Back The Clock
Abdur Razzaque talks to the Star Weekend Magazine
an artist, Abdur Razzaque is bracketed with the giants who
grew up under the auspices of Zainul Abedin. Later, when
he came back in 1957 after completing the Masters in Fine
Arts from the State University of Iowa on a Fulbright scholarship,
he identified with the exponents of Modernism, who strove
to severe all links with the Zainulian past. Along with
pioneers like Md. Kibria, Aminul Islam and Murtaja Baseer,
Razzaque too had fashioned his own niche drawing upon the
western Modernist mode of creation.
a reticent exponent of Modernism, Razzaque cultivated anonymity,
and perhaps because of this that he remains the only artist
of his generation living in relative obscurity till these
days. Gallery Chitrak took the laudable initiative to put
up a 15-day-long solo of the maestro. It was his seventh
solo in a long career that took off back in the fifties.
In conjunction with the show Chitrak also organised a ten
day long workshop on drawing, that Razzak conducted. SWM
talks to this septuagenarian artist who candidly extricates
the ideas and beliefs that he and his generation are made
Drawing played an important part in your work, tell us about
its importance at this stage of your life.
Razzaque (AR): I always had a knack for drawing.
Even when I went to America to study, my teacher at the
State University of Iowa was keen on students' skills in
drawing as it is the basic structure of any given picture.
The participants of the drawing workshop have all completed
their masters degree, and are at the stage of what we often
refer to as “experimentation”. Why do you think they need
to enhance their drawing skills now?
Drawing is the most essential element for an artist. Even
an abstract piece of art draws its strength from the sense
of space and construction; this is where drawing comes in.
Drawing makes one realise the relationship between the negative
and positive space. These participants have practised four
ways of drawing the human figure. Figures restrict an artist
within the confine of certain principles as regards to structure.
It enhances the sense of proportion and composition.
In your drawings and sketches the Zainulian effect is visible.
The strong presence of line and the indigenous tilt in colour
and expression are the qualities that Zainul Abedin wanted
to hand down to the next generation. But many of your canvases
are abstract, how do you look at these two tendencies? Is
there any conflict or relationship for that matter?
The ways of executing drawings that I introduced here, several
of them were taught by Zainul himself. Naturally, as I was
his immedite student he had an influence on me. In his art
the main concern was drawing, as it provides the basic structure
of a picture. With my abstract painting, too, I begin with
drawing, but later on it gets hidden under the layers of
You and your generation went abroad to study in the fifties
and were introduced to Abstract Expressionism, a mode of
art that was later brought to our art world. How do you
think this new, alien language of art would be evaluated
in the context of the one practised by Zainul, Kamrul and
Zainul Abedin and his generation belonged to the British
school and they never could envisage art without figures.
He went to Europe and came back, experimented with semi-abstract
representation, but as a whole, he remained faithful to
figuration. Kamrul bhai too had always been figurative and
was tradition-bound. And Sultan was the ultimate figurative
painter. We, who went abroad and had this chance to witness
all those “isms” in art, and had studied the development
of modern art had to search for more. As a student, I had
to memorise fourteen thousand slides of artworks. We had
learnt everything from prehistory to the modern developments,
from the occidental to the oriental. Perhaps even in my
abstract art these experiences are expressed, perhaps this
happens on a subconscious level. The current exhibition
contains a lot of works, both from the early years and from
the recent yield. Not that I am satisfied with these works
that are in display. I have presented works that date back
to 1953, I see this show as a turning point in my life.
I want to leave all these behind and turn a corner.
Do you think that each and every artist needs to learn history
Yes, of course. Without a clear understanding of art history
one cannot make any significant contribution to it. One
can become artist while both “knowing” and “without knowing”,
but it is evident in the artwork when it is done unknowingly.
Perhaps those who are especially gifted can become artists
You are thinking of turning a corner at this age. In the
context of how all the established artists are doggedly
pursuing a single mode and it seems that they want to go
on forever, your resolve to start anew surprises us.
When the children's art section was started, I was one of
the teachers along with Amin. I always learnt from children.
As a result I always considered myself a student, learning
every moment. If an artist cannot think of turning a corner,
he or she is dead.
The act of repetition is rampant in today's art world.
I want to avoid repetition. And the other thing is copying.
I was never into copying others. I have arranged a new studio,
I have spent a lot of money on it, to start all over again.
I will continue my work in every medium that I used to do,
printmaking, oil and sculpture. Hopefully my studio will
be ready within two or three months.
You had this excellence in printmaking, where has the artist
who produced superbly expressive self-portraits in the fifties
I still have the press. I still have the willingness to
work in this media. I still have a bulk of self-portraits
with which I can put up a solo show. I always used to do
portraiture, both as a student and as a working artist.
Wherever I went I drew portraits, especially in the villages,
I always captured the women and men of the countryside.
The renaissance artists always inspired me. I was schooled
in the fashion of the renaissance artists. As a student
in the USA we learnt how to make frames and even how to
adorn the frames with goldleaf.
The students of our country are losing out on two counts
-- one is that they are not being adequately exposed to
history of art and the other is that they are being out
of touch with reality as soon as they start doing the so
called experimental works.
The Impressionists used to work outside the studio. Even
the Cubist paintings developed from outdoor study. I had
the opportunity to see a grand Picasso show in 1957 when
I was in the USA. There were so many studies that he did
from real life; it showed how keen he was in continuing
the touch with reality. I took more interest in Picasso's
studies. Leonardo used to say “if you want to become an
artist watch the clouds and dilapidated walls; you get everything
You had been a student of painting in Bangladesh, how did
you become interested in printmaking?
I always liked the sensitive quality of the works the etching
and lithography used to discharge. I even participated in
the America-Canada twenty-first printmaking show in 1957.
I was also one of the members of Iowa printmaking society.
In the America-Canada joint show that was held in the Smithsonian
Institute, only four of us among 400 or so candidates from
Iowa were accepted. Zainul had the chance to see the show.
It was an achievement then, everybody started congratulating
me over the phone.
How did you switch to sculpture?
I was always interested in sculpture. In the last phase
of my scholarship, the German teacher of the sculpture department
Hamburg Elbridgio asked me to join his contingent. I spent
one semester under his supervision, and then wanted to quit.
But he insisted that I continue. During this time, I remember
that I did nude figures in the vein of Renoir, the French
impressionist. Plaster and wood, these are the two mediums
that I had had grounding in during that period.
What is your philosophy about your work?
I think that artists are in search of things that go beyond
the visible world. We look at leaves and see the colours
and patterns, but we do not see what secret a leaf holds
in its inner constitution. We can doctor a seed but cannot
create one; creation is beyond us as is death. My belief
is that art constitutes the act of “placing of things in
space”. How to place what and where is important. Zainul
Abedin used to take us outdoors to paint scenery, and when
our vision was fixed on a particular subject, it was he
who used to encourage us to incorporate a lot more from
our surrounding. So the vision, the way one looks at reality
is also important.
A few words for the coming generation.
I think that here in Bangladesh artists of different lineage
are emerging and the best way for the young to pave a future
would be to blend the Western ideas with the Eastern ones.