May 21, 2011

After brain damage, the creative juices flow for some

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Many people who have suffered brain damage turn to creating art. Researchers are studying them to help unravel how the brain works.

Katherine Sherwood

Artist Katherine Sherwood was 44 when a hemorrhage in her brain's left hemisphere paralyzed the right side of her body. After that, though, her artwork dramatically changed.

Artist Katherine Sherwood was just 44 when a hemorrhage in her brain's left hemisphere paralyzed the right side of her body — forever changing her artwork.

Before the stroke in 1997, her mixed-media paintings featured strange and cryptic images: medieval seals, transvestites, bingo cards. Reviewers called her work cerebral and deliberate. Creativity, says the UC Berkeley professor, was an intellectual and often angst-filled struggle.

After the stroke, she could no longer paint on canvases mounted vertically, so she laid them flat, moving around them in a chair with wheels. She learned how to work with her left hand; it had less fine motor control but was more free and natural in its movements. She began to use different, less toxic types of paint, which led to new kinds of visual effects.

And she began to more deeply explore the beauty of blood vessels in the brain after seeing some of her own brain scans.

Critics called the new work intuitive and raw, more vibrant, abstract, expressive.

Her attitudes too had changed: "The paint I was now using started to crack — and before the stroke, I would've been horrified," she says. "But after the stroke, I thought it looked interesting and, I believed, was part of the metaphorical language of the painting. Also, I really saw the paintings confirming my ability to live."

For Sherwood, the brain damage and resulting shift in her art led to awards, museum shows and a whole new level of critical acclaim. For scientists, experiences like hers are helping shine light on the workings of the brain.

In growing numbers, people with Alzheimer's, migraines, autism, epilepsy and more are picking up paintbrushes or putting drawing pencils to paper. Some are artists like Sherwood who continue to produce prolific portfolios after brain damage and find their work dramatically changed. Others turn to art only after a disease has set in, and they may even be inspired by it. Both groups are helping researchers unravel the complicated and intertwined ways that biology produces creativity — including the contributions of inhibition, obsession and other personality traits. "There are virtually no situations where brain damage makes things better," says Anjan Chatterjee, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who is working on a book about art and the brain. But art is, he adds, one of the few complex aspects of human cognition that doesn't necessarily get worse.

"Think of a mobile where you have different weights that settle into some kind of equilibrium," he says. "If you take away certain weights, the whole system readjusts. In some instances, the art ends up being just as beautiful.

"In other cases, it's more beautiful."

Lester Potts had never picked up a paintbrush before his Alzheimer's diagnosis in 2001, at the age of 72. He had worked in a rural Alabama sawmill through the Great Depression. He served in the Korean War and grew into an even-keeled and dependable civic leader. But when his brain disorder struck, Potts lost the ability to take care of himself, and he sank into depression.

Painting with watercolors as part of a therapy program buoyed him, says his son, Daniel C. Potts. Even more surprising, his father had talent. When Lester brought home his first creation — a bright purple and yellow hummingbird with green wings and a red head — his wife asked him who gave him such a beautiful painting.

As Lester's disease progressed, his paintings evolved too. And even though he lost the ability to talk or write before his death in 2007, his artwork continued to feature themes from his youth, offering comfort to his family and a fascinating look into the brain of someone with a degenerative and still-mysterious disease.

"It is a known phenomenon that folks can find artistic abilities that had been previously unknown when they get Alzheimer's and other kinds of dementia," says Daniel Potts, who is a neurologist at the University of Alabama School of Medicine and president of Cognitive Dynamics, a foundation that aims to improve the quality of life for people with cognitive impairments. For his father, he says, "this creative energy and newfound talent shored up his sense of self-worth and his human dignity."

By studying works of art like Potts' that emerge from different types of dementia, scientists have begun to map the brain regions that interact to either inspire or inhibit the creation of art.

Patients with a category of brain degeneration called frontotemporal dementia, or FTD, have been particularly illuminating. Here, damage to the front and sides of the brain tend to interfere with sources of personality, behavior and language. As a result, personality changes can be drastic, trending toward the obsessive and meticulous.

People with FTD often develop artistic talents only after the disease strikes, Chatterjee says. Their art usually involves concrete and realistic themes, and they often produce the same images over and over, with small variations.

The late University of British Columbia scientist Anne Adams, for one, started to paint only after the onset of a type of FTD that attacked the language networks in her brain. As her speech disappeared, her artistic creativity flourished.


Baalbaki on the sincerity of painting

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On a recent weekday morning, when all of Beirut had been coated in a thin layer of seasonal, sandstone-colored grime, the painter Oussama Baalbaki was standing in the middle of an exhibition rendering the world in stark shades of black, white and grey.

“He’s really a poet and a thinker,” says his gallerist, Saleh Barakat, sounding more like a mother or a matchmaker. “He’s a very interesting man. He’s very deep in times when everything is superficial.” 

Baalbaki, meanwhile, winces ever so slightly and turns his head toward his shoes. His current show, titled “Rituals of Isolation,” is his second at the Agial Art Gallery in Hamra, and his third in three years. It includes 11 paintings, nine of which are self-portraits.

Using mirrors, models and photographs, the artist sets himself in highly symbolic studio tableaux. His set pieces and props strike a curious balance between clamoring ideas and pensive, willful quietude. 

What gives his work strength is not the technical dexterity with which he paints his own face and body but rather the tension he creates between himself, as a stand-in for the human condition, and a broad range of objects and gestures. 

In “The Perfect Mood,” the artist slumps in a chair holding a radio in one hand and its plug, pulled from its socket, in the other. His eyes are closed, his head tilted to one side. A woman or an impossibly tall child stands behind him. A hand curls around his face. Long fingers rest gently on Baalbaki’s upper left cheek, covering an eye as if holding in or protecting half of his vision. 

It’s a gesture that triggers a rush of associations and meanings. Who are these people and what accounts for the tenderness tinged with exhaustion between them? What news of the world has just been summarily disconnected, or broken down? And what is the effect of so mysteriously evoking touch, sound, silence, sight and blindness in, of all things, a black-and-white acrylic on canvas dated 2011?

“I’m painting in a theatrical way what I consider to be mental moods,” says Baalbaki. “The objects in my paintings, these are things that are in my studio. But I’m trying to make a spiritual connection, even with still lifes or inanimate objects in front of me. The objects always allude to a sense – sound, sight, smell, taste or touch.” 

One of Baalbaki’s paintings, titled “A Persistent Midday,” shows the artist seated at a dining room table, his head and torso nearly hidden behind an enormous bouquet of flowers in a bulbous glass vase. One hand rests on the table next to an eyeglass case. The other holds a mobile phone between thumb and forefinger, all of which are sunk in a pool of fluid – whether blood or ink is impossible to distinguish in such a radically restricted palette. 

In “Harmonious Posture,” the artist stands like a soldier, his face stern and his right hand raised to his temple. He could be saluting a superior or pointing a gun to his head. Instead, he is holding a hairdryer. 

