Painting Images

by A Correspondent
MAG August 16 - 22, 1984

Shahla Rehman and Jimmy Engineer are presently working on a ‘commercial’ project. For an upcoming five-star hotel of Karachi they are painting ‘Images of Pakistan’. It’s a huge thing (16x10 ft.), from an artist’s point of view and surprisingly, the duo has taken a little over one-and-a-half months to complete the mural in which montage technique has been adopted to project Pakistan.

Jimmy Engineer, a Lahore based painter is a fairly well known person, although according to some of his critics, “he is too commercial”. Jimmy looks at things from a different angle, he believes that this statement has a very weak base. Calling himself a ‘professional,’ he says that he paints for himself too but quickly adds, “one cannot live by painting for oneself alone. I am ‘commercial’ but I take up only ‘prestigious’ projects. I never agreed to paint someone’s portrait for mere 50 rupees like…” (He takes the name of a very well known artist).

Jimmy Engineer claims to be one of the very few Pakistani artists living on art alone. He doesn’t do a job anywhere. Whatever he earns, he claims, it comes from his brush.

Plans to go in a big way

Shahla Rehman’s case is different. She is not living on art. Painting for quite a few years now, she is yet to have an exhibition. “I have been painting for a long time but was not very ‘particular’ about it: I didn’t even keep all those (paintings), friends used to take them away,” she says. But now Shahla plans to go for it in a really big way. As the ‘Images of Pakistan’ is complete now, she plans to paint ‘seriously’ for at least a few months and then to exhibit them in Karachi sometime next year.

According to her she has worked in all forms of media: oil, water, pastel, but, it’s oil and pastel in which she has been able to express herself better.

I had a chance to see some of Shahla’s works, both in water and oil. Her subjects mostly were women and nature and one must admit that they carried maturity and depth. And some of her sketches in ink were also very impressive. The art critics, after the proposed exhibition of her work, will be a in a better position to assess her work and give her a grading among the young Pakistani painters but for a layman like me they had much to impress.

On art critics

Coming to the question of art critics, Jimmy Engineer does not maintain a very ‘positive’ opinion about them. According to him theirs is a very personalised approach and added that ‘in our country much depends on PR (Public Relations).’ Jimmy added that it was not easy to assess the work of a painter in his lifetime. ‘There are so many ‘factors’ which ‘affect’ a critic and, therefore, it is only after he is dead that a true and honest assessment of an artist’s work can be done,” he says.

Shahla disagrees with him on this point and believes that it cannot be the same for every artist. According to her, there were many who succeeded in getting ‘genuine’ recognition in their lifetime and then she quickly adds, “perhaps there was the factor of luck also.”

Shahla believes that an artist should take up themes which are easy to understand for the common man and this is a way by which art can be promoted. “Collective views and not individual and personal opinions, are what should be an artist’s subject. Cultural heritage should also be painted so that painting becomes a ‘popular’ media of expression”, she says.

In her opinion, the Pakistani artist has not been successful in fully taking up the common man as his subject and to portray his feelings and so they have not been able to make art popular.

Born in Balochistan and belonging to a Parsi family, Jimmy Engineer spent three years with the National College of Arts, Lahore. In 1976 he won the All Punjab Cultural Award,” a gold medal in Islamic Exhibition, 1981, an award in National Exhibition the same year. It was in the same year that he was given an award by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and last year he won the National Award for Minorities in Fine Art.

Jimmy Engineer won his earliest acclaim by painting five canvases about the happenings of 1947 when a new country was born. It took nearly five years of hard work to paint the murals. It was a difficult job to paint the hardships of those days of pain and tears but the efforts he had to put in were sufficiently repaid, as he was acclaimed to be the first painter to take up the difficult job and execute it well.

Next, he painted a mural to convey the thought of Allama Iqbal’s Javed Namah. According to him it was a tough job to paint Javed Namah but he fulfilled the job simply because he was greatly impressed by the thought of the philosopher poet. A deluxe edition of Javed Namah has also been published and it carries Jimmy’s illustrations.

Jimmy Engineer, who had until now, based himself in Lahore, has shifted to Karachi and plans to work here. Let us see what effects the change of back drop has on its work.