One of the most esteemed abstract artists in Pakistan, Shakir Ali began his career at the studio of Sarda Ukil in Delhi, where he painted for a year before joining the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay in 1938. Here, he was introduced to the work of the impressionists, and learned the techniques of mural painting, both of which had a deep impact on him. In 1946, Ali moved to London to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, and travelled across Europe, where he spent some time training in textile design in Prague. Upon his return to Pakistan, the artist settled in Lahore in 1952 and was appointed principal of the Mayo School of Art in 1961.
An important figure among his peers in Lahore, Shakir Ali is regarded as the artist who introduced cubism in Pakistan. He created a striking body of work, inhabited by symbols, abstract figures and calligraphic forms. The present large-scale work was painted in 1960, marking the beginning of a prolific decade for the artist that is regarded as one of his most aesthetically accomplished periods. “By this time, Cubism was a faint memory in his art. Faceless, stylized females, birds, and flowers interacted on canvases with brightly colored backgrounds. Line, merely a boundary determinant in the fifties, became an expressive, indispensable element integrated within the composition.” (M. Sirhandi, Contemporary Painting in Pakistan, Lahore, 1992, pp. 43-44)
A fascinating personality remembered for his charisma and spirituality, Shakir Ali's works are filled with historical and artistic signifiers from across the world that the artist experienced in person as well as in his readings. As he explained, “I often feel that in this cycle of birth and death I was born sometime in the period of Altamira caves. I feel like I lived and painted with them. Then again I think I was born in Crete and I was one of the bull dancers. I was dancing with them as well as painting the frescoes. I was also perhaps one of those people who have been during the period of Akhnatun, and have painted Nefertiti. Then perhaps I was in Ajanta.” (Arist statement, Talk at a Symposium, Artasia, Vol. I, No. 11, Spring 1966, in I. ul Hassan, Painting in Pakistan, Lahore, 1996, p. 60)