Masood Hussain: Connecting through Colours

Masood Hussain: Connecting through Colours

New York Times ran a story on how a painter is connecting people.

On his last journey to Kashmir, renowned poet Agha Shahid Ali was busy doing what he loved doing the most, writing. Engrossed, on his electronic typewriter at his Rajbagh residence, Shahid turned towards the visiting artist Masood Hussain.

“I want to give you something,” smiled Shahid as he handed him some pages. As Masood flipped through the pages inscribed with some couplets, he enquired, “what am I going to do with them.”

In a soft voice Shahid told him, “I want you to paint on the theme of these couplets whenever you have time.”

Shahid returned to USA where he soon succumbed to cancer in 2001. In between, more than a decade passed and Masood had almost forgotten the couplets when he accidentally rediscovered the pages at his house in 2013. With titles like ‘Early Winter,’ ‘Deep January,’ ‘When It is Early Spring,’ ‘The Elements Conspire,’ ‘Autumn Refrain in Kashmir,’ ‘At the Gates of Paradise,’ and ‘The Blossoms Return’ in his hands, Masood got possessed with the magical words and he decided to paint. Perhaps Shahid knew that Masood would accomplish the task but at a later time. “Just before the floods (September 2014 flood) I completed the seven paintings,” said Masood at his house where the putrid smell of destruction has given way to competing whiff of paint, wood and fresh concrete. In the floods Masood lost everything except the seven paintings that has added to their aura. As art lovers are eagerly awaiting unveiling of these masterpieces Masood, who still is giving finishing touches to his new house, says, “hopefully they will be exhibited this year.”

Of the unpublished couplets Masood received from legendary poet, his favourite remains ‘The Elements Conspire.’

They conspire so that someone 

on the shores 

awaits the vendor of flowers

And the other side of the earth awaits Kashmir’s sun, 

its message that water and fire are at peace.


The 62 year old has painted Kashmir in almost every colour tacitly agrees that the paintings are climbing the charts of his own favourite list. Shahid always had a high regard of Masood and he personally selected his painting “A peep out of the past” to be made the title page of The country without a post office. Later Shahid wrote that everyone seemed to agree that it was perhaps the ‘most beautiful looking volume of poems in years.’

Son of a physician, Masood’s inspiration of paintings came from the unlikely source of sketches of anatomy made in the medical books of his father. From doodling in his notebooks Masood gradually graduated to canvas much to the opposition of his family. “My father wanted me to become something else like a doctor as he felt there is no future in painting,” said Masood. “However he had to relent after I persisted.”

In 1971 Masood went to JJ Institute of Applied Art Mumbai and he studied and later worked there for seven years. On his return to Kashmir in 1977 he got appointed as professor at Institute of Music and Fine Arts (IMFA) and continued till his retirement in 2011. At IMFA he is credited with establishing department of Applied Art and has taught fine arts to students who have now made career in the field all over the world.

“After retirement I feel a lot relieved as now I have more time to spend on my work,” says Masood sporting his trademark flocks of silver hair. “Though post flood construction took a lot of time but now I am organizing everything and setting up my studio. And studio is flood proof as it is on upper floor,” adds Masood with a smile.

In art circles Masood is a hot property, whatever he paints is sold off within no time, sometime in seconds. “People just open up their purses when they hear Masood Saheb has painted something knew,” said an admirer of his art. “They don’t mind to offer Lakhs of rupees for a single painting.”

Masood’s interest doesn’t end up with brush and canvas only, he is an ace designer of sculptures too. The famous stone sculpture at Badamwari stands a tall testimony of his work. Notwithstanding their lack of maintenance, the sculpture fountains designed by him adorn various public places like Munawarabad, Babadem, and Karan Nagar. 

At his house one can find the streaks of his genius in every corner. Be it lamp shades made of walnut wood that resembles a chirping bird or the table with non linear boundary. “I love designing furniture too and this I have done myself,” said Masood as he pulls a compact walnut chair. The intelligent use of space for drawers in an adjoining almirah gives a clean look to the room.

