"Can you crowd-source beauty?"

Hassan Naqvi caught up with artist Mahmood Hayat during the launch of his exhibition at NCA's Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq Gallery

“Man lives and dies in what he sees, but he sees only what he dreams.” – Mahmood Hayat.

On the 8th of May Mahmood Hayat, himself a graduate of the National College of Arts exhibited at NCA’s Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq Gallery. The summer heat did not affect the excitement of the many guests at the launch event already waiting outside the gallery for the chief guest, Mustansar Hussain Tarrar.

Twenty-five of Mahmood’s latest works were on display exhibiting oil on canvas, graphite, charcoal drawings, and water colors. Some artworks like “Faith” employed mixed medium and demonstrated Mahmood’s expertise in skillfully using pastels, charcoal and water colours in a single artwork. Looking at the portraits and stylized animal forms you could tell that the artist had derived his inspiration from the classical master painters, though his own distinctive contemporary expression indicates a vivid and dramatic approach.

Portrait 1
Portrait 1

Sketchbook page 2
Sketchbook page 2

Mahmood’s work is considered special because of the depth in his skill, technique and concepts behind the canvas. Each one of his portraits tells a complete story, coming right out of the canvas of carefully smudged charcoal with gentle strokes of white highlights. In his portraits he starts with a charcoal stick to mark the basic structure of the sitter on the canvas, which leads to the use of raw amber, oxide green and burnt sienna to mark the landmarks. Sometimes he prepares his canvas with different shades of blue and finishes it with raw amber or a special mixture of dark colours to match the mood. The tonal gradations of light and shadows define the beauty of his subjects.

Most of the guests on the opening day were students from NCA and Pakistan Institute of Fashion and Design (PIFD), where Mahmood is also a lecturer of furniture and design. Students showed a lot of interest in the exhibited artwork while visitors enjoyed discussing and admiring techniques with the artist, resulting in a late closing of the exhibition.

I also got a chance to interview the artist to talk to him about his concept, what goes on behind the canvas, and his vision.

tft-18-p-20-k tft-18-p-20-l

[quote]Is it possible to be beautiful and fat?[/quote]

Q: First off, tell us why the title: Using Beauty as a Remedy for Life?

MH: I see everyone feels the need to be beautiful. Yet, we are told, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If that’s the case, can you crowd-source beauty? Let’s imagine 8/10 people prefer thin people, is it possible to be beautiful and fat? Perhaps you need to find a set of objective common standards that everyone can agree to. Some people like fair, tall women, some people like short and petite figures while some like chubby or masculine — but perhaps we come closest to agreement in the following statement: there is beauty in symmetry.

Mere blotches on canvas do not define an artist’s path. As a child, I was most fascinated with the bird and its flight. It took me time to decipher whether technique or skill was more important to me, or just mere abstraction.

Everywhere I go I see art and architecture has become more inclined towards utilitarianism, quick in construction and mainly mechanical as far as visual aesthetics are concerned. Why are these so called architects and artists hell bent on rapidly producing quantities of black artworks and homes like hot prison cells? What happened to the beauty of art and craft?

[quote]People are more interested in utility than beauty[/quote]

Q: How important is the present time and your own environment for your practice?

MH: The way I see the present times, people are more interested in utility than beauty. Commercial practices and advertisements are bombarding viewers to only buy things which have a use, creating major focus on food and technology. These huge billboards and television commercials are psychologically penetrating minds to hog on food 24/7 and restricting people’s minds to that realm alone.

Chief Guest Mustansar Husain Tarar at the exhibition launch
Chief Guest Mustansar Husain Tarar at the exhibition launch

Q: Mahmood, your work represents itself firstly as a search to understand beauty. Why does it matter to you?

MH: The way I see life in the 21st century is full of chaos and suffering. Television and digital arts are adding to a “Cult of Ugliness” – projecting violence, frustration and chronic depression. The world has turned its back on pleasantness. I believe I have a remedy for this and the name of that remedy is “Beauty”. I believe beauty has a value which is as important as truth and goodness, like any peaceful religion.

Q: What is the significance of an art as traditional as portraiture in this modern world? And who are your models?

MH: I like meeting people, and as an artist I come across different kinds of interestingly eccentric mindsets: bullies, the duty-fillers, the protectors, the scientists, the thinkers, the executives, the guardians and so on so forth. Some of these are pleasing while most of them make my life exhaustingly difficult (laughs). Hence, I find motivation and started capturing these unique mindsets in the form of portraits and drawings. I take my work very personally, it brings me solace.

Faith (30x40 inches)
Faith (30x40 inches)

[quote]One of the things I am fixated on is the need to go back to basics[/quote]

Q: Finally, Mahmood, tell us what your ultimate aim is?

MH: My goal in life is to keep expressing my artistic talent and passion for art and design, as well as open my mind in ways that I could never do in any other field. I offer help and guidance to young people in my private studio and hope to continue to do so. I have designed my own drawing syllabus to help students grasp various aspects of drawing and painting.

[quote]Billboards and television commercials are psychologically penetrating minds to hog on food 24/7[/quote]

One of the things I am fixated on is the need to go back to basics, something completely lacking in most young minds I come across. I want to share my experiences through videos, workshops and books to help the young generation learn about different classical approaches that can be of help to them in their studies, techniques and design. I want to openly share practical knowledge by making it easily accessible for the young generation and help them in imagining and developing specific skills through which they can draw and design artworks as well as products to benefit the local industry.

While it is encouraging to see local artists helping the young generation to see things differently and develop skills through which they will one day become great Pakistani artisans, designers and architects, it is one thing to praise an artist’s work and another to give meaningful support to help him excel.

“The writer is a journalist based in Lahore who covers arts and culture, women rights, human rights, environment and archaeology”

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy. He also hosts the Hassan Naqvi Show on Naya Daur.