During my stay in Karachi last month, everyone suggested I should go visit Imran Mir before he dies. The advice though sincere made me uncomfortable. I did not want to remember Imran Mir as a dying person.
His death on October 28 did not come as a surprise; it was a tragedy foretold. And yet it came as a shock because I could not have imagined him losing his health and going forever. Now that he has departed to an unknown land, I wonder what he will do with his incredible aesthetic ability.
It was his unique aesthetic sense that drew me and many others towards him and his art. In the personality of Imran Mir, one could not detach life from art — both perceived and pursued with the same level of intensity, which resulted in producing beauty. Beauty, like love, has lost it meaning due to overuse but, in his case, it was evident in the way he dressed, organised his house, produced his work as a graphic designer and created his art.
Imran Mir was a man of many dimensions. But, as it happens, after death only one identity becomes more prominent than the rest. Besides his involvement with his communication design company The Circuit, he was best known and admired for his art. Although he did not exhibit his paintings frequently, his work was distinct for its pictorial qualities and formal concerns. To him, art was more than a spontaneous act of daubing canvases with splashes of paint in all directions or a means to revive tradition or a mode to concoct emblems of identity. For him art was a search towards the essence of images — the philosophical quest to explore nature of things and ideas.
His series of works, with the general title ‘Paper on Modern Art’, reflects how Imran Mir approached visual content as a conceptual matter. In these works, one finds reference to the ideas of Golden Section (from Greek period), perfect calculation of ideal human proportions (Leonardo da Vinci) and the art of Sublime (American Abstract Expressionism). However all these were adapted and assimilated in such as manner that these links existed as points of departure and debate, and led to contemporary art of absolute originality.
Contemporary and originality are significant notions in his art. Grim political scenarios, religious violence, repression on the basis of sex, sect and ethnicity are supposed to denote the issues of the times in art. But there are paths other than these predictable ones available to a creative individual; for instance, to move away from the temptation of the immediate (a plague peculiar to our electronic media) and to find solace in the essence and eternity of art is also a way of making a serious statement. It is to affirm that life can not be reduced into small spheres (be those political or religious confines) because human being is a much bigger entity, with various dimensions. Likewise, art is also not limited to its times because ideally (like the art of the classic) it connects with multiple times.
Hence Mir’s work is a testimony of the truth of timelessness in art.
This sense of timelessness in an uncanny way was a part of his personality. I hardly recall a moment with him when he was in a hurry. This was the secret of his pictorial practices. If a person has to paint a flat surface of 12 feet in a single colour, he can not be in a rush — like the traditional Indian miniaturists. In that particular painting ‘Tenth Paper on Modern Art’ one finds ecliptic structure made of wires (white lines on black background), a feat that requires repose and restraint in a painter’s hand and mind.
The composure of personality must not be confused with coldness because Imran Mir exuded warmth, sincerity and friendship. Just the fact that he was on equally good terms with Zahoor ul Akhlaq and Iqbal Geoffrey confirms he was open in his opinion, support and love for the art of great value.
His house was always available for his artist friends as were his walls decorated with works of artists he admired, ranging from a woodcarver in Interior Sindh to Iqbal Geoffrey, from Zahoor ul Akhlaq to Zarina Hashmi and several others.
One must mention the two Rashids of the art world who were close to him. Rashid Ahmed Arshed was his teacher at the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts in Karachi, when he joined it in 1968, and contributed an insightful essay on him ‘Imran Mir-Non objective Surrealist’ in Mir’s catalogue printed in 2005. The other is Rashid Rana who, from his early years at the art school, has been a great admirer of Mir’s work. Over the years, the admiration became a two sided affair.
As the curator of Beyond Borders the largest survey exhibition of Pakistani art outside the country, at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai in 2005, I had no doubts about including Mir’s and Rashid’s work. The only difficulty in the case of Mir was deciding upon a single piece since each of his works offered something unusual and exciting. Therefore, the choice was made of a painting which incorporated both cerebral and emotional features of his art. I felt that the work described him best since it denoted the often neglected side, the minimal vocabulary in our art.
The element of minimum was not a quality of his paintings and sculptures only; it was a characteristic of his personality too. I realised this when I went to meet him for the first time to interview for a book on Pakistani art in 1996. He did not speak much but what he said was as precise and precious as his paintings.
You can view Imran Mir’s works on his website here.