Display of lacquered sculptures, figurative paintings at Nomad

ISLAMABAD: An exhibition of contemporary lacquered sculptures and paintings by US-based artist Maylene Rasmussen is starting at Nomad Art Gallery today (Tuesday).

As many as 35 caches of delicate yet quirky sculptured paintings are being put on display. Figurative images in paintings titled ‘Kalash Mother’, ‘Lady Black and Red’, ‘Sleeping’, ‘Undressing’ and ‘Solitude’ depicts diverse themes.

The artist not only plays with different colours brilliantly but also uses different foils of silver and gold as well as eggshell, river shell and fabrics to make designs and motifs. Rasmussen is a self-taught artist with a passion to celebrate beauty. She has grown up as a child of conservative Christian missionaries in an even more conservative Muslim society.

“I want to bring out the beauty, colour, texture, form and sensuality of life through my work. I want to express freedom of existence beyond the bounds of repressive traditions and cultural limitations, an existence where women, in particular, do not have to hide in the dark,” Rasmussen told Daily Times at the preview of her exhibition.

She said lacquer work was a highly skilled decorative art in which the artist also shaped the wood to create the object, using a lathe.

“Different kinds of wood are used to make boxes, bowls, vases, paintings and other turned objects, including chess sets. Traditionally, the lathe is hand powered. Several layers of lacquer are applied in different colours and allowed to harden. The design is then incised with sharp tools, exposing the bright colours of the underlying layers,” she said.

“I was born in in Taxila near ancient ruins of Buddhist culture and art and grew up attending a boarding school in Murree. By high school, I demonstrated a natural talent for drawing and painting, with my earliest work tending to be somewhat dark or sad. I never had the opportunity to learn art in a serious way and pursuing art as a career was not considered an option within my conservative social and familial environment but later on I found the time to do oil painting, mainly concentrating on landscapes, seascapes, and floral arrangements,” Rasmussen said.

She said after 9/11, she was evacuated from Pakistan where her husband worked in the development sector. “In California, I enrolled for a semester in art courses at a local city college. Here for the first time, I had the opportunity to sketch and paint live nude models. This opened a new world for me, a lightening of my spirit that in Michelangelo’s words is ‘so empty and blind that it cannot recognise the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe and the skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed,’” she said.

A graduate of Fine Arts from Hanoi University of Fine Arts, Vietnam, Rasmussen was able to sketch and paint from live nude models and her passion for creating beautiful images of nude flowers. “I also discovered the work of contemporary Chinese-born artist Jia Lu whose stunningly beautiful realism continues to influence me,” she said.

“Another discovery in Hanoi was the art of lacquer paintings, learned from the Japanese and practiced extensively in Vietnam. I adopted this medium to further express my perspectives on the human forms, as well as other subjects ranging from landscapes to Islamic architecture,” she said.

Talking about the exhibition, Nomad Director Nageen Hyat said Rasmussen has learned over the years and this exquisite work on display would convince viewers comfortably that the artist was so mature in her profession.

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