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Exploring the Depths of Emotion: The Artistic Journey of Dr. Khalid Mahmud



Dr Khalid Mahmud paints with the feelings inside his world. His art is the art of his own instinct, the feeling of his soul and his paintings are sort of personal letters or essays retaining the inner emotional strance and carries the history of his whole life. These have come out through the interior process of his personal experiences, which are in reality representing the truth of his personal journey but at the same time these may also be considered as elevated as art for art’s sake. He starts painting on a canvas without having any specific plan or idea.

He just starts with different patches of colour and continues in his path until he gets some small glimpse of his internal world. During the early years he painted purely for art’s sake “so mostly I paint landscape scenes with my own imagination and interpretation which shows up in my choice of colours.

Choosing oils as his personal medium, he says, “I have always handled oils, whatever the reason may be I feel confined by other genres. Oil is an imperial medium and I have a command over it. Even in the earlier days of my art career I could employ this to express my spirituality within me in purer manner and this was feasible through he inhabited character of oil”.

Themes and subjects do not bind him. His work begins in his mind and his line of work is always very strong. He has combined abstract and conventional elements in his work which are only readable to the one who has the eyes to connect to the content in the formal assemblage. 

Comparing the present day with the times that have passed, artist comments that in the mid-sixties and seventies some artists were mountains and smaller artists gathered around them. That trend has now disappeared, as western influence has integrated into our lives and into art. Younger artists do not have the time to have discourses with living legends, to emulate, follow, or develop a school. They are simply not interested. Every artist is on his or her own, with an individual expression, looking for the way, but when they talk of the land of others, they become inferior, and their work becomes immature. But then, some are painting for commercial purposes only. As far as his art is concerned it is never meant for any commercial purpose and they are never have been any lurking desire behind his design that he is playing with the colors for business purpose. His paintings are entirely done for his own passion to express his inner most turmoil in the language of colors and there may be certain signs which would be working as a sort of very personal symbols those could only be interpreted or analysed by the psychiatrist or by the artist himself. 

He is least bothered that whether he receives any deification from any segment because his art is basically and fundamentally having a kind of entity which is communicative to him. He prefers to display his painting in his own studio and entire house because when he relaxes these pictures communicate to him and in this way he spends most of his time having a kind of a common language of mysticism and spiritualism. 

For now, Dr Khalid Mahmud is content supervising Ph.D. scholars from different Universities of Pakistan, and the rest of the time he spends painting in vibrant colours and manifesting the hypes of his moods. However, he keeps aesthetic elements in these pictures, as a viewer who has sensibility of realisation ought not to remain deprived of this aspect.

Dr Shaukut Mahmood once said at Dr Khalid Mahmud’s exhibition “Khalid Mahmud is not a traditional painter. His paintings are like a gust of breeze enriched with the aroma of fresh morning flowers drenched in dew and lustre of fresh colours, His works have the message of Gleizes, the style of Metzinger and the theory of Apollinaire. His art grows out of efforts to replace the purely visual effects of Impressionism and preoccupation with the surface of objects with a more intellectual concept of form and colour. Khalid has striven and carried much further the ideas of the unity of two dimensional pictorial surfaces.

At the same exhibition Ijaz-ul-Hassan said, “Over thirty years have eluded us. It all seems so recent and yet so far and long ago. A lot has changed. Many have aged and many have died. Many have improved but I wonder if any of us have become any wiser. But we plod along hopefully in the belief that painting will endow meaning to our existence and help us to make contact with reality so that we can fathom the depth of our being” 

“With the passing of time one sees a considerable change in attitude and approach in Khalid’s work. At a recent meeting he invited me to have a look at his recent canvases he informed me that his painting were an “Aesthetic exercise” and that there was no “moral lesson” or “history contained in them”. “My attention was drawn to the fact the “aesthetic exercise” was not a “static” exercise but a “dynamic” once since he likes to see things in “lots of movement.” His paintings are based on forms, which are “all from the mind.” Sometimes segments are “clipped from life” but these are also conceptualised before presenting them in patches of colour. Often elements of visual reality are wilfully made to change colour from black to pink or from brown to green and so on.”

“Khalid has an obvious natural talent for colour and enjoys creating pastel variations as well as combinations of primary colours. Colours can be strong and “abrupt” Khalid confessed, “I do not make a plan right away. I start from the canvas and develop right from there, I like strong colours in high key.”

There are a great number of subjects which the artist has tackled in his works, ranging from the composition of horses, tongas, gypsies, water lilies, wheat fields and markets. Street scenes at night and during the day, and people resting, striding, crowding or just being there. Khalid’s canvases throng with common people in the streets, bazaars and fields but he does not treat them as individuals. They are anonymous. The viewer is merely allowed a fleeting glimpse. All these entities are represented as motifs which represent the story of his life. Ordinarily people are treating these entities as a particular subject which are in fact symbols painted in a certain style and moods give the paintings a kind of philosophical meaning because most of his paintings are relating to landscapes.  He believes in a Chinese dictum where they say a man can gain wisdom and knowledge while observing nature such as landscape. 

