Kashmir's self taught artist creates mesmerising paintings on canvas

As he strolls brush over canvas, mixing colours from the palette at regular intervals, many thoughts run across 40-year-old Nabeel Sultan’s mind.  While painting a confluence of visual scenes into a final landscape painting, Srinagar-based artist and photographer Nabeel points out to his strong lineage of art – thanks to his late father and celebrated artist of Kashmir Shujah Sultan.

Nabeel also recollects his eventful career spanning over last 19 years. From securing a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology to doing professional modelling and now being a visual artist, Nabeel has truly come a long way.

Ask Nabeel how it felt like growing up in the house of a renowned artist and pat comes the reply: “I spent my childhood walking in and out of my father’s workspace. The memories of colours and brushes remain deeply etched on my mind.”

It was in 2007 that Nabeel had to cut-short a promising career of modelling in Delhi and Mumbai to attend his ailing father back home. The homecoming however was full of challenges until Nabeel found his creative satisfaction in doing art work. He quite literally picked it up from where his father had left. Nabeel began using the material left behind by his father at the workstation where late Shujah Sultan painted some mesmerising images for years.

“As a model, I did photo shoots for popular designers and brands in Delhi and Mumbai. I worked as a model for a French company but life took a turn as soon as I came back to Kashmir. There were plans that I should set up a readymade garments showroom but eventually landed up in Uri running a plaster of Paris factory for five years,” says Nabeel.

Pic: Mubashir Khan/GK

Even as Nabeel’s entrepreneurial venture was wound up in 2014, he had one more business stint of two years to his name as he started a readymade showroom in Srinagar which he closed in 2016.

“My life is an open book. I agree that I might be a failed businessman but have found my solace in painting and photography,” says Nabeel.

Having started his career as an artist drawing caricatures and cartoons, Nabeel now describes himself as a professional visualist. He is fond of painting landscapes, portraits and capturing beauty and bounty of nature in his camera.

“Apart from the paintings, I also indulge in photography capturing landscapes, snow sculpting and image manipulation using latest software tools to fine tune photographic work,” says Nabeel.

Despite no formal training for painting, Nabeel has emerged as a creative artist with his art works inspired by iconic artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and others.

“At the time of choosing a professional course, I was at the crossroads of my life. I was quite interested in joining an art school but my parents had other plans for me,” says Nabeel.

“I tried to replicate art works of some of the old masters. Besides, observing my father’s work was a great learning in itself,” he says.

Nabeel says his work grows from the “duel between the isolated individuals and imaginary landscapes inspired from the nature.  I pursue no specific direction in the sense of a style. I have no fixed image to draw. What I have is an aesthetic concept, whereby I try to keep as many expressive options open for myself as possible.”

Nabeel who has participated in several exhibitions and events organised by private players as well as the government, says that it takes him anywhere between two to three months for completion of acrylic work and often much more time for oil-based paintings. However, this artist who firmly believes in exploring places by visiting them time and again says in times of high-end technology, it is not easy to survive as an artist.

“I visit a location again and again till I get the perfect shot. Photography has also helped boost my paintings,” says Nabeel.

Pic: Mubashir Khan/GK

Nabeel’s mantra for creative satisfaction and growth as an artist is simple: “My humble request to budding artists is that taking lessons from Youtube and being technology dependent is a good idea … but please let not overconfidence of being an accomplished artist overnight spoil your talent. Art must come directly from the heart,” says Nabeel.

“Two years back a group of persons had mischievously managed to hack into my personal system and ruined my thousands of photographic works. This incident has turned me quite conscious of preserving and protecting my work,” says Nabeel.

Going through his works, Nabeel points out to some of his personal favourites: “Look at this painting. It is that of a winter day in Gulmarg. I am fond of winters in Kashmir and love to depict this season in my works.”

Nabeel shows a few more of his works, especially a mesmerising early morning image of Jhelum. Most of Nabeel’s work leaves one to wonder, whether it is a painting or a photograph. This artistic work par excellence as per Nabeel still doesn’t find the deserved platform in Kashmir.

“There are artists who know how to do their own marketing. With very less talent they are able to get good returns for their work. The biggest problem in Kashmir is that even connoisseurs of art expect paintings as gifts. Lately some people have come forward to purchase art works for their homes and hotels but I would say there are still 8 to 10 years before paintings and other art works will get true recognition in the Valley,” says Nabeel.

This soft spoken artist says he started selling art works only since 2016, adding that his year he hasn’t sold any of his paintings. “I intend to soon put up an exhibition of my works,” he says.

“Whenever I am painting or clicking photographs, I try to make it better than my last work. I have learnt art by a hit and trial method. I am quite proud of being a self-taught artist,” says Nabeel.

Nabeel signs off saying although he wants to be remembered for the legacy he carries but is hopeful to carve his own niche as an artist in years to come.