myspace-1Komail at his desk, with one of his pieces from last year in the background

For Komail Aijazuddin, a deep affinity with art was something he had been born with. Developing a relationship with painting, however, came later in his life. Growing up, Komail’s parents were quick to see that he demonstrated extraordinary ability as an artist. When they first saw his drawings at age four, it was instantaneously decided that Komail would be enrolled in art classes. During vacations, the family would take trips to museums — when other upper-class Pakistani families were taking their kids to Hamley’s, the biggest toy store in London. In his summer vacations, he studied with Colin David. But art was still a distant and seemingly obscure idea to Komail. It wasn’t until he went to college — in Canada and later in the US — that he began to see art as a profession. “My parents are art historians and collectors, so I grew up with a lot of paintings around the house,” he tells me when I meet him in his studio in Lahore’s St. John’s Park. There are oil paints all over the main room where he works, with motivating inscriptions on the wall. His gorgeous red-and-gold-leaf paintings are stacked against the wall (Komail will show his new work, which includes a stunning jharoka, at Khaas gallery in Islamabad from September 17 to 28).


myspace-9Komail with his newest work, most recently exhibited in a solo show, “Red & Gold,” at Khaas Gallery in Islamabad

After Komail received his distinction in Art in the O Levels, he received two gifts from his father. The first was a sketch of Colin David, from the artists days at Slade. The second was a trip to Italy. His father took him to Rome to see the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, with its iconic ceiling painted by Michelangelo.

During their vacations, the family would take trips to museums when other upper-class Pakistani families were taking their kids to Hamley’s, the biggest toy store in London

At college, Komail began in the liberal arts, but quickly made a switch to art history when he transferred from McGill to New York University. “The more I studied Art History, the more I realized that artists think differently and happen to be good at being able to read the history of art and distill information in a way that is different from most people,” he tells me. He studied Art History as a rigorous program that constituted mainly Greek and Roman art. Thus, in following, he began a string of stints in art and other creative pursuits.



After a year of having worked for Amnesty International, he tested the waters and worked briefly at a magazine. “Writing was also something I really wanted to do because I write as much as I paint.” Komail was 21, in New York, and couldn’t see what it was that he really wanted to do. He worked at a gallery, an auction house, wrote about art, in addition to working as a theatre critic. At the age of 22, after having done a whole host of desk jobs, he had an epiphany: “If  9-to-5 is a very large part of your day, for the rest of your life, it is imperative you do something you really, really enjoy doing. And it seems arrogant, but whatever someone else will pay you to do something you don’t like is not often worth it.” Komail bit the bullet and enrolled in an MFA program at Pratt University in New York.



He realized that he became more and more interested in painting. “I started including the application of gold-leaf to my painting process and I started doing it as therapy almost,” he says. “I had stopped painting for a long time between 18 and 21, which for a painter is a long time. I felt this great betrayal for some reason. And the only way to rationalize that betrayal was to paint about it.”



As one of the highlights of his career, at the end of grad school, Komail spent a year dealing in art and working in an Israeli gallery. It was a fun time in his life but for Komail it was clear that the microcosm of the art world would continue to exist in Brooklyn or in Chelsea. In other words, it was not relevant to him. The strength of his identity and earliest influences made him see that the art world and market in New York were self referential, academic and deeply rooted in American and Western Art History.



I probed Komail to tell me more about Pakistani Art. “I don’t know about Pakistani Art or artists, I think about Art in Pakistan,” he says. “I don’t know if we’ve developed a definition for Pakistani Art and what that is,” he says, with his classic mix of skepticism and intelligence. “The — isms of the west came and influenced our part of the world later, like reruns of old TV shows, but also in a way that was interpreted by local artists that resulted in distinctly different formal elements from the — isms from which they were derived.” He traces a lack of indigenous movements in Pakistani art as a problem. “The followers of influential artists are what make an art movement. Colin David doesn’t have followers right now in the way he should. I have adored his work and I will be a big proponent of it for the rest of my life.”

‘I’m wary of the fact that Pakistani Art is topical right now because the country is war-torn, and as long as that continues, there will be an interest in it’

The strongest and oldest painting tradition of our region, to date, is that of miniature painting. With eastern techniques, the work is measured and thoughtful and skilled. “You try and imbibe something from whatever community you’re in but at the same time, painting is not a team sport,” says Komail. “It’s important to be aware of how you are considered and what other people are doing in this country, yet it is not a team sport,” he says, outlining the inherent contradictions of being an artist — a fundamentally solitary process, with years of history stretching behind you.



Komail attributes the dearth of more groundbreaking movements in Pakistani art to the sheer lack of painters. “Creative people from different industries can get grouped together under the same banner if they aren’t enough of them in their respective fields to advance individual schools of thought. The local Pakistani scene has little or no presence in the international Art world when it comes to galleries and curatorial prowess. If you go to Art Dubai or the Venice Biennale or Art Istanbul, you won’t find a Pakistani gallery there. There may be dozens of Pakistani artists, but almost no galleries from Pakistan, which speaks volumes.”

 He has spent time understanding his relationship with Pakistan to solidify his own appreciation of creating work in the country. He uses traditional techniques that could only be made by local Pakistani craftspeople. The jharoka stands out in his most recent work as a distinctly South Asian element.

‘I have adored Colin David’s work and I will be a big proponent of it for the rest of my life’

After finishing up a show, Komail takes a breather, a small vacation or a short stint of doing absolutely nothing. It’s the well-deserved reward for someone who has bared their soul, creating art in a studio alone, day in and day out, with only one’s own thoughts and routine load-shedding as accompaniments! Later, once the work is out, “to defend and market your work can really churn your insides — from the time of the creation of the pieces till when they are sold,” he laughs. The good news is that Komail takes his painting seriously. It is a profession. “The risk of failure is high and truthfully and simply, artists should know where their strength lies. The other great thing about art, he says, is that “it’s a platform from which you can attack lots of different things. But I’m wary of the fact that Pakistani art is topical right now because the country is war-torn and as long as that continues, there will be an interest in it.”


myspace-8Komail walks GT through his various processes

“The jharoka,” he continues, “is craft, but art here in Pakistan it is not only on a wall, it’s utilitarian. There is use to it. There is a tremendous amount of philosophy behind Islamic Art for example that is not based on craft.”

I leave the studio in a bit of daze, having just been given a frighteningly intelligent and considered tour of Art History, and particularly the place and development of Pakistani Art in it. “You do what you do and if you do it well, your work will do well because at the end of the day, you have to defend yourself. My advice for painters is to tell the truth in their work. The closer you get to the truth, the better people respond to it. It is a brave thing to do, and it is not an easy thing to do in a country like Pakistan.”

Good Times


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