The portrait of an artist: Oil paintings on homemade canvas put spotlight on marginalised communities

Arif Khan makes Islamic calligraphy, fuses tradition with abstraction, bold colours

Paintings by Arif Khan. PHOTO COURTESY: ARIF KHAN

PESHAWAR: A meticulous stroke brushes against homemade paper to bring life into the expression of a woman who stares at an onlooker. With tango orange lips, she appears resigned yet gazes at an observer with a deep sense of involvement. The intensity of her expression and the array of emotions she encapsulates are far more than adequate to draw anyone’s attention.

Senior painter Arif Khan has been using oil paints and homemade paper to create unique portraits of women for the last 10 years. He has used his talent and the canvas as a medium to bring issues of marginalised communities to life and in the eye of the public. Arif has specifically fleshed out the challenges faced by women in an effective and captivating manner.

“I want to give a diverse presentation of women through a more attractive and fascinating mode of art,” Arif told The Express Tribune.

Sui generis

Arif uses homemade paper to work on because he believes it is a unique medium. “It is very difficult to handle the material but a decade of experience in the field has given me complete control over my brush strokes,” he said.

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While his paintings bear a close resemblance to Mughal miniature artwork, the artist said he has given them a new look and added an exclusive touch to them.

Arif has also established himself as a versatile artist.

Inspired by nature, Islamic traditional art and women, the creative individual has fused traditional art with abstraction and bold colours to highlight issues that need to be spoken about.

While Arif also works on Islamic calligraphy, he thoroughly enjoys the power of imagination that forces him to paint women reflecting various moods and emotions.

“I do not like painting people but the environment around [them],” he said. Arif added he observes his surroundings and imagines the whole scenario before painting.

“I cannot just look at a picture or stare at a magazine and paint the visuals,” he told The Express Tribune. Arif added, “It is the surrounding that brings any object to life – a forum in which people have no idea of who they are.”

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The journey

The artist has believed in the power of imagination since his childhood. While the venture has not become Arif’s source of livelihood, it gave him enough courage to keep his passion alive and hone it along the way.

“I have not studied art at any institution nor have I ever associated myself with any artist or gained inspiration from any of the big names,” he said.

Arif added he only paints from what he sees and feels.

He currently works as a government employee and has been able to organise 17 solo painting exhibitions and more than 50 group shows in Pakistan and abroad.

He also expressed his gratitude to people for encouraging and appreciating his work.


Arif complained about the level of disparagement that artists receive at the local level.

“Even though there is no shortage of talent in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, art has always been disregarded,” he said, adding there are no facilities for artists to earn an income or enter into the national or international art arena.

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Arif added, “Therefore majority of artists have left the city for the other parts of the country and one of the famous art galleries of Peshawar has also been shifted to Islamabad.”

The artist also said most painting maestros who have been recognised globally have been ignored by Pakistanis.

“K-P’s rich cultural traditions and tangible heritage need to be protected and preserved on canvas,” Arif said. “This medium needs to be used to create awareness among people about dismissed and ignored segments of our society.”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2016.


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