The surface of Moeen Faruqi’s paintings that went on show as ‘New Memories’ at Koel Gallery in Karachi, crackles with brittle, inconsequential conversation, but at the same time it heaves and swells with volcanic rumblings, the real, almost unmanageable feelings of need and rejection that characterise the intimacy he depicts. Although in recent years the work has become more illusionistic, Faruqi himself now has fewer illusions. The world and its people are still lovable and despicable, in turns; but the romantic haze has blown away. Faruqi sees the world today more as it is, clearly and memorably. Earlier he saw what it might be. The tougher, less romantic attitude signifies maturity. The levity of the early work remains undaunted but there is an underlying acuteness of vision that is the product of a newly athleticised capacity for deliberation.
In the present suite of paintings, Faruqi has played less with the rectangle, more often than not altering the shape of the canvas for reasons of economy, humour and/or expressiveness. Irony and wit are not the only facets of Faruqi’s art. Indeed, to conclude that would be extremely uni-dimensional. His style is rich with complex, many-layered images. A play of contrasts – of forms, colours, sensibilities, the opposing pull between intellect and emotion – all meld together in the shaping of a strong and vibrant iconography.
One of the many striking aspects of Faruqi’s work has been the sense of search that is patent in his canvases. He is mining his milieu, his psyche and stretching limits of his resources in order to explore new expressions of form and imagery. This is one of the compelling forces behind his different series of work. The lithoid characters, the seated figures, the angst-ridden personages convey new declarations of visual imagination. But the quality that distinguishes Faruqi’s paintings from becoming bleak dirges of despair is his indomitable belief in humanism. Over the years, he has mastered a formidable range of devices of visual language to express the contradictions of the human condition. He shows man in relation to other human beings. He paints man in an urban habitat. Above all, he probes men in society with sensitivity, tenderness, and with a sense of the absurd.
And yet the analogies are not literal but are more allegorical in nature. It is as if the artist himself was experiencing a dialectical pull that keeps the image taut. He can be likened to a trapeze artist hanging upside down, but he is also the creator and dispassionate observer transforming reality into a system of signs and codes.
Increasingly in his work he is concerned with specificity, finding the exact essence and how to clothe it. Samuel Johnson would have approved: “I had rather see the portrait of a dog I know than all the allegories you can show me”
Human artifice also stimulates Faruqi’s imagination. Architectural elements and the urban habitat surface time and again, and elements of popular culture imbue his work with a sense of vitality and graphic strength while linking it to the mundane. Indeed, it is these elements of the carnival of the everyday that helps us cast an ironic look at the raw pain and the unbound ecstasy of living – high-voltage experience which would otherwise be difficult to unravel.
Faruqi’s visual language has undergone its own process of transformation. While the figures still convey a sense of mass and energy, and the strong simplifications and distortions of form are as patent as ever, there is a sense of spontaneity in the figuration, yet maintaining a tautness in its structuring.
One thing is abundantly clear from even a cursory look at these paintings. When there is a figure in them, no matter what the relation of its size may be to the total canvas, it is the figure that controls the content of the painting. We often find the figures demurely emerging, cut off and stylised like a Roman bust. In all these paintings the setting may dominate visually but the fact that Faruqi has chosen to depict figures in a setting spices these paintings with a second personality. The mood can be characterised as theatrical and the devices, illustrative but the paintings have the charm of their deliberate simplification, the charm of paring down to essentials before leaping into terra incognita.
Moeen Faruqi seems to have sensed the dangers of depending in his portraits on an endless blankness of attitude. In the current series, a greater ambition is realised and a new series of qualities appear in the portraits: a heightening sense of individual character, an increased concern with modelling and rendering the features, and a more subtle feeling for the interactions that mark domestic life.
All the paintings on show are detached and crystalline, all breathe a clarity of light, perception and realised intention that mark Faruqi’s new and greater ambition to paint the world of today dead-on, as he sees it, with no concessions to modernism except those that were the built-in presuppositions shared by most of the painters.
Increasingly in his work he is concerned with specificity, finding the exact essence and how to clothe it. Samuel Johnson would have approved: “I had rather see the portrait of a dog I know than all the allegories you can show me.” Faruqi’s earlier painting suggests that he was more interested at the time in juxtaposing many kinds of information on a flat surface. Much of that work can be characterised positively as charged with energy, or negatively as overloaded with information and inconsistent stylistic devices. What surprises is how much the early work bears scrutiny, how well it stands up in its inconsistencies. A presence, a sureness, a wit keep these paintings from going too far towards private and obscure reference, and keep the excesses of stylistic diversity in hand.
Faruqi’s present work is increasingly concerned with frontality, facing the subject and viewing it closely and stereoscopically, with the surrealist sense of time out of time; simultaneously the pictures are an accretion of time, from conception to completion, often the result of days of thought and effort. One of the accomplishments of these paintings is the impacted time we apprehend. The image is available at first sight and retains a timeless quality. But the picture begins to unfold as it becomes apparent that the craftsmanship is one of the vehicles through which the story is told.
In the past, one would sense that Faruqi was competing with recent art and with his own generation, that he’d felt his pictures must somehow look ‘modern’, experimental and fanciful. The paintings of recent times don’t strain towards these effects; they are arrived at intuitively by an artist of limited ambition who thinks allegorically and with verve; an artist who takes his cues from what he has observed and embroidered fancifully on his sources, the life of the studio, and photographs.
Faruqi is not perhaps the painter for those who are besotted with unalloyed naturalism or the picturesque. Indeed, his work’s appeal lies with those viewers who are ready to appreciate a ‘gutsy’ view of life – a view that involves both the mind and the senses, and blends in reason and passion fearlessly.