The Glory of the Common Man
More than a hundred paintings are included in Rafiqun Nabi's Retrospective at Bengal Gallery this December (7 to 19). It certainly should make the artist proud of his achievement, although like so many master painters of the world, he is not totally satisfied. The works include oil, acrylic, water colour, etching, charcoal drawing and his famous cartoon drawings.
It is perhaps his fastidiousness regarding his own works that has prodded him on to produce so many and such diverse works that have delighted and provoked his fans. It may have had something to do with Nabi's father, a policeman and a self-taught painter who constantly guided him and egged him on. He tried to influence him by his own taste of painters, beginning with Zainul Abedin. Nabi watched how he painted, as a child quickly adopting a passion that began to define his destiny.
For Nabi artists of any trend appeal to him. Asked about his liking for the modern artists, he says that there are many among his favourites. Fauvists and Cubists and Dadaists, naturally appeal to him. Impressionists, Expressionists, post-moderns are Constant influences. They all appeal to his sensibility. He also likes the experimentation of the present day artists.
Among the creations that cram the Bengal Gallery rooms are nudes that he had done in charcoal in 1972-1974. Although just in black and white, the drawings are mesmerising. Others like 'A visit to Rome' with a caricature of Da Vinci's Sistine Chapel, and 'the Leaning Tower of Pisa' are superb pieces of work. The latter is a particularly striking piece, done in baby blue, egg-yolk yellow and jet black.
'Untitled- 9' depicts his well-loved character 'Tokai', surrounded by other sleeping, street urchins with three crows for company. 'Fish-6' is a woodcut on paper, depicting three jet-black fish, with other larger fish in the backdrop, merged with gray, light amber and other more buoyant hues like emerald, ruby and topaz yellow. His 'Maheshkhali', 1968, is a marvel of a collection of wicker-covered boats, with boatmen, billowing waves and the shrub-covered land in the foreground. This is a clarion call to celebrate one's country's simple, honest people. In this he is like SM Sultan and Zainul Abedin.
About his teachers, he says he has been very lucky, as he got Shilpachary Zainul Abedin, Aminul Islam, Safiuddin Ahmed, Quamrul Hassan, Mohammed Kibria, Abdur Razzak and Rashid Chowdhury and Kazi Abdul Baset and Qayyum Chowdhury as his direct teachers. Murtaja Basir , he regarded as a painter to admire.
Asked about his likings in Europe, the confident, curly- haired artist says, without a pause, “Leaving Cubists and Dadaist of the past, the recent paintings of mine with the Coliseum and the Sistine Chapel are like collages of the mind. This is more a type of fun, with my image included. I went to Rome, Florence, Pisa, in the recent past, in 2005. As for the Tate Gallery and the Guggenheim there were many paintings and sculptures there that one admired. The socio – economic and political situations of the artists there were different from what it is in our country today. When going from a small and relatively new country one is amazed and overwhelmed. Gallery- wise, artist -wise and critique –wise, and their publicity – it will take us hundreds of years to ever come to that level. Their value is sung the world over.”
In a span of around five decades Rafiqun Nabi has explored all kinds of mediums always coming up with a new adventure in art, never failing to delight, provoke and surprise his audience. The 'Quest of Reality' documents this kaleidoscopic journey.