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August 14, 2012

Haris Sheikh: Canada's abstract and expressionist painter

The Canadian Charger

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Listening to Haris Sheikh describe how he feels about his series of paintings that will be on display at an upcoming art exhibit, it is evident that he was, in effect, pouring his soul onto the canvases he painted on. This is in keeping with his heart-felt belief that art is "something that can uplift your soul."

Mr. Sheikh's solo painting exhibition "Cross Roads" is about his immigration journey across seven oceans. It focuses on cultural shock and loss of identity, which finally leads towards solitude.

A graduate of M.A Fine Arts from Punjab University College of Arts and Design and M.A. Political Science, also studies architecture at National College of Arts, in Lahore Pakistan, Mr. Sheikh immigrated to Canada 12 years ago, where he continued his passion for the arts, studying Film and TV Production and 3-D Animation at Toronto Film School. Mr. Sheikh also graduated in the Global Media Specialists Post Graduate Program at Sheridan College with CANWEST Academic award. He is Associate producer  (Punjabi language) of award winning documentary “Fundamental Freedoms “, about Canadian Charter of Rights. Sheikh’s debut documentary, “The Blastphemy”, about controversial cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and Muslim’s anger was screened at ISNA Film Festival Chicago 2011.

He explained that his painting style – greatly influenced by German Expressionism of the early 20th century - encompasses both traditional and modern aspects of art.

“My style is a Persian miniature style, mixed with the Mogul (influence). In Muslim tradition, figurative art is not so much appreciated because it is thought to take people toward adultery ... When you create statues of gods, the original idea is lost. It's the end of abstraction.”

Although Mr. Sheikh mentions Edvard Much's painting The Scream -  widely interpreted as representing the universal anxiety of modern man – as an example of Expressionism art that has influenced him, he says his own style is similar, but not the same.

“Expressionism comes from emphasis of an emotional idea. Expressionism is something very painful to watch. I don't want to do that. I don't want to show intense pain because it's a journey of the soul. In order to progress we must have some pain.”

Lines, which symbolize crossroads between two cultures, are a theme which permeates Mr. Sheikh's paintings. Usually the depictions of the older culture are in two dimensions on one side of the lines and the depiction of the new culture is in three dimensions, on the other side.

For example, one painting shows a man riding an elephant, depicted in two dimensions, and on the other side of the lines, surrounding him, are modern high rises in three dimensions.

“This represents the gridlock of the soul,” Mr. Sheikh says. “The miniature elephant rider is stuck in the middle of high rise buildings. The ropes lead to other souls. He can't get out, so he is in solitude.  He turns to the truth – the final reality. In Sufism you try to connect yourself to your lover. The lover of the soul is the creator.”

He says he includes the third dimension in his paintings because the mixture creates emotions.

“Art evokes emotions and thorough those emotions we experience the life of another reality.”

All of his images are abstract, such as the images of figures with their heads cut off. He says their heads may not be cut off physically, but emotionally, because relationships are cut off; families and culture are left behind.

“In this country you can't sponsor families because the rules are so strict. We always miss this and we can't compensate with any other thing.”

Another one of his paintings focuses on the Komagatu Maru ship which carried 354 passengers from India to Vancouver Harbour in 1914, in an unsuccessful attempt to immigrate to Canada. Although all those on board were British subjects, the Canadian government sent the ship back to India where the government of the British Raj saw the men on the Komagata Maru not only as self-confessed lawbreakers, but also as dangerous political agitators. Nineteen were killed when a riot ensued after the ship landed at Calcutta, some escaped and the rest were either imprisoned on placed under village arrest for the remainder of the First World War.

“I painted the story – my own feelings. It shows the crossroads, the highway between old and new cultures and new life. You can see the Whirling Dervish, a spiritual dance to reach the highest spiritual level.”

All of Mr. Sheikh's paintings are abstract because he says art is not supposed to be clear.

“The purpose of art is it gives you a hint and a feeling. It should not be clear because different people have different levels. All the big art has an area which people ask: “What does it mean? Today you see something. Tomorrow you will see something different. A century from now, people will see something different.”

Sheikh's solo exhibition Cross Roads will be held September 20, at Promenade Gallery, 943 B Lakeshore Road, Mississauga, at 6 p.m.  Everyone is welcome.

Sheikh's painting attached: Journey of Soul, Original: Medium: Oil on board, Size: 4x5 FT

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