Faraz Aamer Khan graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore, where he trained as a miniature artist. However, he ventured out of the traditional Miniature practice and instead took to working with charcoal on canvas. His imagery has the power to jolt the viewer out of her passive state, encouraging her to submit herself to the vastness of the sea, feeling inadequate yet excited about her vulnerability. Looking at Khan’s large scale artworks, you can hear the sound of the waves, feel the wind pass on by, and lap up the uncertainty that is synonymous with the amorphous sea. His seascapes are simultaneously inviting and sinister, full of both malevolence and infinite possibilities.
The Missing Slate sat down to discuss the work that gives us a glimpse into the side of the artist that otherwise stays concealed — the tumult that is hidden beneath his pleasant and warm demeanor.
Tell us a little about yourself and your practice.
I’m a visual artist based in Lahore, Pakistan. My art concerns transitory states and their reflections in us. My body of work always comes after a long process of experimentation and research. I dabble in many things simultaneously — always exploring different mediums. My primary comfort lies in working with charcoal and pastels and creating site specific installations.
Was it difficult to make a transition from small scale Miniatures to such a large scale?
Not really, because if there’s one thing I’ve taken from my training as a Miniature painter, it’s an understanding of space. Previously I was all over the place: making video installations, dabbling in large paintings as well as smaller scale works to try and figure out my niche but now I’ve learnt not to restrict myself in the choice of technique or medium. I try to keep an open mind to new things which is probably why it was easy for me to transition in scale.
An artist’s practice could be conceived for numerous reasons. Some use their artworks to voice their opinions, others use it as a means to send out a particular message; for some it’s a catharsis while others simply use it as a vent for pent-up emotions. What would you say is the fundamental reason behind the conception of your work?
I think my work, to me, is all of the above. My mind goes in so many directions at such a fast pace and the work needs to keep up with myself because I want to understand myself: I want answers to questions, I want to work things out through my work and find an understanding of the who, what, where and why that keeps us going through life. It’s kind of a paraphrasing of what Alan Watts said when he wrote “We are the universe observing itself.” What drives me is how I see myself through my work.
College life is said to be instrumental in building the character and practice of an artist. Can you tell us about your time at the National College of Arts?
My time at NCA was very well spent. I did so much and got to meet various people. NCA gave me direction as to what I wanted to do with my life. I met individuals that helped me figure out what I wanted and how to get those things. I’ve made friends for life and I’ve come to understand a little bit more about how people operate and how to communicate with them. I got to play music on stage, travel and discover so much about the land and its people. It really opened my mind up to different ideas and views. I came to college not knowing what the institution would be like, I arrived with a half-baked idea of what I wanted and how I saw the world and questioned things. Now I have a more refined approach and a more clear understanding of what I want. My time at NCA developed me visually, symbolically and intellectually.
Our society tends to have many objections when men pursue a Fine Art degree. Have you ever second guessed your decision? What has been your driving force?
There are times when I second guess myself, but that’s just my nature. I tend to overthink things, but not once have I regretted pursuing the arts. In a way I decided very early on that no matter what I did or who I became, I will always take my art with me. What drives me keeps shifting as I mature: first I loved making art because it was exciting and interesting, then it became a source of beauty and now it is a necessity for me. I cannot and would not want to continue with anything unless I am always learning, pursuing or creating art.
What do you wish you knew about becoming an artist before you got started?
Nothing really, it’s my belief that whatever is revealed to me or whatever knowledge or information I come across is either from my own search or something which was meant to be revealed at its ordained time. Everything anyone ever needs is right there for the taking; you either get it or you don’t know where to look.
What is the most rewarding thing about pursuing the arts?
The work itself. Sure the presence of an audience is nice, the vindication of recognition and even the money you get for hard work is nice too, but it can’t beat the satisfaction of creating something. The final piece on display for all to view has an existence like no other and good art makes you sit back and lose yourself in the work.
What are the hurdles you have faced as an emerging artist?
I think the main hurdle is devoting time and money to your practice and taking care of everything else that goes on in life. My biggest obstacle is to sustain myself and to have enough energy left after the daily grind to create something meaningful.
Besides painting you also have a background in music. Would you like to tell us a little bit about that? How does your music help you in creating artworks?
The two things go side by side for me, because I have an equal appreciation for both visual art and music. I started with my father’s guitar and a CD player and I would listen to so much music and practice on my own trying to make that piece of wood sing. In my childhood, it was only me and my best friend who were really into music. I’m a bit of a hoarder so slowly and steadily and after lots of saving I would buy gear, lots of secondhand stuff because I love old instruments and equipment. It was NCA that gave me a huge push into music. I joined the Western Music Society, a place of compassion and happiness that made me a tremendously better musician and gave me friends for life, I was also exposed to the musicology department where I met people who taught me so much about music and still teach me to this day.
Music for me is something pure and without meaning: emotion personified and given physical presence. The vibrations and resonance of a piece of music reflects everything around it. For my art, music is that well of infinite energy and information that I can always tap into, understand and control to guide me, guide my work and gives me a better sense of compositional harmony.
Which song/songs would you like to change into an illustration?
I wouldn’t want to do that at all, unless it were a visual piece that accompanied the song. I love music videos and animations so that’s something I’m looking into but completely transforming a song into a visual piece or illustration is something that doesn’t interest me because I will always find the song truer in its audio form.
Which artists have inspired you? How have they influenced your practice?
It’s a long list! The artists I’ve met who’ve inspired me the most are my teachers Fatima Haider, Dua Abbas, Wardha Shabbir, Imran Qureshi, Suleman Khilji, Ali Kazim, Zahrah Ehsan, Irfan Hassan and Aziz Sohail. They are all artists and academics who have had an impact on my life and my practice. My artistic anchor is John Frusciatne: whatever he does and has done has inspired my music and life greatly. However, the one artist whose work I will always come back to is Nasreen Mohammedi. From reading about her I feel an odd kinship. Her work is sublime and poetic and jarring and just so many things at the same time. I would have loved to meet her and talk to her.
What is the most interesting comment anyone has made about your work?
I’ve heard a lot about my work but perhaps the most profound (if not immensely stupid and jarring) thing anyone ever said about it was:
“Agar iss pe paani phekein gaye tou ye matt jaye gaein nahin? haan na! nahin?”
(If you throw water at this; it’ll all get washed away wont it? yes! no?)
As he was someone I had never met before, I knew he was asking it with complete honesty and sincerity, it made me realize how little exposure people have to art and at the same time it was oddly existential too. I just found it distressing and eye opening because yes, it would get washed away, if not with water then with time.
Which is that one piece that was difficult to part with and why?
‘And the Abyss Stares Back’— the very second piece of my thesis project. It was the first one I made on canvas. I traded two frames with my friend for its stretcher and I prepared it myself. It was the one piece I probably had the most honest conversation and dialogue with. I was sad to see it go but I was really happy I got to spend so much time with it.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working towards a new and different body of work; its all a bit up in the air so I guess you’ll just have to see what I mean when the work sees the light of day. Other than that I’m also working with my band to create new music.
What message would you like to give other emerging artists?
“Buss kaam kero, kaam”
(Just keep on working!)