Pakistan’s distinguished modern master, Jamil Naqsh was born in Kairana, Uttar Pradesh in India in 1939 to a large and lively family. His father was a man of many interests, both cultural and social while his mother was passionately fond of classical music. In spite of having a large family, Naqsh often spent time alone. Animals were his best friends - stray dogs, cats, ducks, a pet goat, and his uncle’s docile horse.
Naqsh was a man who lived for his art - it has been his priority. He seldom left home and often paints for hours at a stretch, with a sense of urgency. He was an avid reader and contemplated art and aesthetics. At the emergence of Pakistan in 1947, Naqsh, then 8 years old accompanied his older brothers to Pakistan while his father remained behind. They never met again after this. He faced hardship, learned to make decisions early in life and extracted much that was positive from adversity having been raised without parents. At the age of fourteen, Naqsh began a two-year trek home to Kairana and found out that their home as he remembered it no longer existed. This journey which started in Chittagong ended in Lahore where he enrolled at the Mayo School of Arts and Crafts where a new chapter of his life began. Here, he met the dedicated miniaturist Ustad Muhammad Sherif whom he has been particularly drawn. Naqsh would sit for long hours at his work and would learn from him the secrets of the classical miniature painters. For Ustad, a student of such rare dedication and ability, one capable of carrying on the teacher’s deed, was fulfillment indeed.
The year 1954 came to an end and Naqsh had to bid farewell to Lahore to move to Karachi where he decided to settle and sought ways to survive. His fortune began when he was offered a job in the studio of a leading advertising company. For the first time, he had a regular salary enabling him to purchase much-desired art materials and the thrill of it, from the moment of arriving home to unpacking of the materials he bought with his first salary can never be forgotten or equaled by the recognition and honors he got in later in his career.
Through the years, countless opportunities to exhibit his work abroad had come his way but Naqsh had very strong convictions in this regard. He sincerely believed that an artist must work out his personal aesthetics and know where they are coming from; that he must first be known and understood in his own environment before venturing further. Naqsh was offered to continue his art in America by the American cultural Attache Dr. Schofield. He thought it over very carefully but finally declined - a decision which he never regretted.
Between 1958 and 1960, Naqsh began to paint out of doors. He painted Karachi and its environs, completing over 150 watercolors, most of which were destroyed in 1959 when monsoon floods hit Karachi. Naqsh was and intrinsically remains a figurative painter. The human form gave him the greatest aesthetic satisfaction He believed that all responsible artists eventually return to the great nucleus of their cultural traditions; whilst adding something new to them. He had his first solo exhibition in 1962 at Lahore Arts Council followed by the Karachi Arts Council exhibition where he was awarded a gold medal. In 1967, an exhibition of fifty-one of Naqsh’s paintings was held on the theme of Pigeons. For him, the subject possesses numerous meanings. The birds represent domestic harmony drawn from memories of his childhood in Kairana, pigeons were frequent visitors to the family home, flying in and out through the open windows, strutting around the compound and pecking grains scattered by the girls who sifted wheat.
Thirty years later, Naqsh showed a collection of hundred paintings of pigeons rendered in watercolor, each one unique. His genius in focusing on a single subject and recreating it in a variety of forms was indisputable. By the mid-60s, Naqsh has evolved a distinctive personal style that influenced his contemporaries. Delicately layered particles of paint created infinitely subtle tomes. The female form became a leitmotif; a full-figured, classical form. Juxtaposed with pigeons it was an inspired coupling. In the latter half of the ‘60s, Naqsh stopped working for exhibitions and in 1970, Sultan Mahmood, one of Pakistan’s advertising pioneers and an early collector of Naqsh work opened a gallery in Karachi where Naqsh paintings were given pride of place.
Naqsh’s work had been exhibited extensively in Pakistan, India, the UK, and the UAE. Between 1960 and 68 he served as Co-Editor of Seep, an Urdu literary magazine, and between 1970 and 73 as President of the Pakistan Painters Guild. Among the artist’s many honors are medals and awards from the Pakistan Art Council, Karachi; the Ministry of Culture, Pakistan; and the Arts Council of Pakistan. In 2003, a retrospective of his work was held at the Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi, a rare honor for a living artist. Naqsh passed away in London on the 16th of May 2019 after a sudden and brief illness.
Excerpt from the book, Jamil Naqsh: A Retrospective published by Mohatta Palace Museum in 2003