Friday, September 19, 2008

An Artist of Possibilities

I met Shafi Quraishy, a young painter now based in New Delhi, long time back. I think, I noticed him in one of the openings in some city (I don’t know whether it was in Kerala, Cholamandal or in New Delhi) and suddenly there was a sense of déjà vu in me. I felt that I had seen him somewhere or I had seen someone like him. May be his curly puff of hair a la Jimmy Hendrix gave me this feeling. His hair had an uncanny resemblance with that of V.Viswanathan, the Paris based internationally known abstract artist. I was not formally introduced to him by anybody and soon he was pushed back into the vaults of my memory or oblivion.

Then I saw Shafi in Delhi in a private party. He did not seem to a stranger to the city. I watched him from one of the dark corners of the lawn and found him mingling with people with a great ease. He was introducing himself to people who were not known to him and after sometime he came to me with an eager hand pushing towards me. With some kind of trepidation I held his hand, he said, “I am Shafi Quraishy.” “I am JohnyML,” I said. He smiled and said he was familiar with my name and had seen me in several occasions. He did not look like a usual Malayali artists with the same paraphernalia of arrogance and self importance. There was some kind of refinement in his manners and his clothes were neatly cut and he carried his personality with some grace. He had trimmed his hair to an impressive style that suited him well.

“Where is your Viswanathan-Hair?” I asked him. “Oh…now you have it, so I decided to go for a hair styling,” he said with a smile. I liked that and now he sounded like a Malayali with his perennial sense of black humour and cynicism. From nowhere he looked a struggler. But he told me that he had been trying to find his foothold in Delhi. As per the information that he gave me about himself, his story goes like this: He lives in Greater Kailash Part I in a rented apartment and has set up a studio there recently. He has a few benevolent foreign friends who buy his paintings occasionally. He has not found a gallery yet though couple of major galleries in Delhi has taken some interest in his works. This 32 year old artist, I think, has got everything to be a successful artist. But between him and his success, there exists a thin layer of time, which could be removed through proper introduction and a bit of conceptual refinement.

Shafi studied painting in Trissur Fine Arts College, Kerala and then shifted to Cholamandal Artists village in 1995 and spent around eight years there. He started off his career in abstract painting (obviously he is influenced by the Cholamandal milieu). But he has something to add to this observation. When he was studying in Trissur, the major art discourses were centered around Baroda school and its narrative and neo-expressionistic styles. “I wanted to be different and I found my anchor in the works of Jackson Pollock. I liked the physicality of his action paintings quite alluring. My love for abstract painting started when I was introduced to the works of Pollock,” Shafi says.

When I look at the works of Shafi I find a strong painter in him. He moves from theme to theme. He seems be in an experimental mode always. A few paintings that he did in the last two years show his interest in environmental issues. He paints moon and its surface using violent brush strokes and gives a suggestion of the US Flag along with a child in mother’s womb. The sight in total is gory and indicates some kind of chaos. In another painting one could see a grown up man crouching in mother’s womb. Shafi seems to brood over an impending crisis of human race and his perennial wish to go back to the mother’s womb. His colors resemble those of Goya and Chardin. A pervading sense of violence is felt in all the canvases of this phase. This violence is palpable in the more figurative works of 2008. In the latest works Shafi invests his energy for finding out the sense of cruelty inflicted by man on man. He uses the images of Guantanamo Bay prisoners as iconic metaphors in his works. There is an attempt to connect the prisoners images with that of crucified Christ. But I find them too literal.

What I like in Shafi’s works is his ability to create energetic abstract fields of color. The works he did in 1995 and later in 2006-07 reflect his strength as an abstract painter. In a work titled ‘The Deep- A tribute to Jackson Pollock’ one could see how Shafi uses a painterly field to create a similar feelings evoked by a Pollock painting. Shafi does not imitate Pollock. He likes the physicality of the action paintings and his works have a lot to do with the energetic strokes that he makes. What he needs at this stage of his career is some kind of support from galleries. Also he needs to work on his concepts. There is a little bit of wavering and confusion when it comes to the choice of subject matter for his figurative paintings. May be one can watch out this artist as a future promise.

His works could be viewed at

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