Tajuddin Ahmed is one of the most vital painters from the ‘70s, a time when the country was striving against the pangs that forced it into the freedom movement. Thus far while crossing the many a political, social and economic turmoil that came along the path our art, literature, architecture, music continued to proceed with a newfangled dream and innovative vision.
This is an unquestionable assessment that 21st century art can be categorised into two distinct movements. One can be called conceptual, which is characterised by works of art that deal with socially and politically engaging issues. The other, the foremost concept of this century’s art is pure abstraction in its diverse styles. Tajuddin’s work represents the latter one. He has felicity enough to identify himself with his apparently harmonised and standalone working styles. Steadfast may be the term more appropriate in denoting his stylistic approach to preserve the personal hallmark of his works.
Tajuddin hails from Rokonpur under Laxmibazar, one of the historical parts of our Old Dhaka, an over-populated and over-congested area. The place is also recognised for ancient buildings and architectural heritages. He passed his early life by the banks of the Buriganga River which flow very near to his living place. He enjoyed seeing boats on sail, singing boatmen, riverine life and green grandeurs. During that time he used to portray them with his novice hands. Along with natural elements, colour was a predominant aspect of his works. The treatment of colour and particularly the selection of objects were distinct and mind-boggling.
When Tajuddin gets engrossed with his paintings, he loses himself. Without fear, he is known to nurture enough courage to destroy his labourious productions if he finds them unsatisfactory and thus create a new pattern, as the world of painting surrounds him from all possible dimensions. He most certainly does not seem to relent and on the contrary can not help but breathe the life in each painting. Likewise Tajuddin can apply colours and create forms, lines and compositions. He puts layer upon layer of paint and draws forms and objects, until he feels that he has achieved what he’s striving for. The outcome is a contemplative, subtly balanced arrangement of colours and space that draws an art enthusiast’s eyes.
As an intense onlooker, Tajuddin closely observed the transforming socio-political and economical conditions of the city. Generally he set out as a naturist and landscape painter. In the early stages of his career, nature played a major role in his works. The painter feels that the nature has an endless source of splendour, mystery and anonymity. He discovered inspiration in the elaborate detailing of glimpses like light filtering through the leaves, sound of river’s wave, the silence of nature, a drop of rain, singing crickets, dense foliage, the play of light and shadow in nature, flora and fauna as well as many others. Each of these elements contained a new story for him. The diverse activities in dockyards also gained a prominent focus in Tajuddin’s paintings at the early stage of his career. He elaborately portrayed the ship building process, drudgers engrossed with labourious engagements, upside down ships and cargos under repair, scrap metals of ships scattered on the ground and plying ships on docks. He also portrayed small and big boats in all their possible varieties as well as repairing and maintenance activities around the banks of the rivers.
With the passage of time, Tajuddin has refined himself. He transformed himself as a semi-abstract painter after the 1980s and set off to interpret metropolitan community rigorously through thematic treatment. He intimately observed the city’s unplanned urbanisation, ruined richness of heritage, transports, changing socio-political and economic conditions. For deeper inspiration and bringing variation in his theme centric works, the artist fervently painted Old Dhaka with its vibrant activities, downtrodden people in their daily chores, rickshaws and their hapless but dauntless drivers, light posts, narrow alleys, condensed habitations, wrecked buildings, cluttered wires pondering across roads etc. He also depicted people in masses busy with their different approaches and aided by sufferings, torments, bliss and ecstasies. He occupied himself mostly with oil medium and the medium gave him a true sense of persistence. As the paint is a beautiful medium, it can attain buttery glosses, thin luminescent glazes, and rich colours like none other.
Tajuddin’s paintings from this period (afterwards he also worked on the same topics) also highlight wheels, prostitution and familiar features of the city. Gradually figures died out in his works and various kinds of forms, symbols, textures, oval, triangular and rectangular shapes and lines took over the canvas. Geometric structures, architectural and structural views give a new perspective to his works. Adjoining columns, slabs, walls, broken pillars, elephant forms compass, broken doors, windows and others are also apparent in his works. His canvas is truly representative of our modern urban milieu.
After 1990, Tajuddin completed his artistic journey to become a pure abstract expressionist painter. His paintings delved deep into pure forms, compositions and hues which have been used according to the space. Sometimes he played with neat forms and compositions and time and again, occupied himself with healthy curved horizontal and vertical lines, straight lines, elliptical, non- elliptical shapes, cubic forms and rigid structure. He played with space and sometimes the space played a vital role for many of his paintings. Occasionally forms engrossed either middle or lower parts of the canvas. Sometimes it seemed he was more conscious about space and forms. The application of forms gives a cerebral and contemplative look to his works. His works are very expressive due to the effective use of space in his paintings during this period. During the time, many of his paintings feature complex compositions, textural strength and thickness of colours. A number of his paintings look neat and tranquil as the works focus on colours and their various layers. The colours are azure, crimson, red, black, white, yellow, cobalt blue, yellow ochre, purple ochre, burnt sienna, umber and emerald green. The painter has played with texture and illusion for surface effects, as his surfaces look more impressive and appealing. Colours have appeared flatly in some of his works. The tonal plus linear approach gives his work a different quality and distinctive look.
