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June - July 2007


Artist Sacha Jafri brings us into new era of painting

Anything related to the East, its culture and its people seems to be rapidly infiltrating the Western communities, in particular London, which has just been voted the multicultural epicentre of Europe. Whether it’s chicken tikka masala being the national dish of Britain; the music of AR Rahman, and Asian Dub Foundation; or the box office movies with recent successes like Mira Nair’s ‘The Namesake’ and Jagmohan Mundhra’s ‘Provoked’.

Perhaps it is this generation’s wave of recently ambitious, a desire to internationalise and a propensity to venture into alternate and unconventional professions. With this new tendency and the lessening of global barriers, the arts, in particular within eastern societies, are rapidly increasing, being recognised and given due merit by western audiences.

With huge diversifications in cultural realms, art is also seeing a new front being led by artist Sacha Jafri, bringing in his Indian, English and French roots in addition to his surroundings to make masterpieces sold all over the world. “The Renaissance Man, set to seduce us away from conceptual art with his passion for painting’, said BBC London News, and the Evening Standard wrote, “Sacha seems to have taken the work of Jackson Pollock one step further as well as understand the ‘line’ of Degas and express the spirit and movement of Kandinsky. His work is truly exciting and, now, highly collected”. With rave reviews, who is Sacha Jafri, and what made him enter the British art scene with such a storm? I met with Jafri, acclaimed young British painter and one of the leaders in the move away from what some call the ‘cultural pollution’ of unmade beds and pickled sharks of Emin and Hirst. I found his outlook not only truly contemporary, but what is particularly astonishing is his ability to clearly exhibit his own emotions, and yet something of the traditionalist able to convey this deep awareness of real art. He talks to us about his cultural influences, his inspirations and his upcoming June exhibition.

Growing up in London, with Indian, French and English heritage, Jafri attained an art scholarship to Eton College, England, coming first in the country in art A-Level, with his headmaster buying his first painting at the age of 18. He excitedly added, “I clearly remember him taking down his Mondrian to see what my painting would look like on his wall – this was obviously my first major thrill!” Jafri continued to achieve an MA in fine art after which he began his first collection displaying it at the Wentworth Gallery. This was a complete sell-out with an average painting price of £20,000 breaking all records for an artist under the age of 25. He later exhibited his work in Moscow, Dubai, Singapore, New York, L.A., San Francisco, Monaco, Geneva, Hong Kong, Austria, Miami, Basel, Paris, Cape Town, Cannes and Hamburg - his only remaining destination is India.

Jafri’s inspirations and influences are truly global, ranging from authors and filmmakers like Franz Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tim Burton, Sam Mendes, Stanley Kubrik, Rohinton Mistry, Khaled Hosseini, etc, to artists such as Tinguely, Pollock, Kandinsky, Lautrec, Degas. Many of his clients are India-based, several of which have travelled to his shows in Dubai, Sharjah, London, Singapore and even New York. He is currently planning his first show in India in 2008, followed by Shangai and Tokyo. Jafri says, “I guess the hardest places to make it as a painter are New York and London so I have mainly concentrated on those and so far things have gone well allowing me to branch out and get invitations to take my work to many other countries – this is always exciting and keeps things particularly interesting, challenging and diverse.”

Jafri was recently compared to Souza and Hussein by India Today, the founders of the Progressive Artist’s Group involved in establishing new ways of expressing India in the post-colonial era. Known as a ‘magical realist’ painter, Jafri is recognized for moving away from the latest era of ‘Shock Art’, aiming to make the mundane and over-familiar both magical and uplifting once again, and to bring back art, canvas and oils. All art endeavours to provoke an audience reaction, of course, but a negative, often offensive one at that – is this the right way to create a reaction? Perhaps! Hussain, who began by painting the garish hoardings of Bollywood movies, is now considered India’s most influential painter. A Muslim, known for his works on Hindu gods, has infuriated religious hardliners. In the late 1990s, mobs burnt a museum displaying his paintings depicting naked Hindu gods and goddesses. But his paintings are still revered by critics! Jafri says, “My work is the complete antithesis of shock art. I aim to be soulful, dynamic, beautiful and uplifting – not to give the viewers something momentarily which won’t stay with them forever.”

Jafri explained that his surroundings and extensive travels are definitely his biggest influence, “the colours and moods of the East, the smells and sounds, mixed with French romanticism give me so much inspiration.” Jafri’s upcoming exhibition in June is called ‘Disappearing Landscapes’, and though it focuses on the views and vistas of London, he has allowed his influences from the East, and his Indian background to integrate with his experiences of London living. ‘Disappearing Landscapes’ expresses a certain fragility in our environment, drawing our attention to London landmarks that may not be around for much longer.  However, the collection is neither foreboding nor morose, but is a celebration of the energy, atmosphere and beauty of both our rural and urban landscapes. It invites us to open our eyes and re-examine these icons, expelling any inevitable ambivalence we may have towards them – a fated eventuality when one lives in this city.

“Sacha is capable of doing something that will surprise us all. He is technically very strong. There’s a real battle going on in his paintings to reconcile the tensions between form and narrative. The fact that he’s chosen to put himself out there and grow up in public creates a buzz and makes him a very exciting artist to watch,” says Chris Townsend, Art Critic and Author of ‘Modern British Painters’.

So, in leading this era of time-honoured, traditionalist painting, Jafri, whose passion for painting brings him to the big leagues, is definitely an exciting young painter to watch, particularly in an era where skill, imagination and originality are outliving the banal and shocking – one from such a diverse background, with such focus and ambition who is now being internationally recognised. Jafri has single-handedly managed to raise over £1.4million for charity over the last 5 years. He was asked to produce live the official Ashes winning victory painting to commemorate England’s historic win for the first time in almost 20 years, with Freddie Flintoff’s handprint. Jafri says that nothing he does surprises his family, as a direct line descendant of Prophet Mohammed and his grandfather being a great friend of Gandhi he emphasises that ‘your surroundings are everything’ and ‘nothing is impossible’.

‘Disappearing Landscapes’

7th June – 11th July, 2007

Alexia Goethe Gallery, Dover Street, London, W1.

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