Waqas Khan is a man of contradictions. Standing an imposing 1,88m tall, with hands the size of a basketball player’s, it is difficult to imagine that this gregarious young man is able to create works of intricate detail which often require a magnifying glass as a viewing tool. Khan lives and works in Lahore and was trained at the National College of Art, a school that produced artists such as Shahzia Sikander and Imran Qureshi who are famous for their revival of traditional miniature painting in their contemporary practice. Despite the intricate detail Khan creates on wasli paper, there is nothing miniature about Khan or his work. Just as the smallest part of matter, an atom, has the potential to reach infinite scale as it forms compounds, so do the elements of Waqas Khan’s drawings. Khan’s smaller format works, such as Forming Spaces VIII-XV, are ideas that the artist plans to expand into large format works in the future, such as The Breath of the Compassionate IV, in the future. Miniature painting is finite within a framed plane; while Khan begins his work from the outside and continues inwards, his work has no frame and evokes the potential of expanding beyond the confines of the space and time.
Khan’s meditative works are created by the contact between his hand and the wasli paper; Khan’s emotions drive his hand, and a simple change in his breathing or the tension with which he holds the pen will completely transform the stroke of his instrument. Khan uses only permanent ink in his work, and he lays his emotions out bare on the paper. There is no way to correct the drawing or hide marks that were created from the most intimate of his thoughts. Emotions are effervescent, but Khan is able to permanently chronicle passing feelings in his meticulous drawings. Khan’s work is an extension of himself and it is not something that can be done with assistants, but only through the process of a highly disciplined daily drawing routine in the studio. In the same vein, the work requires empathy from the viewer to access its emotional meaning, and Khan’s work can only be experienced in person. With this effort comes reward; Khan’s work gives back what you give to it. The more attention you pay and the closer you look, the more attached you become to the work and its mysteries unravel. French novelist Laurence Cossé once wrote, “There is nothing more difficult to master than repetition. If you do it badly, it’s clumsy, stupid. When it’s well done, it’s like a little echo, like waves, poetry itself”i. Echos, waves, poetry, love: these are all found in Khan’s sensitive drawings.
Khan puts as much effort into living as he does to working, and his work reflects the richness of his life experience which is spent between jam sessions with musicians in Lahore (who claim his studio as their own after working hours) and long walks in the countryside at his family farm. Khan loves his working process and is obsessive about his need to work. Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami wrote, “I think certain types of processes don’t allow for any variation. If you have to be part of that process, all you can do is transform -or perhaps distort- yourself through persistent repetition, and make that process a part of your own personality”ii. Khan’s fingers are permanently distorted from the drawing process, but like a ballerina with distorted feet, it is a tool to enable seemingly effortless perfection.
Another contradiction in Khan’s work is that the more he fillls up the wasli paper with his microscopic dots, loops, and lines, the more important the voids in the space become. The empty spaces on the page are as important as the densely drawn ones, as beautifully illustrated in The Hole, 2014. Khan claims Sufi spirituality as a strong influence on his being. “Let there be spaces in your togetherness,” wrote Sufi inspired Lebanese artist and poet Khalil Gibran in The Prophet when describing marriage, “and let the winds of the heavens dance between you”iii. In a series called The Breath of the Compassionate, Khan’s work evokes the complexities of love; the spaces where two people come together, the spaces where they will never converge, and the mutations, scars, and effort that come with holding togetherness and separateness together. Khan’s works, regardless of the scale, are full of complex emotions and ideas formed from seemingly simple marks. In Khan’s second solo show at Sabrina Amrani Gallery, the artist left out a title, prompting the audience to find their own interpretations and connections by empathizing with the work. Rather than priming the space with words, Khan lets the viewer prime it with their own emotional state of being, reversing the usual hierarchy between artist and viewer.
i Laurence Cossé, A Novel Bookstore, trans. Alison Anderson(London: Europa Editions, 2010).
ii Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, trans. Philip Gabriel
(New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2008), 68.
iii Khalil Gibran, The Prophet (London: Martino Fine Books, 2011).