UP CLOSE AND PERONAL WITH ZEHRA JAVERI

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USMAN AHMED CHATS WITH ARTIST ZEHRA JAVERI ABOUT FINALLY UNVEILING 20 YEARS’ WORTH OF ART, HER ELABORATE PROCESS OF CREATING EACH PIECE AND SELLING ART FOR CHILLI CHIPS

Do you remember your first interaction with Art? When did you decide you wanted to become an Artist?
I don’t remember a time when I was not drawing or painting. From the margins of notebooks to six foot canvases, it has been as essential to me as breathing. Luckily my parents always encouraged us to pursue our interests. I remember putting up Art shows for my dad from the age of six. He would give me Rs.50 for each painting that he liked and I would splurge on cokes and chilli chips for my friends.

How would you describe your aesthetic style to someone who isn’t familiar with your work?
I wouldn’t like to classify my work because it’s limiting to my evolution as an Artist. However, people have labeled my style surrealist because it deals with dream perception. Though that may be true in a sense, I feel that these tags refer to specific philosophical movements in time, and are out of context in our culture. I usually just tell people I paint weeds. What they mean to me is a whole different issue.

What is your favorite medium and why?
Oil Paint. It’s always oil because of its luminosity and malleability, as well as its history.

Tell us a little about your creative process. How do you begin a new piece—with an image in mind or a particular idea? When do you know a painting is finished?
Very often, an image will haunt me until I commit it to canvas, and there, it will evolve and take the shape it wants. The paintings usually direct themselves until they’re done. The painting titled “Eve” took nearly 18 years to finish, but another may take just 18 days. And, though I am often the tool for the image, my process is fairly elaborate. I alternate between glazing, which is layering thin glazes of paint to give it depth, to ala prima, which is a thicker wet-on-wet application. It’s like building from the base up in a way that the under-layers of the painting show through and inform the entire structure of the piece.

Tell us about your first solo show titled ‘Weeds’ which had been under wraps for nearly 20 years. What was your inspiration behind this much awaited solo show?
“Weeds” took so long because I didn’t feel ready to show my creations until I had worked out my process. Then, while I was clearing my studio, I took out all my paintings and was stunned to see they were ready. There was continuity in all the pieces. The weeds had worked themselves into most of the Art, knitting the show together. That’s one of the things weeds do: bind things.

Your artistic expression revolves around the themes of femininity, life and abundance? Where does your topics stem from interest in these?
My paintings don’t often start out as mission statements, but like any Artist, male or female, are born out of a need for self-expression. Of course, as a woman I offer a feminine perspective in a society that has no social symmetry between the genders. The role of a woman as a life-giver has been marginalized and co-opted. Life and birth are indeed empowering and my work aims to show the ancient connection between Nature and the feminine in order to reclaim that power.

Would you ever consider collaborating with your brother, Tapu Javeri?
Absolutely. I’d love to work with Tapu Bhai. He’s a wonderful brother and we’d have great fun doing a project together.

You both showed your work together at the prestigious Pakistan Art Today in New Delhi, do you feel there’s competition between you two or sibling rivalry when it comes to Art?
Not at all. Firstly we’re a very close-knit family that encourages and takes pride in each other’s work. And secondly, Tapu Bhai and I use different mediums so there is no question of rivalry. In fact, I was really excited to see our work hanging side by side in India. It was a remarkable opportunity to paint with the legendary and very gracious Indian Artist Satish Gujral and I’m glad we were there together.

Who are some of your favorite Pakistani artists?
My aunt and mentor Laila Shahzada because of her fearless use of colour, Sadequain for his passion and Zain-ul-Abedin for the strength of his line.

What do you want your audiences to take from your pieces?
A painting often functions like a mirror, so anything the audience takes from it was something they already brought to it. Often it’s very different than what the Artist imagined while painting it.

If you could gift a piece to anyone, which piece would it be and to who?
I’ve gifted several. My family has my work, and I presented Mr. Satish Gujral with a small piece as a token of thanks and to show him a new technique I’m working on, since he is a technical maestro. Of course, if I could do the impossible, I’d give the very first weed painting to my aunt, Laila Shahzada whom I had dreamt of amongst the weeds and who was the inspiration behind the painting. Sadly Aunty Laila died in a fire 20 years ago. As it stands, despite all the requests, that painting is never for sale.

What are your plans for the future? What are you working on right now?
I am currently wrapping up some requests while working on the next show. Without giving too much away, I will say that the new show focuses mainly on Karachi. And, since I’m thoroughly enjoying the spontaneity of my new technique, I’m giving myself a year or so to finish.

Can you explain the initial ideas behind you’re painting Karachi: A Fine Romance?
Interestingly, that painting is the bridge to my next show. The title is from a jazz song by Ella Fitzgerald and is about an impossible, unrequited romance. Karachi is a bit like that. You can love it, but heartbreak is all you’re going to get. With the degree of fear and anguish that target killings and crime create for every citizen, sometimes putting the city back together seems impossible. And yet we can’t help but love this city.

Which female has influenced you and your Art the most?
My aunt Laila Shahzada was an important influence in my Art because I painted with her. After she passed away, I taught myself how colour works from her old paint tubes. In fact, her death was the catalyst which released a world of dream imagery that found expression in my paintings.

How important is it for artists to broadcast their work, for example, on TV, as well as exhibiting in galleries? What will this help you to achieve?
It’s certainly important. Art doesn’t need to be exclusive to be sacred. It’s a primal human need to be heard, to leave a print. We’ve been doing that since the cave paintings at Lascaux. The more people see your work, the louder you’ve been heard. And this is vital in today’s environment where culture barely has a voice.

Do you have any advice for artists wanting to further develop their career?
Firstly, understand the workings of your medium. No one can teach you what a box of paints and a dozen mistakes can. Trust yourself. Secondly, draw, because it is the backbone of a painting. Thirdly, remember that one second of perfect clarity is worth all the times you wanted to throw your canvas out the window, so hang in there. G

LIFESTYLE:

Fav. vacation spot: Six Senses Koh Yao Noi Perfume you wear: Chanel 5, faithfully for the last 20 years
Addicted to: Chai and cigarettes
If you could change one thing about yourself, it would be: Nothing. I am what I am
Secret talent: Baking chocolate chip cookies
What makes you impatient?: Waiting
Love or money: Both

FASHION:

You hate it when you see people wearing: I don’t worry about other people. To each his own
Favorite shoe this season: Jimmy Choo’s Vanquish and Louboutin’s Beltega
Your closet is a shrine to:The colour black
Oldest item in your closet: A pair of jeans I hope to get back into
Necessary extravagance: Handbags

AT HOME:

Fav. Piece of furniture in your home: An old divan where I can read in peace
In your DVD player: The 100, The Man in the High Tower and Exodus
Most typically Pakistani thing about you: That I prefer a chai khoka to tea at the Ritz anyday
What makes you laugh uncontrollably?: My husband, Tariq Bukhari’s jokes
When are you happiest? When I feel alive

 

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