Suddenly Tajuddin migrated to Toronto in 2008. Before leaving Dhaka, he did several solo and group expositions where he always tried to articulate his personal thinking process and endeavoured to hold his personal trademark through his works. He received a number of prestigious awards for his immense contributions to Bangladeshi art. After migration, Tajuddin felt that location plays a significant role in an artist’s life. One can easily get affected by the environment, cultural and social setting. The artist feels alienated in Toronto but the solitude gives him a chance to explore himself thoroughly. His art tries to replicate nature’s colour synchronisation in his works. The space that is found to adorn his works belonging to the most important forms, take precedence by position rather than by perspective, resulting in abstract relationships. The artist’s enhanced use of the romantic background matched by sensual colours and remarkable themes turned the paintings into abstractions of landscape. Light and shade beautifully play through the inner and outer spaces of his works. His mode of expressions is apparently abstract expressionism. In this genre an artist expresses himself purely through the use of form and colour. It is non-representational or non-objective art, which means that there is no actual object represented. It also exposes the artist’s most personal feelings and personal redemption directly through the creative process.
As part of his soul’s quest in Toronto, Tajuddin derives inspiration from many aspects of his surroundings. Leafless trees in winter, silent nature, summer celebrations, greenery in both urban and semi-urban areas, people relaxing and walking around and their body language appear symbolically in his artworks. The painter has used varied hues like yellow, emerald green, coffee, dark blue, copper red, brown, green and black in his works. His brushstrokes are both bold and polish. The tonal and linear approaches give his works a different quality.
The recent works are to some extent different from Tajuddin’s earlier works, as the painter gives emphasis more on varied tiny objects, different forms of myth, hazy and semi nude-figures, flower base, hollow forms, varied symbolic patters, greenery, amorphous forms, thick and rough textures. The current changes are mainly technical and sometimes it seems that the artist is primarily concerned with applying colours and mingling forms as well as textural intensity in his paintings. Tajuddin’s present works also feature mellow texture and soothing surface that are malleable and appealing. The paintings represent emotion and sentiment in a manner that portends to outline that the artist wants to be universally understood.
A couple of works by Tajuddin demonstrate his inclination towards folk art. He sometimes uses figures of humans along with flowers, tiny plants, birds, elephants, horses, tiny bushes and animals. Each work depicts a complete story that hides our identity. In some paintings, flowers, animals like horses and elephants have been presented. The paintings are primitive in nature and at the same time modern in their execution. The treatment of lines is simple but untrained giving nature an authentic illustrative expression via his paintings.
Tajuddin is an artist, who is very conscious about the art movements in different parts of the world. He enjoys travelling and his restless soul is always in search of new cultures and traditions. During his stay in different hotels, motels, he discovers subjects in particular tables, spoons, various foods and fruits, if they differ in the slightest from those seen ordinarily. He closely observes the objects and later emblematically portrays them. His works look very catchy for their colour compositions and splendid arrangements. The chances Tajuddin got to tour many countries, visiting their galleries and museums, have allowed him to intimately explore the works of the master painters of those countries. Tajuddin involved himself with the contemporary art movement of Bangladesh with zeal, courage and creativity. He always feels comfortable working on a large canvas according to his theme and composition. His work is classified by a powerful engagement with certain sort of dissimilar forms which have not generally been seen in the living earth. He mingles realism with his imaginations. It might be mentioned that Tajuddin is also a symbolic painter since he has used many signs and emblems with vivacious and controlled brushstrokes. His acrylic paintings carry some of his personal traits like supple ground, imposing colours for depicting sensualities through both sharp and coarse -- lines.
Tajuddin knows where to stop -- which is a strong trait of his paintings. He sometimes avoids rigid forms and over-embellishment. As a result, a good sense of proportion is noticed in his paintings. He has a fascination with local materials. The materials are easily available. One remarkable feature of his early works is that he has pasted paper (grimy, uneven and torn) on board or canvas. Board is another medium that enables him to portray his illusions and fantasies.
Tajuddin’s specialty is his healthy lines and the balance between use of space and composition. Use of space is an important aspect of his paintings and the artist likes to work with amorphous forms and shapes -- transforming them amazingly into tangible expressions. An admirer of nature, Tajuddin tries to replicate colours and harmony prevalent in surrounding environment through his works. The space that is found in his works is aptly related to the perspective of the themes. In his compositions, the artist uses at times doodles, sharp lines, dots, tiny motifs and a lot of signs. Tajuddin considers pure colour to be the most effective way to express emotions and sensitivity. He believes that colour approaches the soul directly and is able to induce profound emotions into the viewer. He sometimes applies his colours meticulously, in both thin and thick layers, consistently with the requirement of the paintings.
In Wassily Kandinsky’s description of art, the inner element is most important, without it, no work of art can exist. Tajuddin blends emotion and intelligence in his paintings. His works appear to be sparkling and dynamic because of the use of deep colours, profuse shades and evocative lines. Many of his paintings are lavish with semi-amorphous forms. Some of his paintings ardently capture fragmented visions inspired by abstract expressionism. The artist did many paintings in different phases of his life where forms of disintegration were highlighted. The artist has used forms and lines derived from his whimsical visions.
Tajuddin is a workaholic painter. Over the course of time, he has been tirelessly experimenting with lines, forms, spaces, textures, tones and overall shapes and designs. His forms and motifs have a specific explanation. The painter is always driven to explore something new. It breaks monotony for him and he believes art can be enriched through repeated changing of mediums. To him each medium has a special feature, which demonstrates individual light, tone and space.
Tajuddin has another identity, he is the founder of the Tivoli Gallery, one of the oldest full-fledged art galleries in the city. After its establishment in 1973, the gallery has played a significant role in our art arena, over the years. The gallery has organised a number of important solo and group exhibitions.
The writer is an art critic and cultural curator.