April 6 marked the 5th death anniversary of renowned artist Fokhrul Islam. The artist is considered as one of the significant painters of Bangladesh who has established his individual style and technique. Throughout his illustrious career, he gradually transformed his working style into pure abstract expressionism. His artwork aesthetically lightened up people’s inner souls, letting them perceive the universe in a new-fangled and dynamic way of seeing. It is very sad that Fokhrul is no longer around to share his vision with us, his life cruelly snuffed out at 48 (in 2012), just when his skill and his insight had reached the peak he had struggled towards throughout his career as a painter.
Fokhrul even attempted was religious but secular by nature. He had to mingle mysticism and aestheticism through his paintings. He never proceeded himself with figuration. I have always been attracted to the paintings by this famous artist. His paintings are very spiritual, and I have been drawn like a magnet to his work. Fokhrul, in his ultimate phase, had taken to a poetics of simplicity, intensity and passion. He was forever celebrating in monochromatic colour. There was an unmistakable humility rooted in confidence and competence. Painterly aesthetics and spiritual concerns meet in consonance. The gap between life and art has narrowed. Fokhrul lived to paint and paints to live.
Fokhrul commenced as a ceramic artist in the early 1990s, and decided to switch to painting in the mid 1990s. From that period, he depicted a divine and thoughtful world decorated with dots, innumerable lines and unpopulated landscapes. The images were done on paper with printing ink. He used printer’s ink and mustard oil to create his subjects and highly abstract landscapes.
When one observes his works more closely, numerous combinations of black lines and tones come into view. None of the paintings and arrangements (or preparations) is in any way disruptive, repetitive and monotonous. The artist unintentionally depicted gloomy sunsets, silent woods, sprawling deserts, howling tornados and cyclones and more. The arrangements of enormous dots and geometric forms (particularly vertical, horizontal and crisscrossing lines) create a sense of aestheticism. His work reflects a thoughtful process, one that searches for relationship between lines, dots, spaces and recurring textures. The textures look very controlled, structured and tenacious.
Fokhrul plunged deep into dots, points and monochromic images. His works are immersed with rich textured patterns and the paintings are technically sophisticated. In his life time, the painter had been working on a continuous series and developing himself with innovative techniques and use of materials. In his works, he demonstrated durability and transformation. Durability, in terms of his style and technique, and transformation, in terms of his choice of subjects and visualisation.
In his creations, a number of his works reveal silence and emptiness. After observing the works, one can comprehend their beautiful simplicity. The artworks clearly reveal his fondness for architectural lines. The beauty of the images lies in light pouring through vertical and horizontal lines. Sometimes the lines are very visible and at times invisible — creating shadowy and whimsical images. The painter sometimes used golden ochre and blazing black. With rapid sweeping strokes, he brought in large landscapes and vibrant life, despite their simplicity and economic use of colours.
Fokhrul’s lines seem to us to provide a new presence and to introduce a novel chapter in our life. Life is always growing and expanding – a process that brings to us a New World which is completely unknown to us. His flat surface plays between the monochromic colour and sprinkled texture to set up an illusionary effect of space. This has been created on the canvas although the colours that have been applied are flat tones. Keeping perspective in mind, the tonal plus linear approach give his work a different quality that engrosses our attention and leads to fresh insights into dynamic possibilities suggested so vividly by Fokhrul, the cerebral artist.