The first encounter is that of the naked eye with an object which is not yet an artwork; the artwork is still forming itself through manifold perception channels, while the cultural object and the retina are becoming acquainted with each other. At first there is a gesture of confusion, attempting to break through the apparently endless grids, visible only through the gaps and the cracks in this vast field, enclosed by the illusion of a frame. The viewer thinks at first: Oh, it's a drawing! And the objects, albeit nowhere symbolic as totems and statues, and clear to the point of transparence, are much further than they appear, as in a cosmic rear view mirror. This is because drawing, at least in the case of Waqas Khan, is not a composition, but a release from containment: saturated space is liberated from its own formal properties by means of meticulous markings. They enable space to withdraw from the terror of solidity and spill over the world; doubling itself as both surface and emotion.
Saturation is still one of the defining features of contemporary art. Retrospective exhibitions of major contemporary artists often display large scale works that defy perception scales, and whole sections at art fairs showcase only 'oversized' works; rivers, boats and houses are either staged in or partially transported to exhibition spaces and understood 'critically'. The question belongs to both art and architecture: the vertical spaces of aluminum and glass become autonomous natural forces in the skyline and grow out of human scale, mortally diminishing our size without leaving us atrophied and unable to grasp this new sense of space-ness. The grandeur, which is both technological and historical, is paradoxically consistent with the Duchampian proposal that eschews the idea of a retinal art that is meant to only please the eye; playing into the hands of the reactionary aestheticism of previous centuries.
Khan's proposal, however modest, is not a reversal of the gigantism of contemporary art, but the intimate desire to seduce you into better and slower observation, at the risk of realizing that the retinal experience is not optic alone, that there are many possibilities of bodily perception. In his work, organic existence rises between the human body and the world; they constitute each other through a pure consciousness which emanates out of both labor and miracle. The artist, currently working and living in Lahore, in the Punjab region of Pakistan, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, is immersed into the architectural gigantism that punctuates contemporary life, particularly in the developing world where the architectural and political forces of urban homogeneity and verticality, are met with violent responses. Yet, his work is not documentary or even representational. The artist is looking for a warmer place where one can simultaneously find, more intimacy and more universality.
Unlike many of his contemporaries in the larger South Asia and Middle East region, Khan was not trained in Western art and then traveled back to search for a tradition in ruins either as nostalgia or re-invention, but rather, fed from a living tradition with a long history, at a cosmopolitan art academy in Pakistan. His evolved-from-Bardhakhat technique, based on Mughal miniature paintings that originated in the 16th century in the multicultural worlds of India and Persia, turns to Rotring pens and wasli paper, seeking the perfect environment for a patient and meticulous practice that demands intense concentration and an exemption from the visual dispersion of the world; as Maurice Merleau-Ponty postulated it, “Only the painter is entitled to look at everything without being obliged to appraise what he sees”. Although Khan is not a painter, he operates as one: Allowing space to play with its simple material properties. A history of art with a history of materials and alive traditions as backbone.
The Western equivalent of this technique would be the Pointillism of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, in the late 19th century and that belongs to the history of Impressionism. They used in their work the 'point' technique in order to extract more light, color and exterior from a simple palette (a technique ultimately mastered by Camille Pissarro), as opposed to the dark interiors of classical art. Musical Pointillism, also known as Punctualism, however, resonates better with Khan: in the middle of the 20th century, postulated that music consists of separately formed particles which, regardless of their complexity, are assigned an immediate value in compositional scales, so that discreet values are maintained throughout in all music parameters. Similarly, in Waqas Khan's work, systems of complexity converge, which are not dominated by large structures but by self-standing units or monads. As in music theory, the whole is a function of time, yet free from measurements of time.
Examples of this 'point music' would be the «Structures» of Pierre Boulez (1952-1961) and John Cage's «Rioanji» (1983), both of which are profoundly influenced by the East and with an emphasis on form rather than message. Cage's case in particular is of interest here as the work was inspired by his visit to the eponymous garden in 1962: While the work remains so formally minimal, it attempts nothing than to imitate nature and transport you back to the fabulous Kyoto garden. The legendary Sarkis, an artist from Turkey, re interpreted in his «Cage, Ryoanji, flute partition according to Sarkis» (2013), the music sheets of Cage in ninety-six watercolors, consisting only of dotted lines and inspired by calligraphy. May it be that Waqas Khan's objects will be read once as music? An answer is difficult to approach, especially as his works deal with concrete cultural objects (they speak the language of a culture, at the intersection between organic and conceptual).
These objects, emerging as surfaces, disintegrate in the presence of the viewer, and become pure consciousness. I was particularly struck by the artist's dreams inside dreams, in which the process of the work continues in his mind and then in the oneiric world, he remembers that he must sleep; only in order to wake up again and continue his stealth, meditative work; the process of writers and mystics. This intoxicating rigor of repetition is what brings him to the borderline of abstraction, which demands both freedom and discipline. Kandinsky, in his theory of point and line, concluded that the geometric point is the ultimate and most singular union of speech and silence, the most elementary collision between idea and material. But unlike Kandinsky, Khan did not develop a theory of the plane but rather creates his planes based on the implosion of dots around themselves; both ecstasy and blur: creating a speech in form of a diary. A careful practice, dotting circle by circle, holding his breath, in physically demanding self-containment.
"There are painters who for me are voyagers of truth. They have given me lessons. Whom do I call voyagers of truth? The one who painted water lilies for the last ten years of his life. The one who painted water lilies up until the last painting. Until his death", writes Hélène Cixous about Monet, who considered his life work of tri_ing importance compared to the water lilies that he painted over and over, hundreds of times. This kind of obsessive repetition, understood by psychoanalysis as a missed encounter with the real, becomes meditation and ascent when the artist chooses a human truth, translatable to all, over the contingencies of our political realities. Accordingly, every time I gaze into Waqas Khan's work, I need to come closer and closer; he demands unrestrained attention. It always seems to me as if he hasn't arrived, as if I'm not going to arrive, as if he is the artist of whom Cixous writes, 'The one who searches until the last painting.'