Despite his other talents, painting has continued to remain his niche. The canvas sometimes accomplishes much bigger objectives than being a treat to the eyes. “Few years back I did around 200 water colour paintings and uploaded them to facebook,” said Masood. “It was kind of Art for All project and to make the medium as a bridge. The response was huge.”

Not only locals reacted but the paintings became point of discussions and comments from Kashmiris settled all around the globe. The pandits who had left in 1990s loved the project as the paintings depicting common scenes and locations of Kashmir brought back the nostalgic feelings of home. Somebody wrote that I used to walk daily through that road whereas some other wrote that it was exactly which he had left behind. New York Times ran a story on how a painter is connecting people.

Every painting which Masood draws has immense research and thinking behind it. For his recent series of rural kitchen, Masood had to travel far and wide to get that authentic cultural look. “In Gurez I stayed for around 15 days,” he casually says. “It has after hectic efforts that I was allowed into the restricted areas.” 

His series on Kashmir Mysticism or Architecture also went through the same process. 

Masood loves experimentation. He has successfully mixed painting with sculpture by using number of objects in his work. Papier Mache has seen a regular usage. Kashmir’s old architecture has been his favourite too. He tried to revitalize the dying art of Lattice work in his works. Like his peer Santosh, Masood’s work is often influenced by shrines and mysticism too. To capture that aura, Masood would often visit shrines.

During his travels in the interiors of the city, he often catches small details and assembles them in his paintings and suddenly a peculiar mood is set on the canvas. 

Consciously and subconsciously Kashmir flows through every colour he paints. There is hardly any facet that his brush has left untouched. “I have lived through these 25 years of violence and bloodshed, how can it be ignored,” said Masood. His 31 paintings exhibited in Delhi that depicted the pain suffered by Kashmir was entirely from his own experience.

“I painted everything that Kashmir witnessed right from 1947. Be it submission of memorandum to UNO, importance of identity cards, migration of Pandits, mass rape at Kunanposhpora, PTSD problems and so on,” said Masood. “Because I felt this is the real depiction of Kashmir beyond the dominating aura of beautiful landscape.”

The depiction of conflict in his paintings has been right from his childhood. His first painting was a man with a bandage on his head that is slightly stained with blood near his temples. The painting was inspired from an incident of stone pelting witnessed by Masood somewhere in 1960s.

According to experts Masood has single handedly managed to document Kashmir conflict through his art. “Post conflict art and literature is acutely missing in Kashmir. In literature we are yet to produce another Agha Shahid Ali,” said Masood. “For art, the aesthetic sense is far from being developed.”  

Though Masood’s work has been exhibited as group in number of shows, but his fame came through his two major solo exhibitions held by Ibrahim al Qazi at Art Heritage New Delhi in 2001 and 2004. That set the ball rolling for Masood.

As of now Masood’s paintings can be seen in different Art Galleries of USA and Europe. Here they adorn Jammu and Kashmir Bank Corporate Head Quarter , Raj Bhawan and with many private Collectors.

Masood was also the central character that propelled the story in the documentary Look behind the Canvas. The film by Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Barmahani also entered in the 10th Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival 2014.

Masood worries about the art sector in Kashmir. “The problems are immense, I don’t know where should I even start. There is a not a place for exhibition, even Ladakh has a galley. After IMFA still craves for attention,” said Masood. “For government art is limited to showcasing theatre. And among public, the meaning of art is yet to dawn. Last time some students painted the mural at Hyderpora Bypass and when they went to officials for remuneration they were literally kicked out.”

However his hope remains the emerging artists who according to his are highly talented. 

Masood considers himself along with host of some other painters are the third generation painters. The first generation was occupied by the likes of G R Santosh, D N Wali and others who brought a wave of fresh air in art after 1947. The second generation included Ghayoor Hassan, Bhushan Koul, A R John etc.

The iconic Santosh continues to remain the favourite painter of Masood.  “I have learnt a lot from him and he has inspired me the most,” says Masood.