1985 - 2021
1985 - 2021
Numair A Abbasi | Dawn EOS | Feb 2020
Exploring Space and Form
Space and its properties remain an important preoccupation for Ayessha Quraishi. She has explored their ineffable qualities in the study of consciousness, in which space has served as an intermediary between “senses and states.” In her recent show at Canvas Gallery, all that is, is held, Ayessha has extended her meditative expressions of space by taking inspiration from the physical properties of matter.
Her entryway into the physical world came in the form of an X-ray of a friend’s hand (‘Hand-1’). Her deliberations on the X-ray became a wormhole into the complexity of body structures. Ayessha expanded her investigation by adding CT scans to her study. The outcome of her investigations has yielded an exhibition of unusual hybridity.
Light consists of different wavelengths that range from radio waves to gamma rays. The human eye can only see a portion of the spectrum that is known as visible light. The Impressionists were concerned with this accurately depicted band of light in their paintings. Its dynamic and transitory properties characterised the energy of their canvases.
By basing her investigations on sight readings that go beyond the visible spectrum and into the high frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum, Ayessha has enhanced her understanding of space and matter with the help of science. She looks at the body, and she reinterprets its complexity into art. Her imaginative use of material (re-purposed X-rays, re-purposed CT scans, distressed wrapping paper, paper, ink, oil paint, aluminum foil, paper stickers) results in a spectrum of poetic visual extrapolations regarding the structure and biology of the human body.
The ubiquity of X-ray imagery renders certain constructs made by Ayessha immediately recognisable, such as the images showing the skeletal hand (‘Hand – 1’ and ‘Hand – 2’) and the lungs (‘Chest’). In ‘Foot,’ she layers the X-ray strips with aluminum foil which has been crumpled and then flattened. The lines created by the crumpling are visible and add to the complexity of the work.
The use of line work is common to all the pieces in the show. It diverges from organic-looking crush lines to more geometric and angular lines as in the ‘Notes’ and the ‘Bodies in Motion’ series. This line work echoes Ayessha’s work in other shows where mark- and line-making indicated an intuitive approach to awareness. In all that is, is held, her intuition has found its complement in the hard physical evidence provided by medical machinery.
Visual art, even when based on scientific mechanism, is an act of reinterpretation. The imaginative faculty segues from hard evidence into unique expressions. In ‘Cell,’ the biological entity of the cell has been reinterpreted into a beautifully simple bipartite form that resembles the stoma of a leaf. In her work named ‘Black Square,’ Ayessha has repurposed an x-ray and album paper into a work that echoes the abstract minimalism of geometrical forms associated by Suprematism. Kazimir Malevich, a major proponent of the movement, wrote of getting rid of “the ballast of objectivity,’’ of evolving from representative form into pure abstraction.
In Ayessha’s work, the move from ‘’the ballast of objectivity’’ to imaginative art is nuanced. She does not wish to let go of the objective basis from which she derives her interpretations. Rather, she wants to create a dynamic link between them. ‘Black Square’ straddling calligraphy and geometry as it does, is an enigmatic image. The enigma is made more comprehensible by placing the work in the context of the artist’s exploration of space. She says: “For me, intuitively speaking, there is nothing that is empty; space without matter is not empty. Subtle encompasses dense, less is more. Being and not-being float in a pool of aliveness. All that is, is held.”
Clearly, Ayessha has recognised the paradox of space and matter where neither can exist without the other. The optical, electromagnetic and geometrical properties of space combine to create definitive form. Where the scientific apparatus serves to make structures visible, the metaphysical imagination explores the paradoxical nature of the invisible. Together, they open our minds to the manifold ways of making the universe more cogent.
There is a meditative quality to Ayessha Quraishi’s panoramic work, a sense that raw feeling has been distilled into something perceptible but inexplicable. At her recent show at Koel Gallery titled Open Presence, Ayessha comes across as a medium for subliminal feelings that barely break the surface of conscious thought. Her statement explains: “Open Presence is the acknowledgement of the space of consciousness, an intermediate space between senses and states.”
Ayessha is a self-taught artist who has been exhibiting in group and solo shows since 1989. She has also participated in two biennials in Turkey. This is her second show at Koel Gallery.
Ayessha renders her idea of what constitutes intermediate space by creating abstract fields of colour, geometry and texture. She uses colour in striated bands and feathery strokes in the style of gestural mark painting — a term that developed out of the Abstract Expressionism of the ‘action painters’ such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. The loose and flowing application of paint was meant to represent a mental state or emotion and therefore create a subjective landscape of inner feelings.
Ayessha’s paintings come across as serene rather than dynamic. Her art is anti-didactic and metaphysical. It leaves comprehensibility up to the response of the viewer. There is a hint of automatism, of letting the emotions filter the impressions of the universe through the person of the artist. This is particularly evident in works which combine abstraction with some recognisable imagery as in the paired paintings titled ‘in the absolute presence of a distant light’ 1 & 2. Painted in monochromatic shades of grey, these paintings show a glimmer of the distant horizon as if seen on a dark, moonless night.
Her work is purely abstract. She restricts the colour palette to white, black and sepia hues. In the series ‘touching blind, inside out’ 1-10, worked in oil and pigment on paper, a similar exploration with secondary colour mixes has been executed to the point where several paintings are virtual colour fields with impasto paint. Number 1 in the ‘touching blind…’ series emphasises texture alone, as it is painted ivory white with all over cracking of the paint.
Each work is accompanied by a poetic title that gives a hint about Ayessha’s state of mind that has inspired that particular piece. The titles are as enigmatic as they are intriguing, such as ‘a word of love in the shape of burning awareness, I offer.’ All titles are written in lower case and form a significant part of the viewing experience. Their riddling play appeals to intuition rather than to the intellect.
