Interviewed by Moeed Tariq
Omar Gilani talks about how pursuing engineering for nearly ten years helped him in his photorealism art. Many think the logistics of engineering don’t go with the fluidity of the creative arts – in this interview with Creative Director Moeed Tariq, Mr. Gilani turns the adage on its head.
Can you re-call your earliest drawing?
One of the earliest drawings I remember making was a portrait of my family with color pencils, which I did when I was three or four. I remember trying to “shade” it by smudging the color on their faces with my fingers. My grandmother then gave me my first drawing lesson, one which holds me in good stead to this day.
Did you want to be an artist growing up? If so, why the deviation into engineering?
Yes, a career in the arts was always a dream. Unfortunately I grew up in Peshawar, where such a vocation is usually considered fanciful and unrealistic. I chose Engineering mainly to keep the folks off my back and because it is a “solid career with good employment prospects” (their words, not mine). But the pledge I made to myself way back then was to keep my artwork going – a pledge I kept up through a Bachelors’ and two Master’s degrees in Technical Engineering. I don’t feel like I missed out; the engineering education injected just enough nerd in me to balance out the inherent airheaded craziness.
As a person who has now been regularly meditating for over a year now, you have still not branched out into abstract art. Do you think the two are connected?
I wouldn’t say they are connected. Meditation is primarily a tool to clear out mental cobwebs and mute annoying internal voices. After that anything can be meditative, be it abstract art or polishing your shoes. What I enjoy is photorealism and color play. I haven’t branched out into abstract art mainly because the engineer within does not approve of me expressing myself in nebulous blobs of abstraction.
Do you go through a certain thought process or research technique before starting new pieces?
Yes there is an indirect process at play. It starts out with a very simple mental visual: a rickshaw robot, a springtime date, Jinnah as a gangster, a dancing dervish – and then I let it simmer in the back for many hours, sometimes days, until it speaks to me again. I’ve found that I can’t force the birth, the best effects are organic, and so I wait until I hear from the idea again. When it feels ripe, I pounce.
For the portrait work that I do, it is very important for me to capture the right colors, vibrance, and mood based on who I’m drawing. There is more to a person than anatomy alone; each person has an essence, and I love the process of trying to express that essence through color and light.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
One of my main inspirations through the years has been the brilliant Gulgee. When I was a kid, I watched him paint one of his calligraphic names of Allah, and I was in awe of the process. It was transcendent, instinctual, magical, the way his brush carelessly danced across that canvas. I remember walking through his house in Nathiagali as a child and being blown away by the different mediums of art that he was a master of. And he achieved all of that after an engineering background. He has inspired me to dream big, and for that I am forever indebted to the great man.
If you could illustrate any existing body of literary work, which one would it be and why?
I’ve always wanted to give ‘The Adventures of Umro Ayaar and Amir Hamza’ a shot. That is incredibly rich literature, fascinating, detailed, and mystical (like the Tolkien universe on an Acid trip), and the Persian style of art which would be required to do that world justice is gorgeous. Definitely a project I’ll be giving more time to in the future.
You have recently begun work on your first cohesive collection of work which will then go up for public viewing at a later date by way of your debut exhibit. Can you discuss the concept and theme?
I have a couple of exhibitions in the works. Without going into too many details, I’ll just say they represent a more positive take on our culture, our heroes, our society, than is considered normal here [in Pakistan]. I am a big proponent of a good old laugh as being a cure-all for many ailments, and I feel like we’ve kind of gotten bogged down of late. To our detriment, we’ve rejected levity in favor of somberness, and that sucks in my opinion. I’m hoping to present a different perspective through my artwork, one which says that no matter how bad things get, we can always choose to smile.