Another painter, titled “Enlightenment II,” depicts the artist seated in front of a radiator, looking down at an egg crate he is holding in his hands, with a light bulb resting on top of it. Next to him, a friend or bother or colleague shouts in his ear through a makeshift megaphone. The artist appears unfazed by the aural assault. 

One of only two paintings in color in the exhibition finds the artist in bed, his face washed in light and his head casting a shadow on the headboard behind him. He clutches four paintbrushes in one hand, which rests on bed sheets pulled tight around his chest. It is impossible to tell whether the light flooding in from just beyond the left hand side of the painting comes from a breaking dawn, a lamp, or a searchlight, but all of the possibilities spell anxiety and fear. 

“Oussama is dealing with an extremely contemporary state of mind but through classical means,” says gallerist Barakat.

“I’m interested in the idea of what is before and after in art,” says Baalbaki, “but I’m mostly representing my own sensibility. In the severe, powerful institution of art, I want to have my own voice. Categorization exerts a pressure that I try to avoid. I’m not unaware but I try to be authentic to my own sensibility. I think we’re all a combination of the past, present and future.”

Among young and emerging artists in Lebanon, Baalbaki, 33, is lucky in that he was never discouraged from pursuing art as a way of life. His father, Abdel-Hamid Baalbaki, is a well-known painter who writes poems, novels and other literary texts tied to the rich language of South Lebanon. 

His first cousins Ayman and Mohammad-Saïd Baalbaki are also prominent artists on the local scene. His sister is the singer Soumaya Baalbaki. Everyone in the family, both nuclear and extended, seems to work in a creative field. No one ever pressured Oussama to be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. Art was a given. He’s been signing his name “The Painter Oussama Baalbaki” since he was 4. 

Yet Barakat, in an attempt to place the artist in a narrative or give him a lineage and a genealogy, argues that Baalbaki belongs to a trajectory running through Lebanon’s recent art history that remains unexposed or at least underexplored. He’s closer to social realism than abstract expressionism, Barakat says, more Ayloul Festival than Ashkal Alwan. His work is influenced by the filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, and he is prone to painting Lenin, Trotsky or Marx into his compositions. 

The surface implication that the Cold War split Beirut’
s contemporary art scene in two is intriguing but suspiciously neat. 

The deeper implication that Baalbaki grew up in a leftist milieu that is currently rudderless if not entirely obsolete may have more traction. 

Baalbaki, for his part, subtly turns the conversation around. 

“One of the biggest problems of the art scene in Lebanon is that it’s very small, like a club,” he says. “For me, it’s absolutely essential that art is accessible to all layers of society.” 

Anyway, he adds, not all of his political convictions end up in his artworks, be they existentialist, anarchist, nihilist or social realist. 

“But I’m very sincere about the act of painting.”

Manto, Faiz, Sadequain revisited through sculpture

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Renowned sculptor Anjum Ayaz has paid tribute to three of the most revered and celebrated personalities in our nation’s history — artist Sadequain Naqqash, revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and short story writer Sadat Hasan Manto — through his sculptures currently on display at Frere Hall’s Sadequain Gallerie.

The exhibition is being supported by the city government. Those who have not yet seen the creativity of Anjum’s chisel.

Six canvases dominated the massive gallery with Sadequain’s renowned mural, “Arzo-Samawat” (Heaven and Earth), looking over them below. The display’s structure was fairly simple with three pieces representing the sculptor’s interpretation of the respective lives of his muses, while the remaining three were creative representations of each master’s renowned works.

The sculptural narratives on the lives of each personality were somewhat stereotypical. Faiz is shown as a chain smoker with an inclination towards drinking. His canvas acted as a rather flat glimpse into the avowed Marxist’s life, a part of which was spent in jail following the infamous Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. Anjum’s reflections on Faiz also included one of his most famous works, Dast-e-Saba (1952). In the absence of the sculptor himself as an interpreter to the piece, one is left wanting more. Faiz was so much more than an indulgent poet who spent some time in jail. Where was the chiseled imagery of revolutionary change that Faiz spent his whole life fighting for?

Anjum’s tribute to the poet’s work was more effective in showing off the sculptor’s thoughtful creativity, as it is an elaborate depiction of the concluding couplet of Faiz’s famous Ghazal ‘Gulon Mein Rang Bhare Baad-e-Naubahaar Chale”, which reads “Jo Kue Yaar Se Nikle to Sue Daar Chale.” In this sculpture, Ayaz tried to create an artistic representation of the couplet’s underlying meaning — for Faiz, his beloved’s company and dying for his cause were one in the same. The piece shows two figures, one of which is carrying a noose attached to a wooden apparatus that looms over the moon and stars in our nation’s flag; signifying death and revolution.

For Sadequain, the sculptor used the calligrapher’s profile as well as his artistic hands looking over various forms of painting as well as drawing tools to create a picture of what the artist was most famous for.

For his tribute, Anjum chose imagery from Sadequain’s 1960s ‘cactus series’ that tried to show the meaty arms of a cactus turning and twisting like they often do in hostile desert landscapes. True to the painter’s idea of the resilient cactus that seemingly defies the laws of nature, the sculptor chiseled most branches of the plant pointing upwards as a symbol of triumph of life over environment.

The realities of the accomplished and highly controversial Manto were also sculpted in one of Anwar’s pieces, with chiseled images of a typewriter, wine bottles, his famous collection of short stories ‘Thanda Gosht’, and a court building where Manto was tried a number of times for obscenity.

The sculptor’s provocative interpretation of Manto’s story titled “Hathak” is quite apt, given the nature of his work. The canvas was dominated by a vivid figure of a women sprawled on a bed or mat, seemingly asleep, while a dog is curled up in her lap. The woman is Anwar’s representations of one of Hathak many characters; which in this case was a prostitute who Manto writes was exhausted from her day’s work and was immediately overcome by deep sleep.

The exhibition may seem intimidating to those unfamiliar with the life and accomplishments of each of its subject, but it is still worth the visit, as it may encourage many to look back at some of Pakistan’s most treasured icons. 


The ‘Rebel Angel’ remembered

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To acknowledge the contributions of Asim Butt, a renowned young artist whose death has left a great void in the art scene, the Mohatta Palace Museum has released a catalogue in his honour.

“I paint as a political act: to express my power larger than myself. I paint to create what it is I want to see, to fill an absence in the world,” read an excerpt from the 60-page catalogue entitled ‘Rebel Angel’.

The catalogue aims to reflect the true nature of this artist, who was considered by many as a revolutionary and was never afraid to raise a voice against tyranny through his art. “Asim clearly drew the lines between the oppressed and the oppressor through his public work, which he produced as a protest against injustice,” recalled Sheherbano Husain, a confidant of Butt. Even though he was detained several times for his public art, he continued to paint on.

The catalogue was officially released as part of the ‘Rebel Angel: Asim Butt 1978-2010’ exhibition which will be showcased till July 31 at the Mohatta Palace Museum as a tribute to the late artist.

