Saleem Asmi

Saleem Asmi

Magic of the Line an appreciation of Jamil Naqsh Drawings

“  I am a modern painter a painter    of the human form It is said the body consists of 60 billion cell It is said a human being is     personality and intellect Or is it a machine I do not have the knowledge of the  ancient Egyptian embalmers I only know I live within these  mysteries” Jamil Naqsh


All art is built on the foundation of the line and the countless configurations it creates. The line that has length without breath or thickness, that bends curves, mingles with other lines, overtaking them, overlapping them and thus, when drawn by trained and cultivated hands, creates breathtaking images.

Since times immemorial, from the ancient cave paintings to the hoary arts of Egypt, China, Latin America, through Rennaissance to this day, all great artists have treated drawing the line with utmost sanctity, almost religious reverence. Da Vince has left hundreds of drawings of various elements, describing their functions and use. Goya, Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Dali and Klee (he alone has left as many as 18,000 drawings), were all pastmasters in drawing. They were all keenly aware of the crucial role their drawings played in their artistic endeavour, in projecting on paper or canvas, with the help of colour or without it, their thoughts, their responses to the outside world, their inner sense of design.

Unfortunately, most Pakistani painters do not seem to pay much attention to this basic discipline. Similarly, most art schools ignore it and encourage their pupils to take straight to painting. The pupils themselves seem to welcome this practice, forgetting that one must learn to stand before one can walk and one must learn to walk before one can run. As a result they remain blissfully ignorant of the primary importance of drawing to their work or whatever they perceive it to be. The urge for quick success weighs heavily with them. Jamil Naqsh is one of those few artists in Pakistan who still believe, and very strongly so, that the roots of good visual expression lie in one’s expertise in drawing. He has gone through the mill, literally. He had his earliest lessons as a child growing up in the culturally- charged atmosphere of his family. His father and his friends were artistically cultivated people and his father delved in miniature painting in addition to his other artistic pursuits. The aesthetic ambience of his household encouraged Jamil to take to visual arts in earnest. Then, as a young man, he was fortunate to serve out his apprenticeship under the guidance of Ustad Sharif, the great miniaturist of modern time. This brushed up his line drawing and today he can be described as probably the only painter in Pakistan who gives as much, if not more, importance to drawing as to painting. In fact, since his earliest days as an artist he has never given up drawing. His fame as one of the leading painters of today never distracted him from his fist love — drawing.


A collection of 300 drawings that he has gifted to the Friends of Jamil Naqsh Foundation has three series, each of 100 drawings. Each of the series is to be put on public viewing at the newly set-up Jamil Naqsh Museum in phases. The first to go on show is the Woman and Horse series, a glimpse of which one was able to have towards the end of 1998 in the ‘Jamil Naqsh pays Tribute to Marino Marini’ exhibition.

The drawings in this series bear testimony to Jamil’s rich imagination and his ability to project it on paper in a manner that the two sensuous figures appeal both to the viewer’s aesthetics and his senses. The two linear figures are drawn in different postures each drawing presenting a different ambience than the other in countless variations. Here the figures mingle and merge to become one whole; there they seem to exude a kind of enigmatic hostility. But generally speaking, the viewer gets the overall impression of a perpetual fascination the two protagonists in the drawings seem to have for each other.

Jamil has been drawing horses for about four decades. He is fascinated by the energy agility and beauty the horse represents. He has made several hundred drawings (some enlivened with dashes of colour) of this animal which has enchanted painters down the ages. A whole generation of European painters devoted almost their entire working life to painting horses. Marino Marini, one of the most celebrated sculptors of this century, drew horses with a kind of devotion with which the Rennaissance artists painted the Madona. In his Woman and Horse series Jamil shows a similar commitment to projecting his images in all their various facets — a commitment that makes his drawings a work of truly great art.

The second is the Woman and Pigeon series, a subject that has been close to Jamil’s heart for years (some of the drawings in this series date back to 1965 or earlier). Here, as in his remarkable Woman and Pigeon paintings, Jamil has drawn the two figures (occassionaly, there are two pigeons) as a challenge in design. He has religiously studied the lovely feathered creature and the female form for year which enables him to draw — and paint ~ them in their multitudinous postures. The pigeon in half flight, thrusting forward its chest with its neck pulled back regally. The pigeon courting and caressing the female figure sensuously and the latter responding equally sensuously. Theirs is a heavenly relationship. The drawings are mostly done in pen and ink, but occasionally Jamil uses the pencil as well, and sometimes a bit of colour wash which gives his drawings an extra dimension.

The third is the Angel series. Those who have been watching Jamil’s progress with his Pigeon and Woman series will notice a new element here. His lines are as immaculately drawn as in this earlier work, but his imagery has undergone a qualitative change. Elements from the pigeon and the woman are merged in a manner that mystifies the viewer and holds his attention for long spells. Jamil has taken extraordinary care in aesthetically creating haloed images by mixing parts from the two figures or superimposing each other. This series has a highly thematic value impregnated with messages. Some may not appreciate this didacted element, but they would still find the superb aesthetic value of these drawings highly engaging.