Elsewhere / People

Acoustics of Life – Interview with Waqas Khan

I met Waqas at the opening of his solo exhibition at Galerie Krinzinger and he kindly agreed to tell me more about his creative process.

Waqas Khan

© Galerie Krinzinger/photo: Tamara Rametsteiner

In 2012 /13, he was Artist in Residence at Krinzinger Projekte. His medium is drawing on Wasli Paper, a hand-made paper, which has been used in India for painting miniatures in particular since the 10th century. Waqas Khan, who studied print making at the National College of Arts in Lahore/Pakistan, models his filigree works after the Bardhakhat technique, a basic technique of Persian Mughal miniature painting. This involves the artist applying thousands of small dots, lines and dashes to the paper with greatest precision.

Kristina Kulakova: How did you become an artist?
Waqas Khan: I consider myself a listener and a storyteller, as all artists are, I believe. I did not plan it, but the spontaneity of my experiences since childhood has played a huge role in becoming who I am today, always in search of stories, therefore I try to never impulsively impose meanings through my practice, because initially I have to converse with my work, bringing back all the experienced moments that the reader could engage with in whatever way they want to, with the basic intent being to stir them emotively.
In addition, I would like to raise a very basic question that should be discussed as to what art is and how we define the role an artist. It is significant for me because at one end, art gives us the freedom of expression pertaining to our concerns. The visual language we use to present our concerns is very important as it sets the tone in which way, as an individual and part of an entity, what concerns are being voiced or if we consider the unheard stories around us, not literally, but in ways that have not been explored through art practitioners.

When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
As I said earlier, it was not a conscious decision, but perhaps my inclinations towards the oral culture of storytelling in my region that subconsciously led me to the discipline of arts. The varied layers of life I have experienced become evident in my practice and I am still exploring how to further my explorations in order to experiment with the visual expressions of moments in time.

Your style is very unique. It almost looks as if it were a print. How did you find it?
I have been trained as a printmaker; hence the link between printmaking and my works is always verbalized as such. But it is kind of limiting as in my practice until this point I have learnt that works are like conversations, like storytellers, writing or telling a story, hence such a process is not just linked with the technique one learns, but a continuous process of developing the conceptual framework along with the evolution of techniques one works with. When I started working with the rapido pen, it was not a common practice, but to understand its working along with the visual experience was a long process, which is still going on.

Waqas Khan, detail , copyright: Kristina Kulakova, viennacontemporary

How long does it take to make one drawing?
The processes involved in my work cannot be time-bound as the planning that goes into it cannot be limited by the factor of time, as I do not have a formula to make works, which is evident, if you got a chance to go through them. And very importantly, the intricate details of my works need precision, hence starting from making small key models to huge scale art works is exhaustive and time consuming, yet very rewarding after the endless times I spent working on the intricacies constructed as layers upon layers, having a life of their own, which gradually becomes mine.

You work with permanent ink. Why?
Creating is always a process of transition, synonymous to the ephemerality of expressive layers in forms just like carving the momentary changes the circle of life, which is not permanent, but a cycle of transitions present in nature like the air we breathe and its temporal quality following the pattern of exhaling and inhaling, which are not stagnant, but a continuum. So in my opinion, impermanence is an idea that I want to visualize through permanent media, firstly to present them and then to metaphorically understand the association between permanence and impermanence of nature, memories, human beings, their stories, places and, most importantly, thoughts, which all boils down to the way we perceive ideas and have evolved since antiquity.

Waqas Khan, Galerie Krinzinger, copyright: Kristina Kulakova, viennacontemporary

Waqas Khan, exhibition view @Galerie Krinzinger, 2015. ©Kristina Kulakova

What does your work process look like?
I think you need to see it to know it. But if I try to explain it in words, it is a multilayered and non-linear process, though I am very precise about the works I create but just as a tree is a perfect form in its own right with diverging, coarse, and contorted branches, I attempt to be similarly precise. The idea of experimentation and chance have allowed me to understand the workings of my visual practice, with the starting point being the dot, but over the course of time, I have unlearned and learned not to conform my visuals to the repetitiveness of similar visual forms and leave some room pertaining to the limitations of the media as they also become part of a process where the control of my body, hands, pigments, and rapido pen are a translation of my experiences and explorations. I hope I was able to give a glimpse of my visual practice to the readers and yourself.

What is your day like?
As is the nature of my work, I do not have a timetable that I follow, when I am in my studio, I am there for weeks and months. I think I did say earlier that while working I am just by myself, working throughout the night and sometimes day and night. But besides working, I love to spend time with my friends and even people whom I do not know.
As a general habit, I walk and go by public transport to explore the essence of existence through conversations, primarily as an observer. In terms of my interests, I love to go on rides in an attempt to perceive the mundane microcosms and their transitions, just like standing on the top of the roof seeing things from one perspective, while you gain another by sitting on the side walk, similar to different layers of stories.

