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Seeing ‘Sight Specific’

In Mohammad Ali Talpur’s latest show at the Austin/Desmond Fine Art, London, he transforms a static image into a moving possibility

Seeing ‘Sight Specific’

Just take a walk on a street of Lahore, and you will see zebra crossing, footpaths divided into lines, mobile phone towers hovering above rooftops, barbed wires in front of important buildings, electricity wires stretched to poles, iron gates, and windows blocked with metal grills. Our eyes have become quite accustomed to encounter lines. We also see between the lines, all that is visible and imperceptible, actual and imaginary.

Lines guide, facilitate, and seduce us. Like the lines in Mohammad Ali Talpur’s art that offer a multitude of optical experiences to a viewer. On a first glance, it may remind of Op Art but it moves beyond a particular art movement, because it is more than merely visual pleasure or optical excitement.

To start with, Talpur has reduced himself to a specific palette, black and white which is significant, because the choice of chromatic order as well as the dimension of his surfaces link them to the printed page of a book (a progress from his calligraphy-based works from the past!). Looking at Talpur’s paintings, one almost forgets the touch of a human hand, a feeling enhanced due to the precision of mark and flatness of paint.

The achievement of Talpur in this visual language is not the craft or skill of making his mark but sophistication in utilising his means — minimum in this situation — that turns his work into a lasting web, capturing a viewer’s gaze and attention.

Yet the work takes another turn. While installed in front of you, it steps out of its confined rectangle/square, expands beyond its frame, vibrates in the eyes of the viewer and keeps shifting like a surfer on a water tide. Talpur manages that impact through his manipulation of black lines on white areas. With the vertical marks meeting each other, apparently straight or slightly bent, and horizontal lines composed in varying scheme, first impression is bound to change immediately. For example, in one work, the lines seemingly parallel towards the top of the canvas shift their direction towards the bottom. One is perplexed and unable to pick the point from which that diversion starts taking shape. Or lines merge with each other creating a sense of vibration, despite the fact that each line is of the same scale and of identical hue.

The achievement of Talpur in this visual language is not the craft or skill of making his mark but sophistication in utilising his means — minimum in this situation — that turns his work into a lasting web, capturing a viewer’s gaze and attention. The artist has succeeded in transforming a static image into a moving possibility. Because the moment you set your eyes on these canvases, you are entangled into a movement suggested with an interplay of lines.

For some years, Talpur has been working with calligraphy in his art. Calligraphy or text is mainly used to communicate an idea. Like language which is a tool to converse with another human being, to convey thoughts, feelings, and experiences. But while doing so, one is bound to express more than what is intended. May be that is due to the structure of language, or the nature of written format that transmits more than what was initially planned by the speaker and writer. In the art of Talpur, it is the other layer of language that has been picked, enhanced and activated. Its genesis being in line (hence connected to text), the imagery operates on optical, sensory and subliminal levels.

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After deciding to deal with abstraction in his work (“Abstraction is the bogey-boo of those incapable of it” A. R. Ammons), Talpur opted for the realm of senses instead of the trap of narrative and meaning. Yet, due to its imagery, his work is about language and its power. Because like a written/spoken word that creates diverse reactions in its reader/audience, the lines in different sequences in Talpur’s work invite numerous responses from the viewers. Though varied, each surface captivates a viewer’s glance. In that sense these paintings are in conversation with the audience; they palpitate, recede, extend, disturb and dazzle.

Talpur has been using this diction for some years, but the new works from his solo exhibition Sight Specific being held from Jan 26-Feb 28, 2018 at the Austin/Desmond Fine Art, London are more daring in terms of negotiating with a person’s perception. Each canvas is a web of lines but due to its careful, conscious and clever composition, the lines become a mass that can speak in different tones and tongues to each new viewer. The meticulous rendering of lines hallucinates and entangles an individual. It takes him away from his usual surroundings to another hemisphere (the sphere of art) in which he may ponder upon the question of his existence.

If one compares Talpur’s latest work to his past paintings, one realises that in the recent pieces, the artist has distanced himself from an easily graspable content. In most of the works, the confusion about the usage of similar line soon gives way to excitement in discovering that what we consider as equal, symmetrical and harmonious is not exactly so. It suggests limitless variations on the theme of similarity. Like the nib of a master calligrapher, the viewer is bewitched with the mathematical division of spaces and marks made by human hand. If you set eyes on these paintings — regardless of their scale or complexity — you keep discovering the left out space between the strips of black lines.

The work of Talpur in its essence is about a simple fact — how a visual entity can become a visual experience that takes over a human being despite all political, religious and societal elements, obligations and references. Viewing lines in the art of Mohammad Ali Talpur’s work, one is reminded of Roland Barthes’ essay The Eiffel Tower in which he observes that wherever you are in Paris, you are bound to see the structure; likewise the Tower also looks at you. He mentions a restaurant where Maupassant often went for lunch even though “he didn’t care much for the food: It’s the only place in Paris, he used to say, where I don’t have to see it.”

Quddus Mirza

Quddus Mirza
The author is an art critic based in Lahore

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