When I first saw artist Mohammad Iqbal’s paintings one and a half decades ago, I was very much enthralled by his figural compositions and protagonists’ appropriate articulations on canvas. Figures and the overall structures of the compositions have clearly highlighted the society’s socio-economic and political mayhem. He has engrossed himself with his themes. Iqbal has always been provoked by the anomalies in his surroundings. First and foremost, the best quality of Iqbal is his candid honesty and true passion for his paintings. His paintings are always a particular theme-based and portray the underprivileged and ignored people in our society. His works mirror the bitter realities of society. His themes centre on the mystics and the marginalised. The subjects have been addressed at times with abhorrence against the injustices they face and often with anxiety and rage.
Under the title “Migration: Dreaming of a Safer World”, a series of paintings by the artist focuses on the pains and agonies of migrant workers. In his paintings, it has been apparent that the protagonists suffer from lack of food and shelter. Their eyes are full of fear and anxiety over the loss of wages and well-being of their families. They also face harassment and negative reactions in their local communities. When the artist worked on the theme, he detected that uneven development is the main reason for migration. The obvious manifestations of uneven development include poverty, fragmentations of land and lack of employment opportunities. Large family sizes and natural calamities are also among the reasons for migration, the artist has observed. The painter gives more importance to the implied meaning of his subjects than their technical aspects. He has used impasto layers, in which the materials intertwine with other stuffs. Besides gripping the subject, he was occupied with thick colour where he created the character with help from superbly used spatula and brush on his canvas.
Iqbal had done the series “Unfettered Life” in the 1990s chiefly with a strong philosophical theme---Bauls, a group of mystic minstrels of the country. Many of his characters on canvas are usually saint, spiritualist, exploited people and mystics. The artist feels Bauls can often be identified by their philosophical views, distinctive clothes and musical instruments. Not much is known of their origin, though. Several of his works focus on the lives of Bauls. The Baul’s way of life and philosophy attract him the most as he finds spirituality and sanctity in them. The differences prevailing within the economic structures of a capitalistic habitat leads him to portraying their lifestyles.
Iqbal has usually used oil and acrylic on canvas, Japanese paper specially washi paper, and pastel on paper. He is very meticulous about creating the ground of the canvas. To create the background for his paintings, the artist layers eight to ten times before making a level satisfactory enough for plunging deep into his subject easily. He has created varied kinds of dots, tiny round and oval sized forms with different shades. Some of his canvases are engrossed with vague forms, compositions and shadowy figures. Sometimes the painter applies colours directly -- piling them up faintly thick, and at times thin -- on the canvas, and tries to create an image that is dynamic and has appealing texture and sensuous tones. The backgrounds of most of his compositions are occupied by abstract forms, soothing colours and soft tones. Some works include engraved ambiguous forms while others are populated by scribbles and amorphous forms. Iqbal invests considerable time on each painting. The most significant feature of his paintings is that the surfaces of his paintings appear to us in same tone in every spaces of his painting.
Iqbal is most comfortable working on a large canvas, as his themes and compositions demand space. His work is elucidated by a powerful interplay of figures and space, helped by strong and controlled brushstrokes. The figures—sometimes in the middle of the canvas, sometimes on the side—always come into view in front of a backdrop.
Iqbal is simultaneously workaholic and scholarly sound. Over the course of years, he has been doggedly experimenting. He gives a precise explanation to his figures, forms and compositions which make a new meaning for his paintings. He always provides a new look for each of his expositions. The painter is always driven to explore something novel. It breaks boredom for him and he believes art can be enriched through experimentation.
The writer is an art critic and cultural curator.