What is the idea behind this exhibition?
This exhibition is about the flower carpets of Lahore. About six years ago the gardeners of the various public parks of Lahore, working under the Parks and Horticultural Authority started planting seasonal flowers in very interesting patterns in the form of carpets on very large tracts of the gardens and along the canal. In the early years they were simple designs which became more and more complicated as the gardeners became increasingly confident of their designing skills.
During a trip to Iran I visited a carpet museum in Tehran and came across some exquisite carpets in a significant number made in Lahore some centuries ago. The flower carpets I saw in Lahore seemed to be a continuation of the designs I had seen in the woven carpets displayed in that museum. I started painting these flowers carpets which were planted twice a year, marigolds in the winter and petunias and other flowers in the spring. I have been painting this theme for the past five years at various times. In my last exhibition in 2014 I displayed three works on this theme which were very well received.
You are knows as a “plein air” painter with most of your canvases painted at the spot. Is this the case here as well?
No. The subject matter forced me to work in the studio. It was just not possible to work outdoors with canvases of the size I have chosen, nor can one get the level of detail required to get the desired effect. I sketch and do some work at the spot like the main drawing and the major colours and tones of the flowers. For the first time in my painting career I have chosen to use photographs. These have been done by some friends as I do not have a camera.
What was the main challenge in painting these large canvases?
The main battle is against simplification not only in the large but the medium size ones as well. I like to maintain as much detail as possible and yet retain the complexity of the design. This is not easy. I have had to visit the canvases long after I thought I had completed the painting. In some paintings because of the scale it was a real struggle to get the perspective and distance right. I hope I have succeeded here.
The show stopper in this exhibition has got to be the huge collages of flowers arranged as carpets. How did these come about?
The development of these collages was very organic. For the past few years I have been making sketches of individual flowers especially chrysanthemums and cockscombs. These were taken from various gardens where they were planted individually in pots or in groups not necessarily in the form of a carpet. Over the years I had collected so many of these paintings that it occurred to me to exhibit them in the form of a carpet and I think the result is quite good.
Will you be selling the collage carpets as single pieces?
Only a corporate buyer or a collector with a huge wall in their house could buy a complete collage. I have therefore decided to sell the paintings individually. This will also meet the needs of buyers who cannot afford the larger paintings.
Some of the paintings look almost abstract?
There are two especially which because of the design and complexity of the composition look abstract but that was not the intention. The one of the small marigolds in Jillani Park especially looks like an abstract design, but I have worked very hard to get the effect of distance on the canvas. The result I found very rewarding.
A lot of time must have been involved to complete these paintings. How do you manage it?
A lot of discipline is required to work constantly, sometimes months on a canvas. My training as an accountant has helped me a great deal to advance my career in painting. I follow a strict regime of exercise, rest and studio work. My mentor, Khalid Iqbal, followed a similar routine and I hope I have been a worthy successor.
What would Khalid Iqbal Saheb have thought about these paintings?
They are a total departure from what I used to do under his guidance, but he has left me with enough confidence to take on new challenges. He always encouraged me to tackle different subjects. I am sure he would have been very enthusiastic.