Jamil Naqsh was a Pakistani contemporary artist whose paintings are a blend of cubism, tempered with fluidity and a subtle use of colour. He passed away at the age of 80 on May 16 at St Mary’s Hospital in United Kingdom. He was suffering from pneumonia.
His death was confirmed by Shahneela Ahmed, director of public relations and communications of the Jamil Naqsh Museum. “It is with a heavy heart that family of Jamil Naqsh has to announce the demise of this esteemed artist from the world. There has never been an artist more connected to his roots of culture. Every piece of his art was a story within itself. We request for your prayers for his soul,” read a statement.
For Naqsh, painting was a way of life. Noted art critic Marjorie Husain wrote for Art Now Magazine that Naqsh was a man who lived his life for art. “Painting to please himself, he was a master of texture, light and space as the background for his uniquely painted figurative subjects.”
Naqsh’s work had been exhibited in Pakistan, India, the UK and the UAE. Between 1960 and 1968 he served as co-editor of Seep, an Urdu literary magazine, and between 1970 and 73 as president of the Pakistan Painters Guild. Among the artist’s many honours are medals and awards from the Pakistan Art Council, Karachi, ministry of culture and the Arts Council of Pakistan. In 2009, Naqsh was awarded the Sitara-e Imtiaz and in 2003, a retrospective of his work was held at the Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi, a rare honour for a living artist.
The artist was born in 1939 in Kairana, Uttar Pradesh, India and came to Pakistan at the age of nine. In 1954, Naqsh joined the Mayo School of Arts and Crafts in Lahore where he was drawn towards miniature painting.
His father, the painter Abdul Basit, introduced him to miniature painting. He devoted much of his two years at the National College of Arts, Lahore, to an internship with Mohammad Haji Sharif (1889–1978), the last of the old-guard miniature painters in Pakistan. Naqsh’s first major exhibition was held in Lahore (1962); he then moved to Karachi.
In 1963, an early series of pigeon artworks were shown at the Karachi Arts Council, followed in 1971 by a series of 51 paintings with the pigeon theme.
Naqsh was taken by the subject of “women and pigeon” and painting erotic female nudes. He was greatly inspired by Picasso, and another great French neoclassicist painter Jean-Dominique Ingres. The “Picasso pigeons” exemplified his fondness for Picasso and cubism. Pigeons had a deep personal meaning for him. As a child, he saw them flying in and out of the courtyard of the family house. They reminded him of traditional family life which he was deprived of upon the trauma of his mother’s early death, followed by the violence of partition.
Naqsh was among the most accomplished draftsmen in Pakistan, equally skilled in pencil, pen and ink, watercolor, oil and mixed media, according to Oxford Islamic Studies Online. “His early figurative work is slightly abstract, reflecting the influence of another mentor, Shakir Ali. Naqsh’s color schemes are often monochromatic or bichromatic in brilliant blues and reds. Other paintings in lighter, more neutral tones suggest the influence of Karachi painter ῾Ali Imam (1924–2002).”
The entry further says: Naqsh claims no symbolism for his ubiquitous rendering of women and pigeons (usually in combination), depicted both realistically and abstractly. While most painters returned to figurative art and realism in the late 1980s, Jamil embarked upon a colorful, lyrical series of non-objective paintings. In the 1990s, he introduced the image of the horse juxtaposed with nude female forms. A large retrospective exhibition of his work was held in 2004 in the Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi, and in 2006 his work was included in the New Delhi exhibition Euphonic Palettes showing the common heritage of Indian and Pakistani painters.
In 1980, the Shakir Ali Award was conferred upon him, in 1982, the Arts Council of Pakistan awarded him for 20 years of contribution to art and in 1989, and he received the President’s Pride of Performance. That same year he was the recipient of the Artist’s Association of Punjab award for Pursuit of Excellence.
In 1994, he opened the Momart Gallery in Karachi and several of the young artists he had mentored exhibited their work. In 1998, Naqsh introduced the image of the horse in his work juxtaposed with the female form. Dedicating the exhibition to sculptor Marino Marini, he exhibited 150 works titled Woman and Horse. In 1999 a group of distinguished art enthusiasts inaugurated an adjacent gallery as the Jamil Naqsh Museum with a permanent collection of the artist’s work. In 2013 the venue changed to a building designed by Cezanne Naqsh in Clifton.
In 2003, a retrospective exhibition of Jamil Naqsh’s work was held at the Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi two publications were produced, one containing the work in calligraphy Naqsh titled: Modern Manuscripts.
He went on to settle in London where he lived a rather reclusive life. His daughter Mona Naqsh is also a celebrated watercolourist.