Self-taught artist Khusro Subzwari hardly needs an introduction, as his work has been displayed in many countries – to considerable acclaim. A runaway engineer with a Master’s in engineering from the University of Oklahoma, USA, he has been a keen painter from his teens. Of course he continued painting in adulthood, but until he was invited to show his work in Switzerland, his friends thought that this was just a pastime. Even so, in 1978 he received a prize from the great Ismail Gulgee, and later came into the limelight with his exhibition in aid of flood relief. He worked on various subjects, and in 2011 was invited to exhibit in Istanbul, where he first saw the sema of the whirling dervishes.
This was a significant turning point for him, as the love and spirituality of their dance pulled him towards the philosophy of Rumi, whose 744th death anniversary was celebrated very recently in dances at the Mevlana Cultural Centre in Konya, Turkey. For some years after the first visit to Istanbul, Khusro’s work at home and abroad – in both solo and group shows – has been devoted to the dervishes, initially with quotes from Rumi accompanying each piece. It is his work on this theme that has brought him fame, and has brought Rumi’s philosophy into the consciousness of people in many countries. Some of his earlier pieces show a search for this spirituality: much of his work being done ‘on a higher plane,’ as he explained. And this has given him a reputation for clairvoyance.
His pictures are frequently executed either in the colours of Heaven on Earth or in those of the 7 chakras, whether the dervishes dance in fields of flowers with the mosque and its minarets in the background, symbolising the Heaven that they seek, or in rocky mountain gullies and such places. They seek total unity with the Beloved – that is to say, with the Divine.
More recently, one noted a degree of change in his style, as some pieces were in circular, semi-abstract form, and the dervish – except for his topi – had disappeared into the realm of the Divine. The chakra colours used here radiated out, for example, from pink (colour of the heart chakra and of yielding love) to purple (colour of the third eye chakra, the seat of intuition) and indigo (colour of the throat chakra, the source of all artistic endeavour). “This circular shape suits the motion of the dervish,” Khusro explained, “because this is the way that the whole universe moves, and this is connected to spirituality and the higher powers that are unknown to us.” Furthermore, to achieve the textured appearance at the outer edge of these semi-abstract works, the engineer in him had manipulated the behaviour of paint, experimenting on this effect for 6 months.
Water, both blue and green, plays an appreciable part in this exhibition, whether as an accessory to the actual subject or as a subject in itself
Recently he was honoured to be invited by Artkaam Gallery, Karachi, to present a solo show at their inaugural exhibition. So he offered 68 paintings, mostly acrylic on canvas, under the title of ‘New and Unseen Works,’ a real tsunami of art, devotion, imagination, invention and so on, amazing his audience by presenting, along with his dervishes, landscapes, seascapes, abstracts, cosmic themes and more, featuring many different styles. Various comments were heard, for example concerning his landscapes, such as, “Khusro bhi ye kaam kar sakte hein?” (Can Khusro do such work too?) And a desire was expressed to see more of these from him. Speaking of the gallery itself, artist Jimmy Engineer was heard to say, “It’s not an ordinary gallery. It’s more like the big art museums one sees in Europe and other parts of the world.”
Yes, Artkaam itself has a story, in that it grew from a private collection, with the natural progression of a dream – that being to see Pakistani art flourish – to a gallery with a display area of over 2,500 square feet, capable of exhibiting 60 to 70 pieces at a time. Khusro himself was happy to be given a free hand to show what he liked, and other artists are coming forward, glad to be able to exhibit more of their work in a single show. The time required to produce enough quality work to fill such a gallery is, of course, somewhat mind-boggling.
Subzwari’s large three-dimensional nighttime landscape near the sea has been much admired, and is clearly influenced by his engineering background. It is a creation of contrasts, considering the various shades of blue, the patches of reflected light, the highlights on the roads and the brightly lit buildings with their reflections in the gently moving water. Meanwhile it’s interesting that his diagonal lines go from right to left, whereas they are more often seen going from left to right. But in any case, the picture has an excellent depth of field, with a small patch of green directing the viewer’s eye upwards to where the uppermost parts disappear into the black night sky.