“His fearless forays into uncharted territory separated him from his peers and made him an innovator,” said Director Mohatta Palace Museum Nasreen Askari through the preface written in the catalogue.

The 6o-page catalogue brings together a wide variety of Butt’s artwork and was compiled with the help of the artist’s family and friends, who now own the collection of his work.

The piece chosen for the cover of this catalogue was a self-portrait that had been created by the artist in 2006. The catalogue not only shares images of Butt’s work on oil on canvas, chalk and charcoal on board, oil on wood, oil on board, but also some images of his graffiti done with stencil and spray paint on the walls of the city. Spray painting was his way of protesting against several issues that concerned him.

“It was towards his larger view that he painted his murals and snuck out in the quiet of the night to scrawl subversive messages on walls, risking life and limb in the process,” read more lines from the catalogue, which also contains a chapter focused on the private memories of the Karachi-born artist.

Noted art historian and social commentator Nazish Attaullah also paid tribute Butt’s artwork in which he addressed a number of pressing issues.

“Asim’s greatest contribution to the art world of Pakistan was his public art in which he tackled socio-political issues, an exercise not undertaken by any other artist and, had he lived, would have surely become one of the country’s foremost pioneers and proponents in the field,” she said.

An image of ‘Five ways to kill a man’, one of his most famous creations painted on the wall just opposite Adbullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine, was also added to the catalogue. The original dimensions of this masterpiece inspired by Edwin Brock’s poem of the same name were 8 metres by 2.1 metres.

The catalogue also shares the image of another Mural which Butt had created for T2F (The Second Floor) on the request of the owner, Sabeen Mahmud, who was a close friend of the late artist.

I shared the idea of T2F with Asim and discussed the type of art work we wanted. He rejoiced after visiting the sight and engrossed himself into the project. Although he requested for more time to work on the project, he effectively finished it before the launch of the place since we, too had limited time,” recalled Mahmud.

He was an artist and social commentator, who in a short span of time produced much work for the public. “In a very small time he crafted a niche for himself,” remarked Raza Rumi, a well-known writer.

Regarding the untimely departure of the artist Rumi said “During the on-going sorry situation of Pakistan, we have lost such an artist who was much need at this point in time.” The artist committed suicide last year for a reason that remains unknown. 

Expressions of melancholy

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Amal Peerzada’s second solo exhibition, Minimal, in progress at the Museum of Puppetry, Rafi Peer Cultural Centre, Green Acres, is a different kind of artistic expression through the eyes of a young female artist of new age.

Amal Peerzada is the brilliant daughter of an equally brilliant as well as established Pakistani veteran artists Usman and Samina Peerzada. She is currently doing her BA in Painting and Integrated Media at Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Canada.

Inspired by Japanese precision of and spontaneity of line, simplicity and empty space, along with the miniature detail present in Oriental and Mughal art and architecture, Amal Peerzada creates surreal drawings from her imagination with a pen, never erasing her thoughts on paper.

Also inspired by abstract art in the moment or accidental art, she enjoys seeing what shapes form on paper in the moment. Focusing primarily on human expressions of melancholy excitement, bliss, boredom, terror and satisfaction, she amalgamates her conscious and sub-conscious thoughts of being in awe of the randomness and wonder of reality and nature, infinite space and the realm of the unknown. 

source: The News 

Artist pays tribute to Faiz

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Abid Hasan’s painting exhibition ‘Noor-e-Sehr — A Tribute to Faiz’ opens today (Saturday) at gallery6. Abid is an outstanding contemporary abstract painter, who creates his compositions through the application of chemical processes and oil paints on layers of original silver and gold leaf applied on canvas.

The reaction of oxidizing agents on silver and gold creates enticing textures, on which he overlays paints in a planned way to produce aesthetically brilliant works. Abid has achieved this merit through laborious experimentation of this unique technique for more than a decade. To celebrate the birth centenary of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, he has wandered on a challenging path producing over 40 exquisite paintings on well-known verses of Faiz.

The compositions are outstandingly intense and energetic, reflecting an inner powerful voice that cannot remain unheard. The enticing hues visually demonstrate the magnificence of Faiz’s themes of love and beauty, which were submerged in the larger social and political issues of the time. Faiz’s enigmatic voice for social justice and humanism became a beacon of light and hope and Abid has successfully captured the spirit of some of the renowned verses in his distinctive way.

The work ‘Phir noor-e-seher dast-o-girebaan hai seher se’ mesmerises the viewer by the intricate effects of breaking of light rays from the darkness, while ‘Sehr ka roshan ufaq yaheen hai’ creates the magical feeling of being in the moment of dawn. While ‘baam-e-minaa se maahataab utare, dast-e-saaqi mainn aaftaab aaye’ takes one on a different stride. On one wall, there is the stunning ‘ye dhoop kinara sham dhalay’ and on another is the very evocative ‘ayae hath uthain hum bhi....’ painted with dark female figures. Very imaginative use of hands and finger prints narrates a moving tale of many innocent lives lost in war of terror in ‘hum jo tareek rahoun mein maray gai,’ and the will not to surrender has been portrayed through juxtaposition of ropes in ‘zaban pe muhr lagi hai tou kya.’ These are all works of creative intelligence and commanding skills.

Commenting on the show, the gallery’s curator Dr. Arjumand Faisel said, “The paintings in this exhibition should place Abid among the leading painters of Pakistan. The treatment shows his masterly quality over the medium with effects that are captivating. The imagery is original, with new symbols and vocabulary and there is depth in each composition. The figures and designs, though a well-planned part of the painting, appear impulsive, spontaneous and flowing - adding another striking dimension to this work. We are not only witnessing a master in the making but in the empowerment of a new medium.”

Discussing his works, Abid said, “The knowledge, that I have gained has been entrusted to me by God. Hence, it is my duty to take care of it and spread the message of love and peace through colours and forms. Today, it is more needful than ever to rebuild the dignity of our country. Since the poetry of Faiz warms and pulsates the blood with its sensitivity and universality in a way that inspires and enlightens the soul, I have chosen it as the subject of my paintings.”

Abid was born in Rawalpindi in 1970 and after studying from Gordon College, moved to Karachi and joined the Karachi School of Arts, wherefrom he graduated in 1996. Besides being a visiting faculty member at KSA for drawing, he also works as an interior designer. This is his third solo show in Islamabad in the last three years. 


“You won’t find an ‘Untitled’ among my works”

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The German painter on the burdens of being a professor, the need for figures and his prophetic abilities

Rausch and his painting
Rausch and his painting "Die Fuge", 2007

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Neo Rauch’s enigmatic paintings—an intensely coloured mix of realism, surrealism, pop art and comic-book imagery—brought him huge international success. In Germany his work still fuels debate on the pros and cons of figurative painting.

This month the Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden is opening a Rauch retrospective . Curated by art historian Werner Spies, the show will cover the artist’s development over the past 20 years. Of particular interest will be the presentation of Rauch’s first sculpture, titled Nachhut, 2011. 

For the museum’s founder, collector Frieder Burda, Rauch is one of the most important contemporary artists and a unique figure in the so-called New Leipzig School of artists who rose to prominence after German reunification.

