimes a line is drawn between a face, yet no space keeps them apart, which inevitably leads the viewer to question the themes and figure portrayal scheme of the collection.
The crystal collages and fire paintings from Masood Kohari's earlier exhibitions are highlighted for their experimental use of material of course. The exhibition at Citi Art Gallery is similarly focused on colour usage and hence rightly called 'Kohari's Colour Clout'. The combustible energy which leaps out at the viewer conveys an array of moods and emotions. A composition with two women in front of a canvas, which could be them creating a painting within a painting, relate to feelings of relaxation, enjoyment and freedom of artistic expression. The field of fluorescent green grass complemented by yellow and blue influence the canvas to express pastoral and naturalistic themes. The elegant pose of the women combined with their feminine dress and physique complement the rest of the collection of women in the exhibition even though this composition is different from the rest. This mystical female element employed with a hint of secrecy is mirrored in another painting which is compositionally different. The faces of three women under veils smile knowingly yet charmingly across the canvas. The spectacular hint of sky blue from the central woman's dupatta and the deep shadows across the face and under the eyes concentrate on paying attention to the artist's skill and understanding of figure. With a hazy urban settlement painted in impressionistic at the back of the figures, the women are quite relatable and imaginable as they are portrayed in our typical Pakistani lifestyle.
During his pottery revelation, Kohari actually lived with the village craftsman and embodied their lifestyle. Their talent, aptitude and culture fascinated the artist and he truly uncovered their roots to create his own ceramics. The canvases of colour interaction are contingent upon Kohari's observation of people and their surroundings. Fishermen scenes, individual bedroom settings and the abstract divided faces all seem to be under his command of light and shadows.
Two large canvases are centered around the Karachi fisherman and according to the art critic Muhammad Jamil, the fish net is a symbol of the struggle of survival. The illusions created by the artist of being bound tightly together in a congested environment in the fishing net plays with the viewers' perceptions. The two canvases, one in bright red and the other in ultramarine blue exchange different rhythms and lyricism. One might feel that the paintings could be a comment on poverty while others could perceive it as an exploration of shapes and cubism. This could be so because the human flesh of the subjects are noticeably divided and interlock with each other creating negative and positive spaces.
In a previous article the artist mentioned to Marjorie Husain that his artistic journey "has been a life-time affair with my muse (i.e. clay)", one cannot help but relate his quote to other forms of material. There is a large degree of exploration which is crucial in this exhibition yet the collection revolves around dedication and a spiritual connection between the artist and his themes. Although, the exhibition is not currently on display, a few of the artist's works are still available to be seen at the Citi Art Gallery.