Anwar Jalal Shemza is revered as one of Pakistan's greatest contemporary artists. Shemza had his initial training at the Mayo School of Art, Lahore before enrolling at the Slade School of Art, London in 1956. He was a contemporary of Francis Newton Souza and Avinash Chandra, the three having exhibited together at one point with Victor Musgrave at Gallery One, London. Although already a well respected member of the artist fraternity in his homeland, at the Slade School he was shocked to find that he failed his first drawing test and the works he submitted for Young Contemporaries Exhibition were rejected. This made him rethink his entire philosophy and led to a period of deep introspection. He spent vast amounts of time at the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum immersing himself in masterpieces and attempting to figure out who he was and what he stood for. At this time he became acquainted with eminent art historian W.G. Archer and George Butcher both of whom provided support and constructive critique. Shemza's greatest inspirations were Mughal traditions and Paul Klee ironically on the opposite side of the spectrum. Art critic Andrew Forge opined that Shemza was wise in the inspiration he drew from Klee in that he applied Klee's artistic principles without losing his own individuality. Interestingly, Shemza was averse to conferring titles on his works, preferring to let his works speak for themselves; he only ever assigned captions just before an exhibition and solely for the benefit of the cataloguer and the public, and even then the titles rarely related to the subject matter of the piece but rather hinted at Shemza's general interest.
Shemza's most unique technique was that of working with cloth, begun circa 1959, he preferred the use of frayed muslin which gave a gauze net-like finish and this stayed with him throughout his career. Shemza would first dip the muslin in gouache or another medium and then wring out the paint; he would then lay the muslin down on to the main surface of his work with newspaper on top and proceed to walk all over it in slippers.
Lots 67 and 68 in this sale, titled Anarkali and Royal Family respectively are both from the 1970's. Shemza's works from this period are instantly recognizable by an economy of line, composition and colour. He favored flat planes of a single color with motifs that often appear to be floating in the background.
"The fishing-net patterns of Shemza provide a most effective demonstration of gestalt phenomena; each area of different colour alters the contouring of the ground and moving from one to the other creates a continual 'shifting'. Shemza's experiments differ from Klee's of the same type, because the line is tighter, as in the Islamic arabesque."
(Dennis Duerden, Art News and Review, London, November 1958)