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Shams Ul Arfeen Hashmi

Artist Spotlight

The process of creation is more important to me than the final work. Drawing a lot of lines with a small brush on such a large scale is very meditative. It gives me peace of mind and teaches me to be patient.

Pakistani artist Shams Ul Arfeen Hashmi's paintings are largely autobiographical. They represent an acute observation of the constant transformation of life and its surroundings. Breaking the mould of traditional landscape painting, he plays with composition by taking a fragment of a panorama and magnifying it, realizing it on a large scale canvas. Exploring his native grassland landscape, the artist immerses himself in his surroundings, thus investigating the process of going beyond himself to reach a certain free and meditative state.



Q. Did you always want to be an artist? 

A. Yes, I have wanted to be an artist since I was a child. I decided in seventh grade that I wanted to go to the National college of Arts Lahore to earn a degree in fine arts.

Q. Apart from being an artist, you are also an actor and a singer - how do these professions relate to one another? Do you see them as expressions of the same creative impulse or are they entirely separate passions?

A. Yes, I love acting and music too. I think these three areas are interrelated and interconnected. Whatever the type of art, we use it as a tool to express our emotions, only the method is different. Just as I enjoy painting on canvas, so do I enjoy experimenting with musical notes or playing different roles when acting. I feel an element of meditation in painting and music both because I can’t paint without my favourite music playing in the background. So it’s kind of an escape for me - a way to invest my energy, whether it’s in painting, singing or acting. I can use these creative practices to express myself, because in real life I’m actually very shy and not really good at communication.

Q. Is there an autobiographical element to your work? 

A. The pictures of the series I'm painting these days are from my hometown, a collection of events and experiences from my life that are very nostalgic to me. So it seems that, in a way, my work is becoming my autobiography. Most of the references and imagery come from places I have spent time with. I don’t paint a place unless I have a personal affiliation with it.

Q. You often get really close to your subject matter, immersing yourself in the environment as it were. What function does this ‘zooming in’ or closeness fulfill for you? 

A. My work is made up of many layers, the process of creation itself is revealing and the thoughts that come to mind while working become part of a piece, even if they are not related to the work directly.

This zooming in gives me a chance to look at my work in a whole new way that forces me to immerse myself in the process. I zoom in and paint my composition so that the viewer can see clearly the part that is most central to my work.

Q. Have you always been fascinated by nature? 

A. I am very much inspired by nature and a lover of nature. I believe that any form of art is, in the end, inspired by nature. So even if I work in another medium, I do it from my fascination with nature. Often, when I look at another abstract painting, I tend to see interesting landscapes within it.

Q. Do you work from real life or pictures or are your landscapes largely the product of your imagination? 

A. My work includes all three of these elements because my job is observation, so I have to look carefully at the things I have to paint and I also take pictures for reference. Most of the time, I make a composition by combining different references because I think that the artist's own choice is also an essential element - this is how I infuse it with my imagination.

Q. You have stated that there is a certain meditative aspect to your process, could you elaborate on that?

A. The process of creation is more important to me than the final work and thus holds the main element of attraction for me. Drawing a lot of lines with a small brush on such a large scale is very meditative. It gives me peace of mind and teaches me to be patient. During this repetitive act of drawing lines I become so immersed in my process that I don't care about anything else.

Q. Your work often strikes a balance between realism and abstraction, how do you navigate this field of tension between two extremely different forms of expression?

A. As you can see, the line is a central element to my work - the line is more important to me than creating realistic blades of grass. So when I’m working I sometimes feel like I’m making an abstract painting because there are just lines, but when I see the work from a particular distance it seems to be a realistic painting. That’s why I see both modes of expressions as part of my work.

Q. When you say that you work from the close up and abstract to create a bigger, more realistic picture - do you already know in advance what this picture will be? Or does it come into existence rather spontaneously?

A. Absolutely not. When I'm painting, I just think of the general composition with a few details in mind. The rest of the way, the painting is created by following the process. I have no idea what it will look like in the end, because I work in accordance to what the painting demands and add things to it as I go along. I am often surprised while painting. If the paint accidentally drips and it looks good, I leave it as is and deliberately try to do it again so that my work takes a new direction.

Q. You make use of several unconventional techniques and materials, could you tell us a bit more about them and how you came to experiment beyond usual painting techniques?

A. I mostly work with acrylic on canvas but I started to experiment a bit more during my last year in college. The first step was to change the scale as well as the technique, which was quite a chore. After that, I learned to throw paint on canvas without any hesitation while working on different compositions and to paint in an unconventional way. The silver leaf and gold leaf in some of my works, for example, was inspired by Mughal miniatures and traditional Persian miniature paintings. Using these techniques gives a new shape to my work. I am also working on video art for a new series which will be a part of my upcoming exhibitions.

Q. How has selling art online influenced your artistic practice? 

A. The online platform has had a profound effect on my practice and has given my work a new lease on life. This was very important, especially in the situation we are in now. I think the opportunity to exhibit online has given the whole world access to my work. A  journey that was supposed to take years, now may take place in a few days, so I feel lucky.

Q. What would you like your work to evoke?

A. I want my work to be engaging and strong enough to be seen, so that every ordinary person who encounters it can feel something, connect to it, and express their opinion about it.


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