Nisar Aziz: The forgotten Picasso of Kashmir

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File Photo

It is said that a single neighbourhood in Habba Kadalproduced two great painters in Kashmir, one became a household name andanother's level of popularity gradually vanished with time. The former was thelegendary G R Santosh and the later, a humble painter Nisar Aziz Beg. The twowere neighbours at Chinkral Mohalla, Habbakadal, and worked during what istermed as the golden age of art and literature in Kashmir.

Those who knew Nisar Aziz say his work was no less importantthan the top notch artists of that time. Largely a self taught artist, Nisarplayed his role in enriching and founding the new era of art in Kashmir.

According to known theatre personality Pran Kishore Kaul,history of Modern Art In Kashmir is incomplete without mentioning artists likeNisar Aziz. He was the part of caravan that emerged post 1947 on the horizon ofArt in Kashmir valley. Nisar was a neighbour of G R Santosh. He learnt byobservation alone. He would visit drawing Masters or Artists during his youthto learn and pick up basics. He would observe, watch and then try himself. 

"I remember he had an exhibition in Kolkatta and peopleloved it there. The press dubbed him as Indian Picasso while reviewing hiswork," said M A Mehboob, a known painter who also knew Nisar.

A down to earth artist, Nisar's work had elements similar toPicasso. He loved to paint in what is called as cubist style, which wassomething new in the art scene of Kashmir. With keen eye on society, hispaintings depicted scenes with multiple layers of meanings.

Nisar was later known as Kashmir's Picasso because of hisstyle of painting. Many of his paintings are currently with Jammu KashmirAcademy of Art Culture and Languages, Institute of Music and Fine Arts, variousother organisations and in private collections. Number of his paintings werealso destroyed during 2014 floods.

It is said that Nisar started painting due to an accident.After being injured during a football match, he was forced to stay indoors.After trying guitar for some time, he started scribbling sketches with hispencil. It kindled a hidden passion in him and soon brush and canvas followed.

According to Mehboob, he did a course in art at Amar SinghTechnical Institute, which set a way for him in his artistic journey. Most ofthe time he learnt by himself by observing others. He got a job in Censusdepartment which he left shortly afterwards.

Later he was appointed as art instructor in Gandhi MemorialCollege. His job was to  assist B.Ed.students in preparation of Charts and Models. The authorities after noticinghis talent sanctioned him a Professor's pay. Since that day he came to be knownas Professor Nisar Aziz. He rose to become the principal of the college.

His talent blossomed with age and his work inspired otherstoo. One of his famous exhibitions was at Jehangir Art gallery in Mumbai.

He held many solo Exhibitions in Srinagar also. One suchExhibition held inside Hotel Broadway was inaugurated by Sheikh Mohd Abdullah.He also held an Exhibition of his paintings at Lalit kala Academy New Delhi.

In a post on Nisar Aziz, cultural blogger and writer AutarMota quotes Bansi Raina, "Nisar Aziz was a close friend of mine and a member of my theatre club Rangmanch.Nisar worked in Field Survey Organisation once along with Lassa Koul of DD,Akhtar Mohiudidin, Mohan Charagi and others. He was a self taught painter andwe attended his exhibition in Bombay in early eighties. His house at ChinkralMohalla Srinagar  was in the vicinityof  G R Santosh's house. MK Swaminetriand Theatre Personality ML Saraf were also his neighbours."

He was a thorough gentleman and a humble person. He was alsoconnected to a local drama club and theatre.

"I along with other young artists Maharaj Bhat and BavneshRaina used to visit his studio at his house more than any other artists. He wasmost humble would go out of his way in helping and teaching us the intricaciesof art. When we were young we would just paint colours according to our hunch,but it was he, who introduced us to the meaning of colours," said Mehboob. "Hewas Frank and never kept any knowledge hidden from us."

Along with other stalwarts, Nisar used to grace IndianCoffee House, which was the main waterhole for who-is-who of art, literatureand culture in Kashmir. "We learnt some of the valuable lessons of life at theCoffee House where we used to spend days and listen to their discussions," saidMehboob.

According to experts, together with his contemporaries likeSN Butt, Triloke Kaul, PN Kachm, Kishori Kaul, M Sadiq, Suraj Tikoo, BansiParimo, Ratan Parimoo and Manohar Kaul, Nisar Aziz comprises of  the first generation of Kashmiri artistswhose work, partially or uncompromisingly, embodies the modem art idioms.

Sadly, there is complete lack of focus on Nisar's work. Evenhis Gandhi College doesn't have any mention of him on its website. Same is thecase with JKAACL, which even possesses some of his work.

Wasim Mushtaq Wani who did his PhD on "Modern art inKashmir:1950 to the present" at Aligarh Muslim University discusses scarcity ofprimary sources about artists like Nisar and M Sadiq and Suraj Tiku. "Thepossible reason that they did not find a definite and continued mention in thegeneral information about the modem artists of the Valley may largely be due totheir early retirement, lack  ofnecessary patronage, disillusionment or the absence of continued development inthe quality or the productivity of their work," he writes, adding that NisarAziz, SN Butt, Triloke Kaul, PN Kachru, GR Santosh and Ratan Parimoo, wereconvincingly the first initiators to launch a certain renaissance in the fieldof plastic arts in the Valley.

While discussing one of his paintings, Wasim says, "the workreflects a certain virtuosity and aesthetic erudition that can only be achievedafter a sustained practice with the oil pigment, the perceptually rigorousunderstanding of the subtle tonalities of color, the art-historically informedexecution of the canvas space. The work, in its unorthodox and non-conformiststance, posits even greater expressionist/abstract bravado than his fellowartists like Triloke Kaul, Santosh and Kishori. In its gestural dynamism andthe overall flat outlook the painting is marked with a vivid reminiscence tothe abstract expressionism of Jackson Plock's drip paintings. However, Nisarappears relatively controlled in his spontaneous mode to invite accidents."

Wasim compares Nisar's aesthetic stance with pre-minimal oilpaintings of Nasreen Mohamadi of early 60s and the collage mode of Jyoti Bhat'spost 60s paintings. Nisar shares his non-narrative mode of Indian art's post 60experimentation in the abstract idiom.

Nisar is thought to have worked till eighties and it wasduring this time  his last exhibition wasalso held in Srinagar. Later on he retired from the art scene and people tooforgot him.

Wasim, in his research writes, "From the local accounts itis maintained that he was very much active in the early phase of his career andwould periodically participate in the annual exhibitions of the J&K Academybut his sudden retreat from the art scene remains a mystery which he possiblydoes not want to share."

He spent his last days in USA and died on 12 February 2018in California.

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