The catalogue will include contributions by critic Eduard Beaucamp, Frieder Burda and the poet Durs Grünbein.

The Art Newspaper: Last year you celebrated your 50th birthday with two exhibitions, in Leipzig and Munich. Were you pleased?

Neo Rauch: The exhibitions were planned long before and were not connected with this major milestone in my life. The slightly distasteful thing is that it looked like I was having a big fuss made of myself.

The exhibition at the Museum Frieder Burda will show paintings from 1993 to the present and, for the first time, a sculpture.

Yes, I’ve now managed to squeeze in some time for sculpture. I find the process easier than painting. There is a real object in space and I can see immediately where the problems are. 

Could you describe the moment when the idea for a picture turns into something definite?

It is a give-and-take between an idea, what one might call “text”, and what is recorded using the medium as “subtext”. I have to ask myself what I expect from painting: should it be subservient to my ideas or a queen that I have to serve? The text, which I regard as a private matter, must be able to stand being dragged diagonally across the canvas. If it loses something along the way, so much the better, since it then gains something that it may have urgently needed: sensuality and a truth that is rooted in non-verbal space. 

Do you only give your works a title after they are finished?

Not if a word calls out for a picture. The child must be given a name. You won’t find an Untitled among my works—it is simply disrespectful to the picture, the viewer and, ultimately, to the gallery owner.

Are titles “honey traps” for viewers? 

I have to ensure people linger in front of my pictures. Viewers must be rewarded—if people devote time to the picture then they must receive something in return.

Your works have been called riddle pictures. But riddles have a solution, and there are no solutions in your pictures.

Solutions don’t come into it. My pictures supposedly have a vital quality, like an animal, a living thing. There is no need to understand, only to feel that this creature is, to the greatest possible degree, at peace with itself. It is not always possible to realise, but that’s how I imagine a functioning picture. As soon as I have the feeling that the thing has blood circulating through it, a nervous system, a skeleton, then questions as to the message become completely marginal.

Several of the figures in your work come from German history, which has led some people say that you paint in a socialist realist style.

That is other people’s problem, not mine, especially over here. I have never attempted to “de-Germanise” my work. Besides, people mostly have only a rough idea of what socialist realism is. I’m not trying to dodge the issue, but I think that they reach this conclusion because they know that I come from East Germany. They might reach the same conclusion by looking at the work of Raymond Pettibon and Michaël Borremans. 

This misunderstanding is surely a result of the age-old opposition between abstraction and representation, which you have satirised, for example, in Unerträglicher Naturalismus [Intolerable Naturalism], 1998, and Abstraktion, 2005. Why are people in Germany so ready to associate this conflict with you?

I am repeatedly told that I have a problem with abstraction. This is nonsense, I only have a problem with bad pictures.

Do you see yourself as a kind of landscape painter, even though landscape often appears as an altogether artificial construct?

I still need someone to pose as a farmer. No tree can measure up to the attraction I feel towards the figure.
That sounds like a declaration of love for your fellow humans, despite the doom-laden scenarios you depict… 

By 1945 the exploitation of images and emotions before and during the second world war led to a rejection of figurative representation in favour of a clear decision for abstraction. Today this division no longer necessarily demands our attention. I always like to compare my work to a game of chess—fundamentally it is all about placing figures and features, something that has consequences. The one determines the other. Everything takes place on the surface: colouration, composition, figuration must in themselves be plausible. A certain legibility must be guaranteed, otherwise it’s nonsense.

Will the recent events in Japan and Libya influence your work?

These things have been present in my works for some time. I began this work [in his studio] before Fukushima, and who would deny that it resonates with a certain disquieting radiation? My exhibition in Warsaw (until 15 May) opened on the day the earthquake struck; my 50th exhibition was clouded by the Icelandic volcano; and the picture Uhrenvergleich [Synchronising Watches], 2001, which shows smoke billowing from a skyscraper, was painted in the same year but before the attack on the World Trade Center. It’s hard to resist crowing about my prophetic abilities.

How long have you been with Gerd Harry Lybke and Eigen+Art?

Since 1982. My first exhibition at the gallery was in 1993. That was my first significant solo show and I was 33. Today students go mad if they haven’t had their first solo show by the age of 23.

How did you experience the political upheavals of 1989/90? Did you feel as if you had been thrown in with the sharks of the western art scene?

It was more the case that I didn’t actually do anything at all, since no one was particularly interested in painting. At that point painting was once again being written off as dead. I don’t know whether it’s always the same idiots who decide this, but every ten years there is a cockerel that climbs onto the dung heap. At the time I said to myself, fine, now I can lead the life of a loner, a painter dwelling on the forest edge, I can become a “best-kept secret”. The irony is that something quite different emerged out of it.

Despite your success you have remained in Leipzig and once said: “In joyous Italy nothing ever occurs to me…”

I know, of course, that Italy is far from being joyous. What I mean is that in Italy I can shake off the stable smell [his studio is called “The Stable”], but I couldn’t work there. It is very German that once someone has achieved a measure of financial success he is immediately asked the question: why are you actually still here, now that you can go anywhere? It’s as if you’re expected to clear off as soon as you have money in your bank account.

You held a professorship at the art college in Leipzig [the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst] but gave it up. Why?

I had to ask myself what the world expected of me. Was I an art professor, wearing out my life between studio, college, meetings and students’ rooms (always feeling as if I had been tackled to the ground)? Or should I be doing what was possible in my studio? Taking my damaged nerves into account, I came to a definite decision.

Did your decision have anything to do with the organisation of the college?

Indirectly, because the student numbers were simply too high. Now I run a free masterclass with five or six students. When I started at the college only as many students were enrolled as could fit into the building, but then a decision was made to broaden access. I cannot understand why such a large number of young people were encouraged to apply.

In the autumn you will be exhibiting at the Essl Collection, near Vienna, Austria with your wife, Rosa Loy, who is also a painter…

Yes, it’s high time. Until now she has only really been known within the art world. That can partly be attributed to the way in which we have steered clear of female painters in this country. In America they are better placed to see the differences between the two of us and to celebrate them. 

May 20, 2011

"Georges Braque ~ The Lyricism of Geometry"

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artwork: Georges Braque -  Atelier VIII, 1954/55 - Colección Masaveu, Oviedo - © VBK Wien, 2007/08
VIENNA - The Bank Austria Kunstforum presents a large-scale retrospective on Georges Braque for 2008 as an act of homage to this major pathfinder of the avant-garde. It will not only be the first retrospective in Central Europe after a period of twenty years, but the very first presentation of Georges Braque in Austria – 45 years after his death. The exhibition Georges Braque – The Lyricism of Geometry will take this as an opportunity of (re-)discovering his extraordinary oeuvre. On display through 1 March, 2009.

artwork: Georges Braque - Les Usines de Rio Tinto à l’Estaque, 1910 Musée d’art moderne de Lille Métropole, Villeneuve d’Ascq, © VBK Wien, 2007/08Around 80 paintings and the chief printed graphics will indicate Braque’s special way into the European modern movement and illustrate the uniqueness of his painting adventure: Braque among the Fauves, Braque the methodical, Braque the inventor of papier collé, Braque’s borrowing from decoration painting, in which he was apprenticed, Braque the master of “modern” still life and, last but not least, Braque the “lyrical constructor”.

