Shehzar Abro is a Pakistani artist based in Sydney, Shehzar despite being young has hit the peak of his career as a painter and has been featured in many international media platforms because of his immense talent and skills.We invited him to our Pakistan journal talk session where we host people of vision & inspiration.
Tell us about yourself & what do you want your viewers to take away from your work?
I’m a Pakistani artist based in Sydney. Raised in an artistically inclined family, practicing the arts was always encouraged at home. Growing up, I’d watch my grandmother paint beautiful Islamic calligraphy and landscapes that, impressively, were created only from her imagination.
If a practicing or non-practicing artist looks at my work, gets excited and decides to create, I’m doing something right. It takes three words to make my day; “You’ve inspired me.” I post progress shots, pictures of my art material, time-lapses and finished products because someone following me on social media could take away something useful for their art process.
How would you describe yourself to someone who has never met you?
It usually takes about 2 or 3 sentences in a conversation till I mention something about art or the fact that I’m an artist. We’ll get along if you like art. I am a workaholic. My friends know that I’ll get uneasy if I spend more than 2 minutes doing something unproductive. This can be a good thing, but usually, I find myself very anxious.
What is something that you are passionate about?
Women! Not as a straight man, but as a human being. A huge chunk of my subject matter revolves around portraits of successful or inspiring women. Today, we are closer than ever in achieving a society where every woman isn’t assigned a role in society, pay gaps based on gender are non-existent and the work ethic of a person is not assumed by physical appearance but by the mind and personality.
What are some of the challenges that you faced, when you embarked on your career? How did you overcome them?
Just like every other artist in this world, I’ve been criticised for my work. It has demotivated me and sometimes I’ve lost willingness to paint. Only recently have I realized that If people are talking about your work, you’ve given them something to talk about; and that’s good. You can’t make everyone happy. Just know your self-worth. You’re one of the few gifted people who retained a talent that most people in this world haven’t. Everyone has their two cents to give; just listen to the ones that know what they’re talking about.
Your #1 art tip or words of wisdom:
If you’re a fine artist, a musician, a model or anyone who wants to be recognized in her/his field, and you’re really good at it, please don’t just sit around and wait for your big break. Promote yourself with the passion and hard work that you put into your art. And don’t let anyone tell you that self-promotion isn’t the way to go because no one else wants recognition for you as badly as YOU do. If you don’t promote yourself, who else will? Honestly, factor out the ego issue. You don’t really deserve to have that ego if you haven’t done much with your life.
Who or what have been the biggest influences on your art?
The list is a long one, but here are 4 honorable mentions: Danielle Weber, a Melbourne based artist. She was the reason I started publicly showcasing my work. My grandmother gave me the initial encouragement to paint from a very young age. Amin Gulgee, a well known Pakistani Artist, hasn’t been a direct influence on my art, but he is an inspiration. Amin mentored me as a curator when I managed the Movenpick Hotel Karachi Art Gallery. Masuma Khwaja, my teacher and, at one point, my boss when I worked for the Karachi Biennale. She not only taught me drawing and painting techniques but also genuinely cared and believed in my work. I’ve been fortunate enough to have met all my inspirations. Not a lot of people can say that, which is why I’m always counting my blessings.
What’s your life motto?
I have 48 of them. Those who know Robert Greene know what I’m talking about.
How do you imagine yourself in 10 years?
Maybe I’ll shave off my beard or grow my hair longer. I expect myself to have started gym by then. On a serious note, I honestly just want to represent my country and project a positive image wherever I can. In 10 years, I’ll have done something worthwhile that internationally projects the talent my beautiful country produces.
Swipe? How many people are fortunate enough to manage an art gallery straight out of high school? A year ago today, I pulled off one of the biggest shows of my life. It was a learning experience, being mentored by the participating artists and the art community in Karachi. The love and support the show received goes to show you how much Karachi, my hometown, craves art. With the Karachi Biennale @kb17karachi just finishing off on a high note, big things are happening and I’m so proud to be a part of it and Witness it all happen before me.
Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?
Positive vibes from the people that want to see me going places and negative energy from the people that don’t.
How is your personality reflected in your work?
I’m a perfectionist until I run out of time or get bored. Towards the end of my painting, I tend to rush the background or minor details that I can’t be bothered to paint. It’s something that I’ve been trying to work on to improve myself.
What is your greatest achievement outside of painting?
In November 2016, I curated one of the biggest shows of my life. It was a learning experience, being mentored by the participating artists and the art community in Karachi. The love and support the show received goes to show you how much Karachi, my hometown, craves art. How many people are fortunate enough to manage an art gallery straight out of high school?
It was a self-fulfilling experience; to see newer artists of a young art community selling their first paintings.
If you could offer any advice to 16-year-old self, what would it be?
Join a gym.
What do you miss the most about Pakistan?
My parents. Even though they call me 3 times a day.
Do you think that a positive change can be achieved in Pakistan?
We’ve achieved so much in 2017. I’m optimistic. Pakistan is only 70 years old. We’ve so much to learn as a country and we are constantly growing as a community. We’ve hit some bumps in the road that’s slowed progress and affected our image, but the point is that we are a brilliant bunch of people and we’ll always have opportunities to shine. Benazir Bhutto, Malala Yousufzai, Sharmeen Obaid, Abdus Salam, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, and Edhi; they all come from our humble yet talented country of about 200 million people.
What do you want more people to be discussing nowadays?
Artists need to realize their worth and stop underselling their art. It ruins it for people who genuinely need the money to make a living. Here’s a scenario: Two very beautiful models are contacted for a job. One of the models really needs this job because she needs to pay her bills or a student loan. The other model has a rich dad and well money isn’t really her priority, so she says she’d do it for free. I think we all know who’s getting picked. Privilege wins, doesn’t it? If one artist starts doing it, you’re basically screwing up everyone’s chance of getting picked. Because hey, this one’s desperate enough to just get his name up on that wall so let’s pick him. Creativity is not retained by everyone when they grow up. People go into Law and Business and Medicine and get a “real job”. That real job pays a minimum wage, below which it is illegal to work in many countries. We need to realize that a typical creative does not even have a minimum wage.
Do you have a bucket list? If so what is on it?
Travel Europe and China with some like-minded people
Be a mentor to someone
17. Who should we be following on Instagram right now? @daniellesartworkofficial @dinotomic @theskyblushesinblue @anniyah._ @mahoor_jamal @humansofpakistan @fatemamandvi.art @manomunches
18. What are you most looking forward to the year 2018? Bigger achievements, new connections and hopefully learning to swim.
For all of the dreamers out there, the fresh-out-of-college future entrepreneurs, what advice would you give them?
Take a break every now and then but not for too long.
Never pushed myself to get a mural done as fast as this. Just over 2 days for the one on the front and a few hours for the one at the back (previous post). 2 years ago, my first commercial mural took me a month, despite having people assist me. It all comes with pushing yourself, practicing and stepping out of your comfort zone. The beauty of it was, it didn’t at all feel like work! Just chilled out the whole day painting. Do what you love, and never work a day in your life. Happy Friday! #whatweekend
Your message to the world?
Make art, not war.
Do you think media plays an important role in bringing artists into the limelight? Or that’s just their own struggle?
It’s safe to say that Instagram has changed my life. Social media is a very important tool for an artist today if you can use it well.