Dr Khalid Mahmud told ‘The Pakistan Times’ that he had tried to achieve a spiritual quality through expressionism. He also said that he is not influenced by any great artist. “I am propelled by the driving force of the concepts. Emotions have a lot to do with the main thrust of my work” (The Pakistan Times. Tuesday, April 21, 1981)

Dr Shaukut Mahmood wrote in ‘The Nation’ a Friday review about Dr Khalid’s paintings that “Khalid paintings are no abstract. They are not non-representational either. Like most of the Avant-Garde artists, the subject matter has become less important with Khalid. In some of his works, the subject may not be traceable at all, yet is there, I believe, for Khalid, the subject of the painting is emotion evoked by the forms, colours and structure of the painting itself. (The Nation, December 4th, 1992)

In 1994 he gave his own comments on his paintings during an interview to Huma Masroor, he said “I dictate myself not by intentions but by mood. The mood keeps on changing. Therefore, I am not stick to one theme. I try my hand at everything that I feel like painting. I rely on colours because they reflect emotions in a very forceful manner.” (The News International, Monday, November 17th, 1994)

Themes and subjects do not bind him. His work begins in his mind and he starts with a dab of colour on canvas, and he said, “I play with colours which is my language. The beginning of the alphabet, and I add with more strokes, the entire work develops from it. I remain engrossed and captivated, as the colours dictate my strokes” His line of work was very strong but he finds it to be the limitation he needs.

From the beginning a professional lawyer to attaining a doctorate in art history, Dr Khalid Mahmud truly institutionalises the old masters’ style of realism, Bibigul examines his art traditions and the professional journey that has awarded him a veteran stature as an artist. 

Practicing as a criminal lawyer at the Lahore District Courts, Professor Dr Khalid Mahmud did his best to continue as such but eventually found himself changing course. “Fine arts was my elective subject at BA. But even before that, when I was still at school, my ‘lines’ were very good and I used to dabble in art on and off”

The District Courts in Lahore lie close to the old campus of Punjab University. So, after finishing his work by midday, Dr Mahmud would then walk down the foot path to either the YMCA or the Coffee House. These places were home to most of the intellectuals of the city and many activities would be taking place there. Dr Mahmud recalls, “It wasn’t just the artists who would lounge about there – though Shakir Ali and Khalid Iqbal were regulars.

I remember famous writers like Safdar Mir and poet Habib Jalib among many others being there quite regularly. A cup of tea was most enjoyable in their company. My walking route used to be the track that runs close to the Lahore museum, not the opposite one, for deep inside I knew if I walked on that side of the road, or even looked that way towards the Punjab University, I would be trapped forever. The lure was threatening to cloud my person.

And that is exactly what happened when Khalid found himself walking the forbidden footpath. “I bumped into an old friend right at the front of the main gate, who asked me to come to the Department of Fine Arts just for a bit and said I could meet Khalid Iqbal there too, and then we would walk down to the YMCA.” That was the undooing of his resolve not to get smitten by the paint bug, because when he went in, Khalid Sahib (Iqbal) asked the young Khalid Mahmud to model for a portrait (a paitning that he still has and treasires). He soon became a refular at the department, and one day, when Mrs Ahmed came in to discuss admissions for the new Masters in Fine Arts, he hesitantly what if he were to apply too. Mrs Ahmed came up to him, gave a big hug and saud, “welcome home” and that was how it began. His parents had no knowledge of his joining the art classes as he also continued to practice law two days a weela nd attend university for the rest of the time.”

In 1964 he was offered a teaching positin at the Fine Arts Department, before the result was declared, “Shakir Ali was the interview baord, He gaev me a good report and I wasn in.” 

Pakistan did not have fuunds for higher education so Kahlid responded to the East West Center scholarship announcements in the papers. Five students in all were chosen from bothe Wsest Pakistana and what is now Bangladesh. When it came to the chouce of subjects, Mrs. Ahmed again came to his rescure, sahing that the department already had good painting teachers, so he should take up art hsitory as there was nobody tot each this subject in the department. “I speacialised in eastern hsitory, i.e. far east and south Asia.” Khalid did his MA in Art History in 1969 from the university of Hawaii and later in 1980 he completed a Ph.D. in Fine Arts.

His work carries a distincive bearing, one that grows from an extensive academic faction. The base is solid, but when it comes to expression, it mellows down, allowign emotional fluidity. Khalid’s focus is on capturing the mood of activity “My paintings are not supposed to be moral lessons, they do not carry any political overtures and there is no social satire. I do art for art’s sake.”

Having travelled extensively and being deeply entrenched in Pakistani Art himself, he feels that once a viewer looks at most of the painting, it does not offer a new experience the next time to a large extent in the art of Pakistan. “Being in this field, one learns a lot. These lessons that are embedded in the mind. Like Cézanne, who wanted to create, ‘art of the museum,’ meaning that every time one looks at art work it must convey a new experience.”

Because he is a student of Asian art. He finds that “Chinese art never makes a complete statement. Photographic correctness is not right and everything keeps changing. Asian art is known for its mystical element, something that is rare in the west where artists are often influenced by Asian philosophy. The American Artist Morris Graves, was influenced by Buddhist philosophy and practiced that religion too. Once he stopped doing that, his work became ordinary.” On the other hand, Khalid feels that he lives in a society which is overwhelmed by the presence of saints, both alive and departed. Almost every other there day there is an urs. The Data Sahib’s urs is an event of great magnitude and consequently, mysticism prevails in the air all the time.

He admits to belonging to an older generation and says, “I am still anchored with old traditions and these are embedded so deep that they refuse to go away. Being an art historian and critic, I am able to synthesise the east with the west in an impartial way.” Ideas are inspired from the modern art, but this is also linked to the deeper side of the mind and the heart. Generally, landscape painters do not focus on the atmospheric mood, instead they capture the ambience of the land and its people. In his paintings it is not only the ambiance but the prominent side represent the mystical, spiritual and inner story of the artist. 

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