All these components are to be honored equally in the exhibition, thus tracing an artistic oeuvre that is far more complex and exciting than reducing it to his insider relationship with Picasso and the fateful identification of his work with cubism – something that art historians have often been led to do. However, adequate scope has of course to be given to the path-breaking cubist works; cubism after all remains the groundbreaking discovery for Braque himself. It enabled him, as he said, “not just to reproduce an anecdotal fact, but a pictorial fact” (fait pictural).

Why did painting mainly become autonomous through the still life motif ? How did the definition of still life and its relationship to reality transform Braque in the course of his artistic development and in the end advance him to become the master of modern still life? These are the key questions addressed by the exhibition. It aims to trace how Braque started out from the form repertoire of analytic cubism, and how a vein of consolidation and the impression of classicism noticeably asserts itself during the twenties and thirties. The partial reintroduction of naturalist forms, the beauty of line and contour and the emphasis of the value inherent in color as material produce a measured form of cubism with the tactile sensuousness so typical of Braque and so entirely alien to purism.

artwork: Georges Braque Paysage à La Ciotat, 1907 Kunststiftung Merzbacher, Küsnacht. © VBK, Wien, 2008The exhibition will be devoted to the “complete” Braque, thus also his late work, which has suffered a comparatively strong recession into the background in appreciation history. It will therefore cast light for instance on the visionary picture series of the “Ateliers”, in which Braque most closely approaches his goal of the greatest possible condensation of material and space, space as a haptic experience. The Ateliers are without doubt the culmination of the fascinating late work of Georges Braque. Braque never ceased to urge on the development of his ideas, with a sense of the metamorphosis which nullifies the generally accepted differentiations not only between figuration and abstraction, but also between the genres.


Artist's paintings are slices of Southern California life

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Nobody walks by one of Jeff Zatlin's colorful oil paintings without stopping for a closer look. The paintings tell stories about life in Southern California, about change and how people deal with it or don't. A little parody, a little tongue-in-cheek, a lot of fun.

"Everybody does scenery — scenery is great," the Thousand Oaks artist said. "But when you start putting people in there, you can make a statement or tell a story."

Blue swimming pools and suburban tract houses populate the paintings along with freeways with too many cars, teenage girls in bikinis teetering on the brink between wide-eyed innocence and their version of worldly sophistication. Reality gives way to fantasy as people dive from a freeway overpass into a swimming pool passing through on the back of a flatbed truck.
"Freeways are part of our life," Zatlin said. "There is so much gridlock, we think, 'What could we be doing with our time?' "
Children are mischievous — a father looks on with disapproval as his young daughter gives away flowers at the family's roadside market. Well-dressed women approach a sidewalk lemonade stand, oblivious to the teenagers hiding with water balloons for those who don't buy. Tailgaters party to the extreme before a USC game.

"They never even got in to see the game," he said, laughing.

Zatlin is exhibiting his paintings through June 27 in a show titled "A Matter of Time" at the Harbor Village Gallery in Ventura. A reception is set for 5 to 8 p.m. today.

He took time out from his casino party business recently to talk about his first love, art.

Zatlin grew up in Orange County in a subdivision that could be taken from one of his paintings.

"I went to the beach all the time. I was sunburned. I had a lemonade stand just like all the kids," he said. "I always liked drawing. It was fun for me. I am sure the teachers found everybody's drawings were praiseworthy, but that was enough for me."

But when it came time for college, he stopped doing art and got a degree in political science at UCLA with an emphasis in business administration.

"My parents were paying for my education and I thought I'd better come away with something," he said. "I ended up becoming an accountant and burying that artistic side."

When he saw how well some of his fraternity brothers were doing as stockbrokers, he decided to take that up.

Although he calls it a "sick way of making a living," he did it for more than a dozen years and did very well, he said. He bought the casino business as something he and his wife could do together, working out of their home.

"I am not a suit-and-tie type of guy," he said. "That worked so well, I ended up buying another business and felt I could exit from my life as a stockbroker."
He started painting after a picture fell off the wall and broke during the Northridge earthquake.

"I thought instead of buying another, I would create something original," he said, adding, "It took a long time."
At the time, he was living in Agoura and working in Santa Monica, commuting on the Pacific Coast Highway.
"So it's kind of a PCH feel to it. I wanted to capture the beauty of the drive," he said. After that, he did a small one of the view from his backyard.

But then he found he really didn't want to do scenery.

"We all recognize the beauty," he said. "All I have to do is go outside and be overwhelmed by beauty. Let the other guys do that. When you put people in a painting, it tells a story, it gives you more to consider."
In the beginning, he painted people small because it was difficult to do facial features, he said.
"I took some local classes and then took life painting classes at Ventura College with Bob Moskowitz," he said.

Jeff Zatlin
Nicole D'Amore
Jeff Zatlin
"This is where I am from. This is where I am rooted — it has a Southern California feel to it," he said of his paintings. "When I have a blank canvas in front of me, I want it to be meaningful and interesting — it's a statement really. I guess it's what interests me. I don't want to do what everyone else is doing.

"I put myself in some of the paintings," he said, "my family — my girls. The stories are whatever I feel like saying at the time."

It was Moskowitz who told him about the Buenaventura Art Association.

"I have only been a member for a year or so," he said. "There was an opportunity to do a show. When I have stuff in a show I get good feedback," he said. "I thought it would be great to have more people enjoy it."
He also had a solo show in Los Angeles last fall and has participated in group and juried shows locally and in Los Angeles.

He tries to paint every day.
"I don't commute, so that gives me more time," he said. "I am divorced so I have the kids half the time. I don't watch TV. I want to have something to show for being alive.

"I love it when people get to see my work," he said. "Let them get their own meanings out of it."

'Projector' artist

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The Flax Mill at Ditherington in Shrewsbury  
Andy McKeown "painted" the Flaxmill at Ditherington in Shrewsbury

A Shropshire digital graffiti artist who projects his "paintings" on to buildings is the only UK finalist at a major US art festival.

Andy McKeown, from Shrewsbury, has been shortlisted in the final of the 2011 Digital Graffiti Festival at Alys Beach, in Florida, on 8 June.

Mr McKeown's Kaleidoscopia, featuring changing images, has been chosen for the festival.

He describes his craft as "painting with light".

Mr McKeown said he was disappointed not to be able to attend the festival because of commitments around the UK.

"It's the best digital graffiti show on the planet," he said.

The Bandstand at the Quarry in Shrewsbury 
Andy McKeown is creating digital art for the Shropshire Olympian Festival

"Last year there were five British artists in the festival. This year I am the only finalist."

He added: "Digital art is known as photon bombing or guerrilla graffiti in the USA."

