Self portrait of reclusive artist and his muse is a key image of Modern South Asian Art at Bonhams

Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art
7 Jun 2012
London, New Bond Street

An iconic image by Jamil Naqsh, the reclusive Pakistani artist with his muse Najmi Sura, is one of the most fascinating items in Bonhams next sale of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art on June 7th in New Bond Street.

This painting by Jamil Naqsh (Pakistan, born 1938) is estimated to sell for £25,000-35,000. The picture comes from a private collection in the USA having been acquired from Karachi in the late 1970s.

A particular woman, Najmi Sura, began to dominate Naqsh's work at the beginning of the decade when Naqsh became involved with her and she became both his companion and his muse. Najmi became an obsession in his paintings, prompting confusion among critics regarding his limited scope. Nevertheless he continued to explore her as a subject in myriad colours and poses.

The artist has chosen to include himself with Najmi in this particular composition. The bird which Najmi holds up to the viewer is a pigeon, another subject that Naqsh exhausted through his painting. The pigeon embodies several meanings for the artists, perhaps the most significant being that of domestic harmony, as the birds would fly in and out of his family home during his childhood in Kairana. Thus as the subject of this work is a portrait of the two, the pigeon could perhaps be symbolic of the couple's life together at the time this work was painted. However woman with pigeons is a juxtaposition that the artist has continuously revisited throughout his career.

The seventies were a period of great self discovery for Naqsh. At the end of the sixties he had resolved to remove himself from the eye of the art world, freeing his creative process from the restriction of exhibition deadlines and giving way to a period of isolated creation. It was during this time that Naqsh moved away from more classically solid depictions of women to explore a transient form, where the meticulous method of layering paint with a palette knife allows a translucent figure to emerge. The complex surface used to articulate the flesh extends outside the borders of his figures to encompass the whole of the picture plane. Frequently, the only indication of the figure's presence is the contour of the body which brings the figure into the foreground. This same technique had been used by the cubists to meld the background and foreground of their compositions, bringing about a set of perceptual problems.


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