Figurative art is one of the oldest forms of human expression and it is the art of realistic representation. This form of art has experienced a widespread revival in recent years and dominates major gallery exhibitions worldwide. And there is one artist who puts oil, pen and ink to particularly good use – depicting frames of mind of eastern women attired in elegant apparel and jewellery.
Mehtab Ali is one of the finest figurative artists in Pakistan. He works with pen and ink, charcoal, pastel, oil and water while specialising in landscape, still life, abstract, calligraphy, portraits, figurative and cultural paintings. The artist is a science graduate from the University of Karachi and has worked as a director of the institute for the Japanese language. He has painted multiple masterpieces, amongst which is a portrait of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. The portrait is 10 feet long in size, displayed in the Sindh Assembly behind the speaker’s seat.
He grew up in the area of Liaquatabad, Karachi: a self-taught artist passionately painting since the age of 10. He was inspired by the Alf Laila digest. The artist made a sketch and made efforts for it to be published in the digest, but they rejected his artwork for three years. However, he stood firm and made every possible effort to begin his journey in this field. Finally, the day came when three of his sketches were allowed for publication at Rs. 30 for each sketch.
Mehtab Ali learned the art of working on different mediums by following the footsteps of renowned artists. He is also inspired by Iqbal Mehdi, who is famous for his pen-and-ink portraits. Iqbal Mehdi once visited Mehtab Ali’s studio and offered to teach him, so he spent a year under his training.
The 60-year-old artist, who spent much of his life creating portrait and figurative art in his interview declares: “My dream to express myself through creative art has come true.” He continues “I would like to visit famous art galleries of the world and learn from the work of great masters.”
Sharing one of his biggest achievements, Mehtab Ali said he was especially selected to paint the portraits of Brunei’s royal family. Some collections and permanent displays of Mehtab’s paintings have been held at the Our Future World, USA, Our Future World Foundation, Pakistan, Royal Family Palace Brunei, Alliance Francaise de Paris, IBIS Hotel Epinay, France, Islamic Centre, Washington D.C., Japan Foundation, Tokyo, Raja Indisches Restaurant Kassel, Germany, and the Pakistan Air Force Base (PAF), Karachi. He was also awarded a scholarship of 6 million in 2009. In 1994, Ali’s first solo exhibition was held at the Alliance Francaise de Karachi.
Mehtab Ali has traveled to France, Germany, the USA, Japan, and many other countries, representing Pakistan through his figurative paintings. As a mark of gratitude to art lovers who assist and support him in his artistic struggles and undertakings, he enjoys doing their portraits. “Time and art are the only two commodities an artist can afford,” he says modestly.