Shakeel Siddiqui was born in 1951 and died recently in January 2018. Shakeel left behind a legacy through his paintings. A legacy of a constant war being waged against what the norm dictated as high art or art that is inferior. Often still lives painted in realist style are considered “old school”. Today performance art and digital media coupled with abstract expressionism are the pet mediums for an individual to be known as an artist to be reckoned with. But Shakeel Siddiqui went against the current. He painted not to make a statement or prove that he was a socially conscious artist. He painted because his heart desired to capture the lace cloth juxtaposed carelessly on a table to a point of such minute and infinite detail that it should appear palpable. The reflection of light in a teapot should be so lifelike that the audience should feel the tangible smoothness of the metal pot just by mere sight. Honest to his passion for realistic art Shakeel believed“ there is no short cut in art to be a true artist. You have to know how to paint and beyond that you have to understand pencil as a medium and sketching as a primary tool in art.”
Shakeel was a portraiture and a still life artist. A true example, a super realist artist and a photorealist artist as well. Realism was an artistic movement that began in France in the 1850s. It was against the exotic subject matter and exaggerated emotionalism and drama of the Romantic movement instead it sought to portray real and typical contemporary people and situations with truth and accuracy, and not avoiding unpleasant or sordid aspects of life. Like the realists Shakeel depicted people of all walks of life with uncanny life like tangibility. Romanticsm was started by a French artist Gustave Courbet and one of his most famous portraiture is titled “The desperate man” exhibits a man feeling intense emotion and the realistic depiction of his anguish” - proving realist art not without meaning being given to the subject matter. Realism is naturally spontaneous in its deeper understanding in its aesthetics of real life scenes and portraits. Similarly, Shakeel Siddiqui’s works have a flavor which is reminiscent in all his work. A certain sense of absence and an unhappy loneliness - an inconsolable loneliness in the subjects he chooses and the hues he applies to objects. Be it a window looking out into an empty landscape, a curtain with sunlight dappling into an empty room or a towel strewn carelessly on a chair. The sad emptiness is almost surreal because everything is real and life like but either something is amiss in the subject or the work is a mirage- one feels the three dimensionality which is not actually there. Surrealist like Georgio Di Cherico come in mind in Shakeels painting, both emit an aura of emptiness and absence- absence especially of human company. Edward Hopper an American realist painter similarly paints a lonely corner of a restaurant in a most realistic manner but the nostalgia of loneliness is evident in his painting called the night hawk.
In a way Shakeel Sidiiqui was an artist ahead of his time because notions about still lives were changing in the western world over the past few years. A photographer Wolfgang Tillman of Germany in the earlier part of the last century uses his camera to keep an ever-changing diary. These may include shots of flowers and keys juxtaposed with portrait of friends. “ Once low status was alloted to art establishment to still life but nowadays it implies something grand and serious. “Photography becomes a metaphysical exploitation of reality -“
Caravaggio a renaissance Painter has renewed respect in the domain of still life in todays world due to the photographic quality of his work. Caravaggio maintains “that the truth of objects is more fascinating then any beautified fantasy pathos and poetry.” There are signs of rot among his fruit. All the deeper meaning comes from observation.
These are the reasons why Shakeel Siddiqui’s super realist paintings are so important. Not only are they beautiful in their realism but they tell a story of emulating reality as a metaphysical journey.
There are only one or two artist’s dealing seriously with portraiture and realism. Eqbal Mehdis play of fabric on the woman he depicts is so similar and super realist like Siddiqui.
Shakeel Siddiqui studied at the Karachi school of Art for a year. Left to join the central institute of arts and crafts for from 1972-5.While he was in America he pursued to study Fine Art Painting at Art Students’ League, New York and majored in portraiture.Since the first One Man Show in 1972 at Portland, Maine, USA, Shakeel has participated in numerous group shows and solo shows. Since 1984, he has held positions as a lecturer of Fine Arts in many places around the world Including Pakistan and United Arab Emirates, teaching Realistic Oil Painting and Portraiture.
Shakeel used to work at night under an artificial light and used to put in around 60 hours per painting.He has also painted a 44ft x 8ft portrait of the Quaid-i-Azam taking the oath of office, now in the Quaid-i-Azam Museum.
Shakeel also had a prominent hand in restoring paintings of Sadequain as he worked with Sadequain during his life time.
Art Critic Quddus Mirza, is quoted to have said: “Like art itself, concepts and beliefs in art also keep changing. However, Shakeel’s choice to paint in the realistic manner can be regarded as a sign of courage and an act of out of the ordinary.”
Shakeel swam against the current and earned a name as one of the finest and bravest artists of Pakistan.