It is the fourth year that the festival has been held at Alys Beach and Kelli Arnold, the town's events co-ordinator said the town was treated as a blank canvas.

She said: "Ultimately Digital Graffiti explores how design, technology and architecture can intertwine to create entirely new art forms.

"For one evening Alys Beach opens its doors, courtyards and pedestrian paths to innovative companies and ground-breaking artists who fuse these three components to literally transform our entire town into a living work of art."

Shropshire Olympian Festival
In 2008, Mr McKeown won a national competition to create a new feature for Blackpool Illuminations.
He has also projected on to the Flaxmill at Ditherington in Shrewsbury and is creating a light show for the Shropshire Olympian Festival at the Quarry in Shrewsbury in June.

Using what he calls his "Kaleidoscopialive", he is inviting people to submit pictures of themselves and use a selection of them for a Victorian-themed light show centred on the bandstand.

People can submit a picture for inclusion in his installation at the digital graffiti festival through the kaleidoscopialive website.

He said: "Anyone can participate and be part of my light show. 

"They can upload their pictures using the software on the site and they can be part of the illuminations, hopefully in Victorian costume."


Picasso and Marie-Thérèse:

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Pablo Picasso - Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L’amour fou
Following the critical and popular success of “Picasso: Mosqueteros” in New York in 2009 and “Picasso: The Mediterranean Years” in London in 2010, Gagosian Gallery is pleased to present the next chapter in an ongoing exploration of Picasso’s principal themes. “Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L’amour fou” brings together the paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints inspired by Picasso’s greatest muse.

The work included in this publication spans the years 1927 to 1940. More than any other woman, Marie-Thérèse, with her statuesque body and strong, pure profile, fueled Picasso’s imagination with a luminous dream of youth. Although her first appearances in his work were veiled references, the arrival of the blond goddess’s likeness in his art announced a new love in his life. In portrayals, Picasso would stretch her robust athletic form to new extremes, metamorphosing her in endlessly inventive ways. She became the catalyst for some of his most exceptional work, from groundbreaking paintings to an inspired return to sculpture in the 1930s, according her an almost mythic stature and immortality as an art historical subject.

This fully illustrated catalogue includes a new biographical essay by Picasso biographer John Richardson; an essay by Diana Widmaier Picasso which explores Picasso’s portraiture and includes dozens of never before published photos of Marie-Thérèse from the family archive; and an essay by Elizabeth Cowling examining the dissemination of Picasso’s sculptures through the art journals of the period.


May 19, 2011

Art work of late renowned artist Asim Butt exhibited

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KARACHI: Mohatta Palace Museum displayed an artwork of renowned artist late Asim Butt at an exhibition entitled ‘Rebel Angel: Asim Butt 1978-2010’.

Butt was a contemporary artist and a social commentator. He committed suicide at the age of 32 years. He highlighted the issues relating to human behaviour and social norms through his innovative work and fought against injustice and dualism in the society. Butt not only worked at studios, but also incited people at public places against unjust.

He took painting as a medium to express his viewpoints over social and political issues. He painted visual stories in and outside studios to record his protest against pollution, cigarette advertisements and other issues faced by the people.

Butt also played an active role in social movements through his artwork. He painted graffiti amid lawyers and other movements in Pakistan and was considered a rebel against unjust. Butt was born in Karachi on March 26, 1978. He obtained a BSc degree from LUMS, Lahore and a Fine Art degree from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. The exhibition comprised over 70 art pieces of his work.

A large number of his work was done at large canvas. He used several mediums, including water and oil colour, chalk, charcoal and spray-paints on canvas, fiber, wood and other boards to depict his emotions and inner situations.

Speaking on the occasion, Mohatta Palace Museum Director Nasreen Askari said that Butt was a young artist who died untimely. She said: “He was an able artist. He worked for people, keeping in view political and social problems faced by people.” Askari said Butt spread his message through his innovative work in a brilliant manner. “We organised this exhibition to pay tribute to him,” she added.


Architecture, That Talks to Your Emotions

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Archi­tec­ture rep­re­sents one of the ancient forms of fine arts and there is absolutely no doubt about this. Just like any other art, archi­tec­ture itself as well as the results of an architect’s cre­ative process is tar­geted at human feel­ings and emo­tions. Among all the art forms, archi­tec­ture is unique because it com­bines per­fectly the prac­ti­cal role and func­tion­al­ity of the art piece (for exam­ple, a build­ing, bridge, or street lay­out) with the clearly artis­tic or aes­thetic value of the lat­ter. Such emo­tional archi­tec­ture is at the cen­ter piece of our today’s show­case at Cruzine.

The Wave | Archi­tec­ture in Almere by Erik van Roekel

ua1a Architecture, That Talks to Your Emotions

Cologne – Kran­haus Süd 1 by Carsten Junga
ua1b Architecture, That Talks to Your Emotions
The won­der of archi­tec­ture by pm

ua1c Architecture, That Talks to Your Emotions
frankfurt.architecture by Johannes Heuckeroth

ua1d Architecture, That Talks to Your Emotions


Fine art of a happy marriage

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E Phillips Fox, Promenade (1909)
E Phillips Fox, Promenade (1909)

He was modest and cautious; she was outspoken and adventurous. But they brought out the best in each other, writes JOHN McDONALD. 
Words such as "delightful" do not play much of a role in this column, but if ever there were an occasion for such a lapse it would be Art, Love and Life: Ethel Carrick and E. Phillips Fox at the Queensland Art Gallery. The Foxes were a successful partnership, both as husband and wife and as two artists working in complementary styles.

Emanuel Phillips Fox (1865-1915) was academically trained and naturally cautious in his version of impressionism. Seven years his junior, Ethel Carrick (1872-1952) was a more adventurous painter. Each had much to offer the other.

The tragedy is that their marriage lasted a mere 10 tears before Fox - a chain smoker - died of cancer at the age of 50. Although one would never know it from this exhibition or catalogue, at the time of Fox's death their relationship was growing strained. works such as The Art Students (1895), Fox matches anyone in Australian art. works such as The Art Students (1895), Fox matches anyone in Australian art.

The curator, Angela Goddard, has chosen to ignore this rough patch and present the show as a love story. When an exhibition works as well as this, it would be churlish to complain.

The last months of their relationship may have been difficult but all was forgotten as Carrick became the consummate artist's widow, campaigning relentlessly on behalf of her husband's reputation. By 1925 we find her saying: "I want to lay stress on his work, which is so much the greater - my work is nothing in comparison with his."

For Fox and Carrick, the happy days of their marriage were those they spent living in Paris from 1905 to 1913. When the couple came to Melbourne in 1913, Carrick found it hard to get on with Fox's family, who regarded him as a genius and her as a dubious amateur.

She wouldn't be the first or last gentile wife to have difficulties with her husband's staunchly Jewish family. Fox, on his part, was not the only man to undergo a personality change on returning to the ancestral home.

