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ART REVIEW: Flying solo with ‘the artist presently known as Omar Farid’

First Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 23 June 2013 - Sunday Edition

A small gathering of connoisseurs and curiosity seekers get a personalised tour of the show, their ‘oohs’ and ‘ahas’ broken by an occasional ‘o my that is disturbing’, at which the artist bows and looks pleased. Omar Farid’s ‘Flying Solo’ exhibition promises a delightful getaway to a spruced up wonderland. A few days earlier at another gallery, he was seen airing his views on real art, which must be unforgettable — leave lasting imprints, make one think and blink — or words to that effect.
We see what he means at his opening held the very next week at the Art Chowk in Karachi.

A wily feline in ochre/burgundy tones looms into view, oozing malevolence and doom for some unsuspecting bird, mercifully out of frame. There is no need to overanalyse the creature. In this case, a cat is just a cat. The experience will get ‘curiouser’ as a macabre, ink and acrylic induced haze envelops the quaint backdrop.

What do you see?” he asks. We have stopped in front of ‘Postscript; Vicki Baum’, 2012, inspired by the author of Menschen im Hotel. It is a novel Farid read when he was too young to appreciate its complexity. That is clearly a couple on the steps of Grand Hotel, who may be coming or going and both are missing a leg. This sets the tone for coming attractions; most come dressed in varying shades of eerie.

Stud’, 2012, is a dazzling exception. To him this is “unmistakably a stallion” invited to be a part of this collection because horses are the rage apparently. Some of us continue to see a mare and an exquisite one at that.

The artist’s flamboyant vision is carefully ensconced in a layer of unsettling illusions. “I am an extrovert in an introvert’s world,” he will admit later, making him a walking contradiction. The prepared narrative heads into a custom-made rabbit-hole where a tempest brews in the distance. It is an invitation to gaze upon rocky shores where logic has been cast adrift, an inexplicable urge to descend to levels of human consciousness follows.

There is a sprinkling of social commentary (of a kind) visible amid the emotional debris. ‘Dialogue’ shows two people talking, neither listening to the other, both convinced they are having a conversation. As our guide reminisces about his favourite time of the year — the 1960s — the little tour group has come to a halt in front of ‘Montmartre’, (1982-2012), which took him around 30 years to make. The stopover in Paris introduces us to an artist (a doppelganger?), cheerfully doffing his cap to the passing ladies while his friends help him shift his paintings over to another studio. Unlike the mischievous ‘Catstalk’, 2012, that shimmers with Farid’s droll sense of humour, or Montmartre, which is a simple, joyful little number, one of the few unburdened by bleak overtones, the collection sets out to redefine the parameters of imagination. Deft brush strokes seek to free idle thoughts from their morbid tethers, unleashing a parade of elusive metaphors and along the way evoke genius at play.

Fruition’, where lady luck wickedly toys with a four-eyed creature and ‘eye candy climb’; a strange concoction of snakes & ladder and mysterious figures in need of clothing, harbour similar sounding themes, an unattainable daydream perhaps?

An unfettered imagination can be liberating but it also tends to roam the universe leaving unanswered questions in its wake. The appearance of celestial, anatomical or subterranean motifs confound; the Egyptian mummy cameo in ‘Fruition’ mystifies. ‘Axis’ is abundant in what may or may not be Masonic imagery. He is not a Mason, Farid assures us.

Two pieces on opposite sides of the wall have been painted back to back. His friend could not believe both were done by the same person. Neither can we. ‘Epicycles’, 2011, and ‘Jackbox’ couldn’t be more different, one for all its vibrancy is tightly bound in grim hues. Not every piece is driven by a jet-stream of convoluted logic however; white is not considered a colour, he muses and has a field day with the neglected members of the spectrum in ‘Who’s afraid of white’.

Daytrip’, his idea of happy art depicts a family outing courtesy three carefree looking deer. “ of my softer paintings,’ he announces. ‘Black Sun’ reverts to the darkness barely concealing its haunting echoes underneath that distorted architecture; ‘Chaos early model’ bids adieu to order, showing the early stages of a breakdown, inadvertently triggering fond memories of the recent elections.

The maddening imagery evokes a range of conflicting emotions and we are free to intercept the subtext (unpleasant or otherwise) and craft our own context from their cerebral outlines. Flying Solo feels like an emotional rollercoaster hurtling towards a vortex of fantasy, dreams and nightmares. The trail ends in front of a little glass box populated by two captive lighters in conversation and a mini sketch. Lighter one, apparently is Omar Farid. It is all very meta-ish.

A cryptic message arrives as the show draws to a close. “I am here to live out-loud” . Emile Zola does sum up “the artist presently known as Omar” perfectly.

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