Zargar Zahoor is a rare phenomenon in the art world. Though a landscape artist in the true sense, his works travel beyond the camera focus and reach a realm of impressionism, wherein everything resonates into a sublime form with definable physical characteristics, which are picturesque at one level and consummate at the other. Yet, the two demarcations do not become bifurcated along a clear-cut axis. When asked about this subtle duality, his answer is simple: “I come from Kashmir and my art has always come out of Kashmir. So though a resident of Delhi, my paintings reflect my home, my roots. In my paintings I want to portray the beauty as well as the tension prevailing in Kashmir.” When urged to speak about the subject matter of the works that he recently exhibited at the Lalit Kala Akademi Galleries, titled ‘Chromatic Harmonies’ thereby deliberately avoiding the need to caption each one of the works, he blends tones and harmonies to form his vocabulary to express his idea: “I want the system to talk to the people there. Everybody in the valley is not a militant; don’t term them as militants.” In terms of periodicity when mentioning Kashmir, the artist draws his inspiration from the time of the seventies when he was a resident there. “At that time there was an urge, a jazba among the population to work and strive for an ideal Kashmiriyat… and that has lived on in me, even when I’m living away in Delhi. My home was at Nav Hattha, a place dotted with the most exquisite ancient shrines and we lived in the midst of their splendour and atmosphere. But then the old buildings were broken down, our heritage broken consequently and now what I come away with are those roots. Even though we still live 20 km away from our original home, we are sensitive people and what I paint through my landscapes is the plight of that sensitivity, today.” Yet the real trigger for leaving his homeland was not any sentimental trivia.
As a child, Zahoor had always accompanied his mother Maryam Begum to the local radio station where she was a radio drama artist. While his mother was busy on the studio sets, he would sit and draw and sketch in his notebook. It was Bhushan Kaul, the artist who noticed his talent and suggested that Zahoor be sent to Baroda for studies. By the late seventies, Zahoor had obtained his Master’s in Graphic Designing from the university and began his professional career in that field. While the professional work was satisfying, for a versatile artist like Zahoor, there was more to be done. He utilized the time in sketching in various locales, creating the building blocks of his future speciality as a landscape artist with a yen for painting nostalgia, memories, love and turmoil on these canvases sharing the physical dimensions of earth, sky, weather, in water, the changing colours of the sky, and much more. In short, Zahoor’s mastery with tones and colours that bring about a spiritual confluence were evidenced for the first time, at this early stage of his art journey. Yet the grand finale of a unique landscape master did not come to the surface as a natural follow-up. In between there were the phases, when he branched out into the portrait making. That too, was tinged with a transformational element for the artist as he was not one to simply fill the canvas with colour and effectively bring about a likeness in the work. He worked in every medium of art, and gauche and pastels too, became a part of his palette. In due course, his art was to adorn the haloed space of Parliament House where he executed a portrait of Bipin Chandra Pal as also works in Rashtrapati Bhavan. His arrival in Delhi now as a young lecturer at the Jamia Millia Islamia unravelled other concerns. For the first time he realized the contrast of being tutored and being a tutor himself. While in the earlier phase it had been a time of passive absorption of the tenets of creating art, in this new role as a tutor of art, he realised how important it was to have a deep understanding of forms, shapes, lines, colours and perspectives in art making. It meant that he sit in at the classes conducted by his seniors such as A. Ramachandran and Paramjit Singh, among others. For his students, it was not a technique of hand holding, but one of interference when their works lacked a reflection of their own art. “I used them to check their works to assess whether they stand up to the fundamentals of art, and that made them understand that there were different ways of designing and from then on, bring them to the phase of making original art,” he says. His own journey as a professional artist began in 1986, when he held an exhibition of his works at Delhi’s Alliance Francaise. One of the first buyers of his works was the noted artist Arpita Singh, for a tidy sum of Rs 5,000. “That was a moment of great confidence in myself,” he reminisces.
As a cherry on the icing, Paramjit offered his own studio space to the young Zahoor and offered his easel as well. “The work that I executed was a painting of lines and that proved to be a turning point – a realization that there was something beyond the ordinary in me and I must strive to reach higher levels of art,” says the artist. In his current phase, as he slips into retirement having held the prestigious appointment of Dean, the guide and mentor in him has found ever new outlets. Away from the classroom and a curriculum to follow, his advice to his students is one of a benevolent and knowing elder. “I still dream of moving ahead with my students. I tell the next generation working under me to learn true art and not gimmickry. I insist they read and follow the works of masters for it is important to know the rules in order to know how to break them. In particular, I draw attention to the abstract lines and interlocking spaces of artists like Kandinsky and Mondrian,” he says. Thus the journey of his art per se, has been a purposeful find, that has run its course through many a phase, where each stage has carried the memories of the yesteryears and yet amalgamated the past and the present in a vocabulary of broad brush strokes, that paint not hearth and homes in a prettified scape but as actualities of jagged remains, without a hint of bitterness, nostalgia or regret, but as images of the soul within each one of us.