It was a particular problem that the marriage was childless, which was viewed as a perverse decision on Carrick's part. Another sticking point was Carrick's burgeoning interest in Theosophy - Madame Blavatsky's fizzy cocktail of ersatz ancient wisdoms that enjoyed a remarkable vogue among artists at the time. Mondrian and Kandinsky were fellow believers, so Carrick was in good company, although with the passing years Theosophy looks almost as implausible as Scientology.

At the time Fox was diagnosed with lung cancer, Carrick had fled from her in-laws and gone to Sydney, where she was staying with Theosophist friends. On receipt of a telegram, she hastened back to Melbourne, finding Fox already close to death. The strength of her devotion to her husband's memory probably contained an element of guilt at having left him when his health was failing. Yet there can be no doubting her admiration for his work and the sincerity of her belief that he was unfairly neglected in his home country.

Nowadays we might see Fox as an artist who has been both underrated and overrated. In his best paintings he is a match for almost anybody in Australian art but pictures such as The Art Students (1895) or The Ferry (1910-11) are not plentiful in his oeuvre.

Most of his paintings have a restraint that borders on timidity, which may be put down to personal modesty and innate conservatism. He was fascinated by the effects of dappled light as opposed to the sunny vistas one finds in the Heidelberg paintings of Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder.

Before any great claims are made for Fox, we need to put his work alongside that of the French impressionists and post-impressionists with whom he cohabited in Paris. He is no Monet, no Renoir, no Bonnard. Although his skill and sensitivity can't be questioned, he remained committed to a late 19th-century aesthetic that paid homage to impressionism while retaining the tonal values of academic realism.

I remember feeling disappointed with Fox's 1995 retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria, perhaps because I had held grandiose expectations. Sixteen years later, having seen many more of his works in public and private collections and read the available literature, I've discovered a different Mr Fox. This one is less burdened with the chores of formal portraiture, less gloomy in his tones; more willing to take a sensual delight in colour, female beauty and the life of the streets.

This is the delightful bit and it owes a huge debt to his spouse. Carrick was born on the outskirts of London and had the independent instincts and progressive outlook we associate with that Victorian phenomenon ''the New Woman''. By the time she met Fox, perhaps as early as 1901, she had got to the end of her 20s without succumbing to the lures of marriage and maternity. The charming and gracious Fox was the husband she needed - a man devoted to his work who would not play the patriarch.

While the impressive, low-keyed painting The Breakfast Table (1907) shows Carrick remaining true to her training at the Slade School of Art, she soon began to paint in dabs of pure colour. She considered herself an impressionist who set out to capture the fleeting instant. This entailed a lot of painting en plein air, with people and places recorded with quick jabs of the brush. She exhibited her oil sketches along with more considered work but avoided elaborate finishing.

In Paris, Fox showed at the New Salon while Carrick showed at the more radical Autumn Salon, where the Fauves had made their outrageous debut in 1905. Both artists were appointed associates of their respective Salons, which allowed them some leeway in the display of their pictures.

While Carrick was painting in the Jardin du Luxembourg or the bustling markets of Rue Mouffetard, Fox was working on a series of delicate nudes, where the pale flesh of the model is perfectly balanced by the soft colours of walls and bedspread. In Carrick's street scenes, each colour has a distinct identity, creating a vivid patchwork. Fox, by contrast, was a master of light and shadow.

Although his nudes are posed in a closed room, one is acutely conscious of the warmth of the sunlight glimpsed through the shutters. It's tempting to be simplistic and say that Fox's work has a greater interiority, Carrick's an extrovert dimension.

When they travelled together to Normandy, Venice or North Africa, their works grew closer. Away from the studio, Fox painted a large number of very free oil sketches in bright colours. He must have enjoyed showing Carrick that if he chose to do so, he could paint with just as much vigour and spontaneity as she did. Unlike his wife, he rarely exhibited this kind of small study.

In the same manner as his friend and fellow expatriate Rupert Bunny, Fox was a dedicated painter of women. Pictures such as On the Balcony or Nasturiums (both 1912) are brilliant decorations but also full of tender sympathy for the model, Ethel Anderson.

Carrick's portrait of the same model, The White Trimmed Hat (c. 1911), is direct to the point of bluntness, with none of Fox's reticence. Carrick has Anderson looking straight out at the viewer, while Fox makes us the unseen observers of her reveries. In his works, the model remains secure in her own world, oblivious to our prying eyes.

In this comparison we learn a lot about the respective personalities of the artists. Carrick was outspoken by nature, willing to take on causes and join committees. Fox was more discreet, less confrontational in every way. While Carrick took an experimental approach to painting, Fox was careful not to stray too far from the middle path. He had built up a repertoire of skills and was not about to throw everything to the winds, as artists such as Matisse had done.

Carrick was right to see Fox as her superior. He had a subtlety and depth that she could not match, although she had substantial qualities of her own. Such qualities are on display in probably her best-known work, Manly Beach - Summer is Here (1913). Although she was not Australian by birth, few artists have been more successful at capturing the colour and activity of a typical day at the beach.

This is a very noisy painting, full of the hubbub of crowds and the sounds of the surf. It is the last item in this show and it is a well-chosen conclusion. One passes through the exit feeling that whatever highs and lows the Foxes experienced during a decade of marriage, they deserve their Hollywood ending.

May 18, 2011

Threatened rock carvings of Pakistan

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A collage of carvings and inscriptions of different periods shows the heritage on the brink of destruction as the proposed site of the Diamer-Basha Dam hosts some 30,000 ancient art carvings and inscriptions which may vanish forever. – 3D artwork by Mufassir A. Kha
Pakistan is going to lose one of the most precious rock art carvings due to construction of the Diamer-Basha Dam. The proposed site of the dam hosts some 30,000 ancient art carvings and inscriptions which may vanish forever due to the construction of this reservoir.

The northern area of Pakistan is a mountainous region which lies between the western Himalayas, the Korakoram in the east and the Hindukush in the west. Here, the junction of the ancient routes made the upper Indus a cradle and crossroads of different civilizations.
The junction of the ancient routes made the upper Indus a cradle and crossroads of different civilizations.
Travelers, invaders, merchants, pilgrims and artisans from different ages and cultures used the legendary silk route and its branches to enter in the region. Many of them left their cultural and religious signs on the rocks, boulders and cliffs.

The sun-tanned smooth rocks attracted more visitors and settlers to carve their own signs, symbols, inscriptions and artworks on the same locations. And hence, gradually a rock art archive accumulated in the area and eventually became a wonderland of some 50,000 rock carvings and 5,000 inscriptions from different civilizations ranging from the eighth millennium BC to the coming of Islam (since the 16th century AD) in the region.

The diversity of the rock carvings in the region turned the area into one of the most important rendezvous of petroglyphs in the world.

The history of discoveries

In 1884, a Hungarian traveler, Karl Eugen discovered a Buddhist carving in present Baltistan. In 1907, a veteran explorer, Ghulam Muhammad unveiled another Buddhist petroglyph from the Diamer district.

When the 750 km long, Karakorum Highway (the modern Silk Road) inaugurated in 1978, thousands of more engravings came to view which inspires a German scholar, Karl Jettmar to further explore the rock art wealth.

