A new career, in later life

After thirty years in advertising, Nazar Haidri has gone back to his first love – art. He tells Laura Egerton of his journey back to his true passion

It isn’t uncommon for an artist’s career to take off in their twilight years. For some perhaps hitting retirement is the time for a lifelong hobby to become something more.

Nazar Haidri did study art as a young man in Karachi; he was in the first batch of fine art graduates from the Art Council of Pakistan in 1961. “I was totally involved in the art and painting," he reminisces. Talking animatedly about Sadequain, Guljee and other internationally acclaimed artists he was lucky enough to train under: “I tried to learn all I could from them, as much as possible”. It was the time when Pakistan was evolving as a modernist arts centre. Today Pakistan’s leading artists continue to teach in their art schools.

Despite achieving some successes by winning a handful of corporate prizes and participating in exhibitions, Haidri needed to pursue a more secure profession. The fields of advertising and marketing appealed; he could still work creatively. For thirty years he had a very successful career, a highlight was that it allowed him to travel.

“Through my work I had the opportunity to visit the world from Hong Kong to San Francisco” he tells Vision. “My first priority after finishing meetings was to find the art galleries.” MoMA in New York was his favourite and from their collection Pablo Picasso’s Girl with a Mandolin from 1910 his painting of choice. So much so he recently decided to make a version of his own, in tribute to Picasso, giving the girl a companion and replacing the western musical instrument with the Asian sitar and sarod.

Nazar Haidri
Most of the paintings on display are his take on the early twentieth century art movement

Haidri’s current exhibition in Dubai in the Z Gallery on the first floor of the Four Points by Sheraton Sheikh Zayed Road is titled Symphony in Cubism and ninety percent of the paintings on display are his take on the early twentieth century art movement and depict figures playing music. Fractured surfaces prevail but his palette choice is far more vibrant than the subdued tones of early Picasso and Braque, perhaps because he lives in a warmer climate. Other works are inspired by Pointillism, where the paint is applied as staccato dots across the surface rather than continuous lines. In many works he uses this technique in certain parts of a composition while other forms are painted in a more standard manner, such as the background to his whirling dervishes. 

Some paintings are more overtly Islamic, with calligraphic elements including references to particular ayahs from the Koran. He explains that as he tries to be a practising Muslim he is unable to paint faces, hence the vacant heads throughout the works. Exceptions are made – his Instagram feed includes a painting of the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia made in the 1970s.

The artist moved his main base to Dubai three years ago and works from a small studio at home. This is his third exhibition in the city since he arrived. He continues to show regularly in his native Karachi, next at Studio Seven in January. He recently had a successful exhibition in Austin, Texas where his daughter lives – even donating a work to a local mosque. He has aspirations to take his work to Europe. His next body of work will be of the iconic foursome of the Beatles: European culture is certainly his chief inspiration.