April 29 | Interviewed by Minahil Kasher
I would love to start by knowing a little bit more about you, who you are and what you do, what goes on in a day of your life.A little bit about your background and your journey and how you got here.
Faiqa: I’m Faiqa Uppal, an artist, and along with doing art and a busy mother of two kids! Let’s start from childhood. If you ask me about my interests or when I came to find my interests, I would say in my childhood. I have noticed, in my class, in primary school or in high school, I was at the top of the subject of art. My friends in school would usually ask me if I could help them with their drawing for an assignment or project. After high school, in Pakistan, I wanted to go to Lahore college at any cost since it had an exceptional fine arts department and was at the top of all other colleges in Lahore.
I started going there and completed my FA and after that I transferred into Punjab University, Lahore for my BFA in painting and then MFA after three years, in which I achieved a gold medal. So that was my journey to get a degree in arts but to get a degree in arts is not enough because there are many, many people or artists that have an art degree but they don’t practice it due to many reasons. It’s not like they don’t want to but obviously practical life is totally different. I must say, I’m lucky enough that I got an opportunity to pursue this degree as a hobby as well as a profession. After finishing my MFA, I got a job as a lecturer. I started working there and along with lectureship, I started working in a software house as a visualizer/graphic designer. I didn’t know much about computers but I learnt everything I know there. Then I started my own online business as a web/graphic designer. That was about 20 years ago, and, today, things are obviously different. For example, I can no longer do web design, because things have changed. Anyway, this was the journey of my practical life.
As an artist, I would say that whatever you do, you should have passion. I’m lucky enough in the sense that the circumstances were in my favor and are in my favor. There are many things that happen in between that are just part of life; I didn’t paint for many years after joining my lectureship because I was busy, I worked in the education sector for about 12 years, then I got married and moved to the UK where things are totally different. I was busy raising my kids and taking care of my family, so again, my art had to be put on hold for a little while. When my kids were around six or seven years old, they started going to school for full time so that gave me a little more time and I slowly started collecting my art materials and other things to get ready to resume my art journey. I had not been practicing art for many years and had a busy family to take care of. It was a long road but with determination and hard work, I am getting somewhere.
Right. Talk to me about your lectureship, what was that like for you?
Faiqa: It was a government job; the selection was done by the Public Service Commission. There is a written paper and a selection interview. The whole process consists of these things and of course, your academic results, and I got the job. In my opinion, I find that this is a good profession for women because at the end of the day, we’re going to get married, have our family and responsibilities. It won’t be your life only you’re going to raise another generation and it’s a big responsibility. I think it is a good profession because there in Pakistan, the timings are very reasonable, from 9 till depending on when you’re going to have your lectures. Then, during summer holidays, you get to spend with your kids because you will have holidays as well. It’s just easier to manage with your family. As far as the job itself goes, it’s a very noble job. If you have learned something, it’s the best way to pass on the knowledge. (Though I had very good teachers and I am grateful for that).
I wanted my students not only to work hard but it should be with full interest and determination. Thorough understanding builds confidence and this is what I wanted in my students. Another important thing, in Pakistan, is that there are no teacher training courses to give you directions on how to go into this profession, what are the requirements and responsibilities you may have. You just go with the flow; you have seen and observe the system in your student life and this is the observation you are going to use in your teaching profession.
When I first moved to the UK, I wanted to do some teacher training course, which I managed to do, and joined a course called PTLLS which was for teaching adults in college. I learned a lot through that in those three months. I thought to myself, these are the things I should’ve known when I first started teaching in Pakistan. With that previous experience and having done this new course, I am very confident about conducting art sessions, either one on one, or group, which I’m actually doing here in the UK.
It sounds like you love teaching and educating as much as you love practicing your art.
Tell me about your own graphic design business and how that went?
Faiqa: When I was living in the Pakistan, I had a full-time job along with a part time job in a software house and I was running a small online business on my own. At the time, I wouldn’t say it was just the start of website design but it was still very new in Pakistan. I was interested in the subject and I had a small team of designers- I also had my friends from the software house who were on the team as well; I used to handle the front end designing and they used to handle the technical part of everything. Even though it was 20 years ago, the web designing was still advanced for that time but we were managing everything and it was a good business. When I came here to the UK. I had my first baby but even then, I was still working as a localization DTP expert. I did many big projects here as well as some with a couple of local companies as a self-employed artist. Then, my second child was born and I just got too busy with raising two kids and had to stop working. Now, I look towards starting web designing again but I just can’t get the hang of it; everything has changed so much and is technically complicated.
Right, but that’s amazing because you’ve had your hands in basically everything from teaching to working to practicing your art. I would love to talk a little bit about your art and the mediums you like to use, your process and your thoughts while like starting a painting.