In 1980, Karl Jettmar and Pakistan’s father of archaeology, Ahmed Hassan Dani launched a Pak-German study group to systematically investigate the ancient rock art in the region.
This area is also famous for the amazing story of mysterious gold-digging ants.Greek historian, Herodotus (in fifth century BC) wrote (Historia III, 102-105) about the land of Dardai, where gold-digging ants – “bigger than fox, though not so big as a dog were used to collect gold particles.”
Another research project entitled “Rock Carvings and Inscriptions along the Karakorum Highway” was initiated in 1983. The Heidelberg Academy of Humanities and Sciences and the Department of Archaeology of Gilgit were responsible for the study group. Professor Harald Hauptmann has been the head of the project since 1989 as a successor of Jettmar.

Talking Rocks

The Shatial, Thor, Hodur, Thalpan, Naupura, Chaghdo and other sites of northern Pakistan having clusters of carvings but the Basha-Diamer area holds thousands of very important rock carvings.

Hauptmann told that a total of 37,051 carvings on 5,928 boulders or rock faces will be inundated after the construction of the Diamer-Basha Dam.

The site represents hundreds of inscriptions in Brahmi, Sogdian, middle Persian, Chinese, Tibetan and even ancient Hebrew languages. Some 80 per cent of the writings are in Brahmi language.

Always) remember that (one day) you must die.” –. Photo courtesy by Harald Hauptmann / Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Germany.

These writings not only provide insights into the religious and political situation but also show the name of the rulers and a rough date of the time. These details of the inscriptions helped the experts arrange them chronologically.

One of the interesting Brahmi inscriptions can be read as; Martavyam Smartavyam, which means: “(Always) remember that (one day) you must die.”

This prehistoric Caprine depiction was discovered in Chilas . Photo courtesy by Harald Hauptmann / Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Germany.

The earliest rock carvings in northern Pakistan dates back to the ninth millennium BC (roughly late Stone Age). Wild animals and hunting scenes are commonly found in this era but the hunter himself was never found.


The mysterious “Giant Figures” represents the demons, deities or supernatural beings. More than 50 such carvings have been discovered in the area. – Photo courtesy by Harald Hauptmann / Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Germany.

The following Bronze Age petroglyphs represent the most spectacular carvings of giants. These life size male giant figures with stretched arms could be assumed to be images of ghosts, demons, deities or gods. Some 50 such carvings have been discovered in northern areas but all the giants have no facial features.

In the third millennium BC, agriculture started in the region and carvings of horses were observed for first time. Then in the beginning of the first millennium BC, the area witnessed invasions by new ethnic groups such as the Sakan tribes. They carved sketches of Eurasian animals, most of them very interesting, bizarre and mythical in nature.

Later, another bunch of carvings appeared representing more mythical creatures, horses and warriors with Persian attire. These depicted the Iranian influence in the region and the expansion of Achaemenid Empire in sixth century BC.

The Golden era of Buddhism

In the first century AD, Buddhism emerged in the area as new belief system and reached its peak between the fifth and eighth century. Many spectacular carvings of Buddha and stupas – sacred buildings – and related inscriptions were found carved in the same era.

The beautiful carvings of two Buddhas flanking a stupa.

Hauptmann / Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Germany.

According the Hauptmann, the historic period of early Buddhism started from this area because of findings of old Indian style Khorashti language or Sanskrit. The venerations of Buddha and names of different kings show the climax of Buddhism in this area.

Although addressing Pakistan’s energy crisis is an urgent need and the Basha Dam would help bridge the gap between the demand and supply of power, the conservation and mitigation of these carvings is also very important.

When, asked Hauptmann about mitigation of the rock carvings in one hand and the need of the dam on the other, he said, “We (as an archaeologist) have to respect the decision (to build the dam) but it is very sad for us to lose one of the most rich and diverse rock art provinces of the world.”

According to Hauptmann, the Basha Dam will drown 32 villages and displace more than 25,000 people.

He added that some 3,000 very important stupas and similar number of drawings will be submerged after the construction of the dam. He called to establish a cultural center in Gilgit where original and replicas of the carvings could be preserved along with scientific documents about the geography, history, languages, music, wildlife and other aspects of the northern areas.

This center could be a rendezvous for scholars, writers, visitors and for future generation to discover the exciting history of the region.

Gold-digging ants

This area is also famous for the amazing story of mysterious gold-digging ants.

Greek historian, Herodotus (in fifth century BC) wrote (Historia III, 102-105) about the land of Dardai, where gold-digging ants – “bigger than fox, though not so big as a dog were used to collect gold particles.”
Later, other historians and writers such as Arrian, Claudius Aelianus, Ktesias, and Plinius shed some light on this amazing tale that fox-sized fuzzy “ants” were found in far eastern India in a region with yellow sand rich in gold particles.

The creatures piled up the dust and dirt while digging up the burrows where people would collect them to extract gold.

In 1854, Alexander Cunningham mentioned the fact that “the sands of the Indus have long been celebrated for the production of gold.”

In 1984, a French ethnologist Michel Peissel wrote a book named, “The Ants’ Gold: The Discovery of the Greek El Dorado in the Himalayas”. Peissel suggested that Herodotus actually mentioned the Deosai Plateau of Pakistan in the story of gold-digging ants.

He said that not ants but (Himalayan) marmot used to dig deep burrows and pile large amount of sand. He further wrote that Deosai Plateau is rich in gold particles where marmot were found in abundance and thus solved the thousands-of-years-old gold-ant puzzle.

Peissel also claimed to interview Minaro, Maruts or Sonival tribes of Deosai Plateau and they confirmed the gold collection procedure through marmots.

But why did Herodotus write about gold-digging ‘ants’? Peissel presented the theory that Herodotus was probably unaware of the Persian language and depended on local interpreters and never claimed to see any ants by himself. He was confused because the old Persian word for “marmot” was very similar to that for “mountain ant”.

The Management Plane

Dr. Ayesha Pamela Rogers is the director of Rogers Kolachi Khan and Associates (RKK) and contracted by the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) for the Heritage Impact Assessment survey and report for the dam.

RKK launched its first report in 2009 as a long term comprehensive management plan to safeguard the heritage and help the people affected by the building of the reservoir.

Rogers agreed that some 30,000 carvings on 5,000 rocks will be affected. Some of them will be totally submerged; others will be seasonally under water and then exposed when water level are low, she assessed.
“Other (rock carvings) will be seasonally under water and then exposed when water levels are low, others which are now at high elevations will be close to the new shoreline. It means mitigation and conservation approaches are needed for this entire situation.

Other threats exist which are not related to the dam – many carvings are being vandalised as we speak – and new risks will arise if and when tourism is developed. Again, all these need to be addressed in a management plan,” she added.

She further said that Wapda is committed to this project and preserving whatever it can.

The pages of history, language and religion have been carved on the upper Indus rocks and they have been talking to humanity for hundred of years. An urgent and comprehensive plan is needed to preserve them for the world and for the generations to come.