Conversation with Nature

  • 28 Oct - 03 Nov, 2017
  • Marjorie Husain
  • Art

“This body of work is inspired by looking after my home garden and studying its biodiversity. These paintings are attempts to pay close attention to nature, using the cyclic dimensions of geometry and luminosity using ink and watercolour on paper.”– Usman Saeed

Showing his work in Karachi after a seven year hiatus, Usman Saeed exhibited an exquisite collection of work titled Gardenfinds One, which is the culmination of a series he began working on two years ago.

Horticulture has been an interest of his since he was presented with seedlings in his early teens; planting them and watching their growth was a learning experience for him. The tiny plants blossomed after two months, and he found numerous changes in the life cycle of the plants, which induced him to spend time whenever possible in the early hours of the day working in his garden.

As the son of the distinguished artist Saeed Akhtar, Usman Saeed has been involved with art from an early age.

Majoring in miniature painting at the National College of Arts (NCA) confirmed the artist’s sense of belonging, of roots, a rich culture and the age old traditions of his birthright. Belonging equally to the internet age, he experimented with machine oriented arts such as printmaking and photography – combining photo images and delicate linear patterns in his aesthetic vocabulary.

Usman joined NCA in 1995, where he relates, he spent the happiest four years of his life. He majored in miniature painting and graduated in 1995. When a National Art Exhibition was held in Lahore with 400 artists from all provinces participating, Usman was the youngest artist ever to be given a National Award for his Excellence in Art. He went on to dedicate a series of artworks collectively titled Zeyb, meaning: appropriation, beauty and ornament.

Using traces of calligraphy, motifs and symbols in a miniature format, Usman articulated an individual interpretation of each inspiration.

The art series were an expression of his admiration for the women of his country, past and present, who have influenced or inspired him by their talents and achievements. Among the distinguished subjects, he included icons of the visual and performing arts, artists and educationists, journalists, writers, a poet, dramatists, fashion designers, a documentary filmmaker, a human rights activist and a social worker.

Usman went on to join the Royal College of Art, London, graduating with a Masters Degree in 2006. While in London, he contributed exquisite pictorial work for a book.

His work is contained in several private and public collections and has been shown widely in solo and group exhibitions.

Of late, he feels that technology is often overused in art, and out of control. Though he has been lauded in the press for his photography as well as his painting at a London show, he is now focused entirely on painting. He has been a resident artist at the Cité Internationale des arts, Paris, Cicada Press, Sydney, Australia in 2015, and participated in a Murree Museum Residency.

It was in Murree that the artist’s deeper thoughts on nature began. He relates that early morning he could hear the birds communicating from distances, ‘it was a conversation they held between them.’

Returning to Lahore, where he resumed his M.A. Honors tuition classes at NCA, he began to work on a new series.

Initially he had a book planned, but since he feels few people read books these days, he is creating an online edition.

His current series of paintings is very personal, and could not be mistaken for any other artist’s work.

He begins by preparing the Arches paper used, and covers it with a layer of black Korean ink diluted with water. When dry, he begins to sprinkle the colours using ink and watercolours, starting with red and blue – the colours of a glowing sky – then lighter shades mixed with white.

To spray the colours on the surface, the artist involves the use of a toothbrush. Referring to numerous plants, he explains that many flowers share a similarity with stars, having five petals, and as stars are known to guide the traveller, similarly nature in a garden may influence one’s path. •