His abstracts cover many different subjects such as plant life, peacocks, landscapes and so on. In one of his semi- abstracts one can identify a rocky hillside with the subtle feel of gently moving water, while below, just off centre, there is a vigorous waterfall above a colourful river. Nearby on a grassy bank, if one examines the picture carefully, reclines a girl with long black hair, her orange clothing quite compatible with the touches of red and brown above. It is a pleasing composition, and concerning the rock formations, the artist explains that he is fascinated by such forms, probably due to his memories of the Grand Canyon, which he saw during his time in America during the 1980s.
The picture of the graceful young girl standing alone under a tree in the darkness of the night, with the white moon illuminating all, is an excellent composition
Water, both blue and green, plays an appreciable part in this exhibition, whether as an accessory to the actual subject or as a subject in itself. In fact the human affinity with water is reflected in the near-universal attraction to the colour blue, which we tend to associate with qualities like fidelity, calmness, depth and wisdom: and gazing at water in a natural environment can induce a mildly meditative state of mind. Such is the effect of seeing Khusro’s inspiring study of the full moon over a placid sea, the path of its reflections like footsteps over the water, while the moon, Queen of the Night, shines silently and mysteriously from her place in the cloudy blue sky. Meanwhile, it is hard to tear one’s eyes away from the striking study of two small gondolas waiting on emerald green water, such as that seen in some Venetian canals, before a rustic old brown building, probably in Venice itself. One is drawn not only by the beauty, the excellent composition, the artist’s attention to detail and the colour contrast of the piece, but also by the entirely natural materials of which everything is made. So restful for the viewer’s eye and heart. So different from today’s ubiquitous concrete jungles. The picture’s depth of field is enhanced by the open gateway and the scene beyond, from whence comes light that dances on the water.
It would be a crime not to mention the dervish pictures, of which there is quite a variety here. In this, Khusro has really surpassed himself. Some are in his familiar and well-loved style, with dervishes dancing in fields of luscious flowers, and the mosque, representing the Divine, shedding light in the background. Quite a number are set in circular style or even in hexagonal frames and other geometric shapes. But as to those disappearing into a whirl of blue beneath the sea (the source of all life according to modern science), dancing in the bosom of the Great Mother, some with light beckoning from afar, it is quite overwhelming to be confronted by so much beauty and spirituality.
Quite outstanding is the piece featuring two shadowy dancers in front of a doorway, the whole study in black, grey and white. This piece is quite a brain teaser, as one cannot imagine how it was produced. Even photography was considered as a possible source. However, in fact, it is a combination of brushwork, splashes and manipulation by the hands. The shadow itself is significant in certain cultures as a symbol of the soul, a truly relevant consideration considering work such as this, while the doorway is often interpreted as the point of entry in many ways, among them entry to another plane of existence. And this brings to mind Graham Hancock’s Supernatural in which he says that the circular dance of fairies could well be the prelude to entering another plane.
The picture of the graceful young girl standing alone under a tree in the darkness of the night, with the white moon illuminating all, is an excellent composition. The bright cloak of the girl, the turquoise flowers on and below the tree and the white birds are the product of Subzwari’s excellent colour sense. The piece somehow resembles a miniaturist’s work. But the artist disclaims any conscious miniature influence (though his daughter Shanzay is a miniaturist). Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem, “Raat yun dil main teri …” was the source of his inspiration and a verse from this appears beneath the subject.
Said Shakespeare, “O! how much more doth beauty beauteous seem/ By that sweet ornament which truth doth give …” And by his true devotion to art, with the ‘sweet ornament’ of spirituality ever present in his work, Khusro has impressed us all with his considerable variety of beautiful creations. All are done in amazingly different ways, while keeping his unmistakable style intact.