I was first introduced to feted artist Tajuddin Ahmed by late painter cum sculptor Syed Abdullah Khalid (creator of Aparajeyo Bangla) at Tivoli Gallery in Gulshan. His pleasant personality was easily expressed through his softness of speech and calm temperament. Afterwards, we frequently met; I saw his artworks and discussed his working process and method at his studio cum gallery. The USP of Tajuddin's paintings is the mythological resemblance, animals, flora and fauna, vivacious culture of Old Dhaka, nostalgia, nature and human relationships.
This is an unquestionable assessment that 21st-century art can be categorised into two distinct movements. One can be called conceptual, characterised by works of art that deal with socially and politically engaging issues. The other, the foremost concept of this century’s art, is the pure abstraction in its diverse styles. Tajuddin’s work represents the latter. He has felicity enough to identify himself with his apparently harmonised and standalone working styles. Steadfast may be the term more appropriate in denoting his stylistic approach to preserve the personal hallmark of his works.
Tajuddin hails from Rokonpur under Laxmibazar, one of the historical parts of our Old Dhaka, an over-populated and over-congested area. The place is also recognised for its ancient buildings and architectural heritage. He spent his early life by the banks of the Buriganga River, which flows very near to his living place. He enjoyed seeing boats on a sail, singing boatmen, riverine life and green grandeurs. During that time, he used to portray them with his novice hands. Along with natural elements, colour was a predominant aspect of his works. The treatment of colour and, particularly, the selection of objects were distinct and mind-boggling.
As an intense onlooker, Tajuddin closely observed the transforming socio-political and economic conditions of the city. Generally, he set out as a naturist and landscape painter. In the early stages of his career, nature played a major role in his works. The painter feels that nature has an endless source of splendour, mystery and anonymity. He discovered inspiration in the elaborate detailing of glimpses like light filtering through the leaves, the sound of the river’s wave, the silence of nature, a drop of rain, singing crickets, dense foliage, the play of light and shadow in nature, flora and fauna as well as many others. Each of these elements contained a new story for him. The diverse activities in dockyards also gained a prominent focus in Tajuddin’s paintings at the early stage of his career. He elaborately portrayed the ship-building process, drudgers engrossed with laborious engagements, upside-down ships and cargos under repair, and scrap metals of ships scattered on the ground. He also portrayed small and big boats in all their possible varieties and repairing and maintenance activities around the banks of the rivers.
Over time, Tajuddin has refined himself. He transformed himself into a semi-abstract painter after the 1980s and set off to interpret metropolitan communities rigorously through thematic treatment. He intimately observed the city’s unplanned urbanisation, ruined richness of heritage, transport, and changing socio-political and economic conditions. For deeper inspiration and bringing variation in his theme-centric works, the artist fervently painted Old Dhaka with its vibrant activities, downtrodden people in their daily chores, rickshaws and their hapless but dauntless drivers, light posts, narrow alleys, condensed habitations, wrecked buildings, cluttered wires pondering across roads etc. He also depicted people in masses busy with different approaches and aided by suffering, torments, bliss and ecstasies.
After 1990, Tajuddin completed his artistic journey to become a pure abstract expressionist painter. His paintings delved deep into pure forms, compositions and hues, which have been used according to the space. Sometimes he played with neat forms and compositions and, time and again, occupied himself with healthy curved horizontal and vertical lines, straight lines, elliptical, non-elliptical shapes, cubic forms and rigid structures. He played with space, and sometimes space played a vital role in many of his paintings. Occasionally forms engrossed either the middle or lower parts of the canvas. During that time, many of his paintings feature complex compositions, textural strength and thickness of colours. A number of his paintings look neat and tranquil as the works focus on colours and their various layers. The colours are azure, crimson, red, black, white, yellow, cobalt blue, yellow ochre, purple ochre, burnt sienna, umber and emerald green. The painter has played with texture and illusion for surface effects, making his surfaces look more impressive and appealing. Colours have appeared flatly in some of his works. The tonal plus linear approach gives his work a different quality and distinctive look.
Suddenly Tajuddin migrated to Toronto in 2008. After migration, he felt that location plays a significant role in an artist’s life. One can easily get affected by the environment, cultural and social setting. As part of his soul’s quest in Toronto, Tajuddin derives inspiration from many aspects of his surroundings. Leafless trees in winter, silent nature, summer celebrations, greenery in both urban and semi-urban areas, people relaxing and walking around and their body language appear symbolically in his artworks. The painter has used varied hues like yellow, emerald green, coffee, dark blue, copper red, brown, green and black in his works. His brushstrokes are both bold and polished. The tonal and linear approaches give his works a different quality.
The recent works are to some extent different from Tajuddin’s earlier works, as the painter emphasises varied tiny objects, different forms of myth, hazy and semi-nude-figures, flower bases, hollow forms, varied symbolic patterns, greenery, amorphous forms, thick and rough textures. The current changes are mainly technical, and sometimes it seems that the artist is primarily concerned with applying colours and mingling forms as well as the textural intensity in his paintings. Tajuddin’s present works also feature mellow textures and soothing surfaces that are malleable and appealing. The paintings represent emotion and sentiment in a manner that portends to outline that the artist wants to be universally understood.
[Takir Hossain is an art critic and cultural curator]