Khalid Iqbal as an artist was a person of enormous national significance. He was a painter of painters; a teacher of teachers; an icon of truth for those who sincerely pursue creative expression. He held firm views about painting and life but neither enforced them or sought endorsement from others. As a rule he preferred to remain aloof and was greatly respected for it.
He was born on June 23, 1929 at Simla and was sent to school at Deradoon. In the mid ‘50ss he joined Aitchison College, Lahore as an art teacher and later proceeded to study painting at the Slade School of Art, London. Subsequently after the Slade he came back and joined the Fine Arts Department of Punjab University. In 1964 Iqbal joined National College of Arts, of which he later became principal.
Iqbal as mentioned had his schooling at the well known boarding school at Deradoon. He grew up to be a man of immense sophistication, both of mind and manners, but kept his anglicised self buried under a cultivated casual demeanour. He was essentially a highbrow person; tight lipped to strangers; amiable and amusing to only those known to him. He possessed a tremendous sense of humor; often a tear or two innocently drained out of his eyes when someone skillfully narrated him a joke, but ironically he never experienced life as fun.
It is quite amazing how a man of his intellect and inherited middle class social attributes, could own and sympathise with common sights and familiar routine stuff pertaining to common life. Iqbal truthfully observed a recorded their appearance that enriched and enhanced the perception and awareness of generations of painters, art students ad citizens. What Constable did for the English and Manet, Monet and their contemporaries for the French- making them actually for the first time see how they and their surroundings actually looks – Iqbal performed the same task for us. A leap in a different direction form Ustad Allah Baksh’ vivid romantic depiction of Punjab landscape and AR Chugtai’s radiant classical conceptions. In Iqbal’s landscapes no viewer can visualize or even dream a congregation of village maidens under his sinuous foliage of stray trees; nor can one ever dream of a classical heroin sailing across a fodder field in the far distance or draping over a mud wall or pining for her lover stretched on a parched stretch in the foreground of his landscapes.
Iqbal as a painter and an individual and an individual never flattered persons or spiced his works. His objectivity hardly ever wavers. While painting he treated all elements of the picture surface with equal respect, which enabled the artist to establish aesthetic unity and a sense of timelessness. Regardless of the nature of the subject there is not the slightest budge in his method and process of painting. This is manifest in his works ranging from landscapes, still life and portraits.
Many admires of his landscapes are not familiar with his quite a few splendidly rendered portraits. He perceived a person with the same detachment, as he would paint any insensate object. Most individuals who want their portrait painted like the artist to improve upon them. It is understandable why Iqbal was never commissioned for a portrait; a commission he would never have accepted. The portraits that he rendered at his choosing and leisure are a treasure. These portraits range form a formal rendition of Anna Molka and other fellow artists to for who worked for him.
With Iqbal’s demise a dynamic period of Pakistani painting has come to an end. It was an eclectic period of trials and errors; a period of sifting grain from chaff; creatively enhancing discursive interaction. Above all in this post colonial period artists were challenged to redefine themselves to the new times and the widening world. These were the decades when art was prized for itself without support of words; when Iqbal, Shakir and Anna Molka could in spite of their enormous artistic disparities creatively coexist. A work of art was itself its own and only justification. It did not need a validation outside itself, as is the practice now. Art in those days stood its ground on its own two bare feet; artists were defined by their work. When artists talked they talked themselves seldom needing ‘Spokes Persons.’ Sadly, Iqbal has passed on. Sadly memory of his person, like all temporal things, will fade with time. I am certain that his work and ideas will always remain a source artistic enrichment and gratification for thirsty minds and for all those who need to truthfully seize their perceptions and structure their feelings and aesthetic experience.
Professor Khalid Iqbal died on June 23, the date he was born. What a tidy, balanced ending like most of his paintings.
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