Waqas' studio. ©Waqas Khan

Waqas’ studio. ©Waqas Khan

Where is your studio? Please describe the neighborhood for someone who’s never been there.
I am currently based in the peaceful suburbs of Lahore. As far as the studio is concerned, it is my land of imagination, where the visual narration is reflected through my works. Right outside my studio room there is the terrace where I enjoy the beautiful changes of the weather, sometimes with my friends and at times just by myself. You know what, it took me at least seven months to find the studio space, which is basically surrounded by trees rustling away. It is basically a communal space, where all my friends who are musicians, travelers, architects and designers get together, having long conversations, and I have got a personal room where I work and that is when I evolve with my work without any external intrusions.

Waqas' studio. ©Waqas Khan

Waqas’ studio. ©Waqas Khan

And these days, I am in search of a studio space similar to this one, which I am hopeful to find soon enough.

Waqas' studio ©Waqas Khan

Waqas’ studio in Lahore. ©Waqas Khan

Why do you love painting so much?
Well, it is open to interpretation, and you can call it a painting, but I would rather prefer to call it the visual expression of thoughts in time, if we consider stories as thoughts too, travelling from one generation to the next. I love the visual transformations of nature, both visible or invisible, and even though it is a challenge to create a visual language from these experiences, it is a surreal experience where the work and myself are not two entities, but one, synced as the process of breathing.

What is the main lesson you learned at university?
The basic idea I learnt is to be a learner. When work becomes fun and play regardless of how seriously one does it, then perhaps this is the moment when a learner becomes one with their work. The experience of sitting with students of different disciplines like architecture, visual communication, etc. seeing how they used to work made the process of discovery boundless and diverse. Besides work, engaging and participating in music and performance were the best moments that I still remember, so I was not studying in isolation but it was a collective energy that connected us all and drove us to learn and share our discoveries with each other.

Who do you admire?
Admiration is just like respect; it is earned over time or even instantaneously. It might sound like a claim but the most admirable people I have met in my life have the mental wealth to be brutally honest about themselves and others. On another note, the most admirable people for me are the ones who could make someone smile under duress through their kind gestures without expecting anything in return.

Do you collect art yourself? What do you generally look for in a work of art?
Of course, I do acquire art works and the only thing that is important for me in any art work is the expression of honesty and oneness of the artist with their works, whatever medium that may be. The content of the work along with the medium, in my opinion, evolves with time as we all do, hence the sincere and humble intent towards work holds more value for me and it is always a humbling experience to meet such people.

Who inspires you creatively?
Regardless of my training as a print maker, my inspirations have always been stories and how they connect us in myriad ways not just with each other, but also with nature and our poignant relationship with history, time, thoughts, moments that are in constant motion, traced through our eyes. Therefore, the creative expression cannot be narrowed down to one idea, but the symphony and rhythms of varied languages we experience as subtle ripples or huge waves of the ocean.

When you need to get out of your studio where do you travel?
Considering myself an explorer, I am always on a journey, and on a personal note, travelling does not mean getting away but reconnecting with nature and life, with those two being the prime sources of inspiration, ephemeral, yet profound.

Have you thought about moving somewhere else? Why did you not?
I love to travel connecting with the energies of life and people around me, even when I am at work in my studio I am travelling as my eyes and hands weave the stories of my memories and experiences. But coming back to your question, my homeland encompasses my being. I cannot give an answer set in stone, but having said that I cannot uproot myself from the vibrancy of my native soil.

Who are the other Pakistani artists to follow?
In my opinion, following and inspiration are two different approaches. The latter one has been pursued for centuries and there is nothing wrong in it, but it somehow leads to stagnation and redundancy if not taken further by the mentors (artists in this case) and the work of the learners becomes a copy of a copy. Hence most importantly, forming one’s own opinion as an individual through their visual expression fades away. On another note, in visual arts diverse sociopolitical concerns regarding content coincide and it could be a new approach to further debates about the content and visual practice regionally and globally.
I am sure you must have seen the passion and precision with which local artisans work like potters, puppeteers, local shoe makers, and the list just goes on with people whom you can learn and get inspired from.
Lastly, I would like to say that every individual is an artist, painting the world through their thoughts and expressions in their own way it just needs to be observed.

Waqas Khan, born 1982 in Akhtarabad, Pakistan, lives and works in Lahore, Pakistan. He studied at the National College of Arts in Pakistan.
In 2013 he was nominated for the Jameel Prize. Most recently his works were shown at the Galerie Krinzinger Wien (2015), Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, Sharjah (2015), Herimitage Kazan Museum, Manege Museum Moscow, Moskau (2014), Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck (2014), Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2013) and Ursula Blickle Stiftung, Vienna (2013).

Don’t miss your last chance to see the solo show of Waqas at Galerie Krinzinger. It is on till February 28! 

Krinzinger Galerie  | Seilerstätte 16, 1010 Vienna

4 thoughts on “Acoustics of Life – Interview with Waqas Khan

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