• 04 Nov - 10 Nov, 2017
  • Marjorie Husain
  • Obituary

One can recall the artist who recently passed away as an undeniably gifted and interesting man. One remembers the stories he told and the world he painted. Tassaduq Sohail began his career in the 60s, as “a starving artist in a strange land”.

He was first acclaimed as an Urdu short story writer in Pakistan, and speaking to the artist about his life, it was always the most interesting experience. He diffused personal questions with comic explanations spiced with wit. He could distract and amuse one to such an extent that one wondered how much was truth and how much fiction. Without doubt he was a deeply perceptive, sensitive artist, and a very private man whose happiest years were spent living alone in a boarding house with his pet cat.

In London, he joined evening classes at Saint Martin’s School of Art, and had various jobs during the day. His teacher immediately gauged his natural talent and encouraged him to join the Hyde Park summer weekend exhibitions. It was a place where artists would hang their work on the railings which would be popular with tourists in London.

Sohail was given a fixed space to hang his work opposite Lancaster Gate station. Laila Shahzada, who made it a point to explore all sorts of art avenues abroad, first came across him on a sunny afternoon. She admired his work, picked up several pieces and spread the word in Karachi.

Ali Imam was excited looking at the paintings and persuaded Sohail to exhibit his work in Pakistan. He soon became an immediate success.

Sohail actually enjoyed the Hyde Park venue, and the friends he made with fellow artists, but with time, he became too important to the galleries in London to join the free and easy experience of the Park but he missed it terribly. He was never comfortable in a formal gallery atmosphere, and often visited his old haunts, but he could never go back.

Sohail’s work spoke volumes evoking greater cross-cultural references. The artist plumbed the mystery of mankind’s links to nature. Often his wit made palatable the fears and vulnerability of human existence.

Sohail was interviewed on Channel 4 TV and written up in numerous publications. His drawings were acquired by the British Museum and he was invited to show his work in other capital cities of the world.

Initially, the artist declared he painted best when he was miserable. “Surviving on odd jobs rather than exhibiting my work in galleries,” he once said.

Though his paintings depicted a disturbing, esoteric scenario, in company as in his writing, his rare wit and quirky humour often stretched the credulity of his audience. When his beloved companion, the cat, died in London, Sohail did a painting in remembrance.

Apparently, the cat was popular in the boarding house he lived in, and always welcomed by tenants except by one person who did not like cats. The painting showed Sohail’s pet cat lay in state on a chair with four candles lighting the scene and the grieving boarders around the chair. The boarder who did not like the cat was also present but standing out in the picture, painted in the nude.

In Sohail’s paintings a sense of drama that has a strong moral undercurrent was evoked. The artist claimed that his experience of life and observations directed his work with an imagery that he expressed in enigmatic motifs.

Central to his compositions, one found the landscape that has often, in his earliest paintings created a mood of disquiet. It appeared the darker side of human nature seamed the work. Colours were juxtaposed with tactile textures embellished with a frottage technique that created the impression of rich, embossed textile and had one longing to run one’s fingers over the canvas.

Spilling from brush to canvas, countless figures appear all jumbled together; there are humans, plants, birds, fish, animals and mutants scrabbling for space with equal determination. Though the artist painted an esoteric personal story, he was conscious that meanings change according to the observations of the viewers.

Whether writing or painting, the artist’s expression was allegorical, perceptive, creating pain with humour.

He created pain with humour, and the viewer discovered the fearsome gargoyle like faces suffused with suffering, and mood changing idyllic fantasies of beautiful lands where birds and animals reigned supreme.

Sohail’s work spoke volumes evoking greater cross-cultural references. The artist plumbed the mystery of mankind’s links to nature. Often his wit made palatable the fears and vulnerability of human existence.