Several paintings have been unconventionally framed within wide, wooden brackets that grasp the sheet of paper at two ends.
Two beautiful wood sculptures are included in the show. Their material is raw, fissured and unpolished, with rounded curves as if sculpted by wind and water. The sculpture titled ‘dawning into coherence’ stands upright at 40 inches. It is barely suggestive of the human form and yet it cannot be mistaken for anything else. The second sculpture called ‘the form of the last shadow’ is horizontal, perhaps in death or sleep. The strongly embryonic and featureless mass of the sculptures suggests states of intermediate being rather than accomplished form. The titles provoke reflection on what comes before and what is left after the business of living.
The wall-mounted plaque at the entrance of the gallery displays the artist’s statement, which also includes quotations by two writers. The first quotation is from Andrew Harvey, a writer on mystic traditions. His quotation includes the statement: “The journey and all its different ordeals are all emanations of the One Spirit that is manifesting everything in all dimensions…”
The second quotation is from P D Ouspensky, the Russian esoteric philosopher. It states: “It is only when we realise that life is taking us nowhere that it begins to have meaning.”
A spectrum of sorts comes into being between the “One Spirit” in Harvey’s quotation and the “nowhere” in Ouspensky’s statement. Within the spectrum of an all-encompassing energy and an indeterminate journey, numerous intermediate states become possible. The artist’s pairing of quotations provides another clue with regard to her intent in developing the notion of open presence.
After a hibernation of 14 years, Ayessha Quraishi is showing her art again. Her last solo exhibition was held in 1998 at the Indus Gallery in Karachi; her recent work was shown at the Koel Gallery in Karachi from Nov 29-Dec 8, 2012. The exhibition, titled ‘Letters from an Underground Vein Read’ comprised 44 art pieces, mostly in oil and acrylic on paper or timber. Apart from one, all her works were executed in black, white and different shades of grey.
One is not aware of the reason behind this long absence but, knowing Ayessha Quraishi, this is nothing unexpected. Quraishi is not keen on maintaining a public persona of a painter; nor is she interested in displaying her work regularly or marketing it. For her, art making is a private act, a sort of meditation and the most suitable idiom is the abstract. The surfaces, rendered with various kinds of tones and textures and devoid of any readable imagery, require a certain level of concentration — by the maker as well as the viewer. Gazing at her paintings with their layers of paint and a variety of visual effects, the viewer is bound to share the experience of the painter and whatever she aims to transmit through her work.
Yet, the artist’s decision to become invisible (just like the non-existent figures in her canvases) in the art world is an important step. Considering the trend of repeated shows by certain artists in multiple galleries, Quraishi’s approach appears unusual. She may have produced significant works in the past but, in our circumstances, an artist has to perform and exhibit continuously, irrespective of quality and just to meet the pressure of art galleries and the market. It is the quantity that ensures an artist’s status in the closely constructed world of art.
At the Koel Gallery, Ayessha Quraishi has put up works created with minimal aesthetics. Sweeps of black paint, areas of white, and coats of thin colours is all that her imagery is about. Often, the black and white portions are composed within single works while several paintings are variations in different dark hues. In some works, only a slight mark was used to complete the visual. Despite the diversity of pictorial elements, by and large, the works are created in an expressionistic manner, leaving strokes of brush, drips of paint and lines made by the moving hand/arm intact.
However, unlike the general practice, these do not seem hurriedly applied marks; these contain the artist’s subtle, sensitive and delayed touch. In fact, the work rather than denoting some sort of ‘expression’ reveals a sense of meditation and reflection — on the space, colour and form. These art pieces appear simple but turn complex when a spectator sets his gaze and concentrates on the detail.
It might be that the experience of meditation is the real content that the artist desires to convey to her audience. The slowness, softness and smoothness of life is perhaps her actual intention.
The aspect of quietness and meditation was visible when the artist bent, quietly unfolded and rolled out her long scroll containing a sequence of similar kind of visuals on the opening day of her exhibition. For the visitors, it was like looking at a film reel displaying section after section and finishing before the last episode/frame. However, unlike a film which has a narrative, with a beginning, middle and end, the long scroll of Quraishi consisted of almost identical images, mainly because those were interconnected; the whole piece was conceived and treated as a uniform work.
The work of Quraishi has another connection with the world of cinema; it is her chromatic choice that links it with the realm of the celluloid. If one examines the history of cinema (even in that brief span of almost a hundred years), the film has gone through many stages: from silent movies to black & white cinema to coloured motion pictures to the now digitally made movies. Whatever the developments we have already seen or envisage for the future, there is still a romance attached with the black & white cinema (in photography, too, b&w prints are aesthetically rated higher than the colour or digital photographs).
This approach is equally preferred in other areas of cultural and artistic expression; thus any work in monochromatic tones is regarded as sophisticated. Arguably, the association of a single colour with the idea of sophistication was based upon the assumption that one could excel at a time when not many means were available (an observation that may be true for films but not in relation to visual arts where black and white are just like other pigments that are easily available). So, a work of art in black and white is considered challenging because the artist has deliberately avoided embellishing it with other shades.
One needs to realize that instead of colours, there may be other elements, formal and conceptual, which could fulfill the absence of various hues. In the case of Quraishi, a range of textures and tension between thick and thin application of paint served to satiate the eyes — much like the Chinese watercolour paintings which capture the sensation of a scene with their innumerable tones of grey. One must admire Ayessha Quraishi’s choice for having shunned a wider palette (even though there were a few exceptions in the exhibition) but, likewise, she has forsaken the trap of concepts, meanings and content, and taken her art to a brave new world of sensation and sensuousness.