Faiqa: Let’s start with the medium: I enjoy working almost all mediums, depending upon my mood and the subject. But as I live in the UK, due to few technical reasons including the cold weather and smaller space available, I initially started working in watercolor. There also wasn’t much space to have a studio within the house so I used to work in my kitchen or dining table and tidy it away when I had finished my work for the day; in my circumstances, watercolor was the most practical medium to work with at the time. I experimented a lot and started making a lot of work. If I show you my first painting that I made, after the long gap of 12 years, you’d be surprised to see it because it was nowhere near as good as it was when I was practicing. I actually still have it till this day. I kept it because it’s important to me as a reminder of how I started working after such a long break- that painting motivates me to do more and tells me where I was before, how far I’ve come since then and that there is no limit in art.
At the time, I was struggling to think of a subject to paint about: I was used to working from live models and landscapes direct from nature. However, it wasn’t easy for me with small kids, to manage the time and bring all my painting materials and coordinate with the rainy weather; it happened to me so many times that I would go out on a sunny day to paint and all of a sudden it would get windy and rainy! Like I said, I started with watercolor but that was a challenge for me, to get a full grip on it. I started watching YouTube videos of other people working with watercolors. I couldn’t really visit art galleries at the time so watching videos was a way for me to feel involved and feel like I was learning something new. I got to see different people doing the same thing in their own different way. It was like a form of connecting with them without having to go outside.
I started working on smaller scale and now I am very much confident on larger scale. Working on big scales is like a freedom of expression for me. I can openly paint and go as big as I want on a larger scale. To move on to a bigger scale, you need to have an audience and you need to build connections with people. It’s sort of like an artist diary that you are going to publish to the public.
Talking about inspiration, how and from where I get inspiration for my paintings? In simple words, inspiration can come from anywhere. I observe things, I see other artists’ works even while watch TV programs my mind is constantly working on new color combinations and figure compositions. When there is inspiration then I can work for weeks and sometimes there is no idea or inspiration for weeks.
Right, and talk to us about your solo shows in Lahore and what you worked on for that?
When I had my first solo show in Pakistan two years ago, that was my first step into getting back to painting after my long break. The first show in Lahore was of my watercolour paintings. It went well and I got a huge appreciation.
Next year, in April 2020, my work was of a very large scale and all of my paintings were in acrylics. I presented the work that I used to do many years ago in Pakistan about Mughal Miniature dancers and people absolutely loved that subject. All those paintings used to sell as soon as I finished working on them. So, when I was going back to Pakistan, I thought I should connect back to my roots and recall the kind of work I used to do. My main subject was/is female figures, I love painting these, so I drew the dancing female figures and got great feedback.
I just had my third solo show in March 2021, again in Pakistan and also in acrylic and mixed medium. It went well, I had my show managed remotely due to COVID travel restrictions. I got very interested in the subject of ballerinas and I wanted to paint those, as well as floral work. With the concept of ballerinas, the problem was that everything was locked down and closed due to COVID Restrictions. I couldn’t go to ballet schools to talk to or study ballerinas. The thing about living here in the UK is that there are so many endless opportunities, there is a ballet school or a music school at every corner. Many young people are interested in ballet and they were all ready to help me in my research. We had zoom meetings and they would just pose for me. Luckily for me, there is a professional ballerina who saw my work and she loved it and I asked her if she would like to pose and model for me. She was so sweet and agreed to help me even through zoom meetings because she is in New York, and that is how I managed my research for making ballerinas!
However, I cannot stick to one thing or one subject. If you look at my work, you’ll notice I am experimenting with many different styles at the same time, but this is how I am. On one hand, I am thinking about ballerinas and on the other hand I am about Mughal Dancing figures. I don’t decide which way to go or how to execute the particular subject, it’s the subject that makes me decide how to handle it, I don’t consciously try to plan it.
Other than that, I was supposed to have another solo show here in the UK last year, but it was postponed because of pandemic (COVID restrictions). It’s hard to get a date for an exhibition from a gallery here in the UK which I was given two years ago. Hopefully I will get another date when situation will be normal which is expected very soon.
That is so amazing, artists helping other artists in such odd times. So why ballerinas? What was your fascination with them?
Faiqa: While living in Pakistan, concepts like ballerinas used to really fascinate me not because it is a foreign concept but their elegance, their movements their strict regime to be on a level, inspired me. They are like us artists whom have to work hard for years to be at some level.
That’s great! Looking at your work, I can definitely feel the movement and like I am actually there in the moment and the use of color is so beautiful as well.
Faiqa: Thank you very much. I will add one thing, it was a bit tricky to take this subject and display it in Pakistan. I wasn’t sure how people over there were going to respond to this type of work but, even so, the feedback I got was great! I wasn’t even there in person and I got good feedback.
Right, it just kind of comes to you. Talking about feedback, you displayed something you were passionate about even though you knew it could be controversial. What was some of the feedback you ended up getting and how did you take it?
Faiqa: Feedback for artists, positive or negative, matters a lot for them. Healthy criticism motivates you to do more and do better. I appreciate both negative and positive criticism, as long as it is healthy criticism. I take it as a learning process and so far, I haven’t really gotten any negative feedback. However, yes, regarding my female dancer paintings, they are really bold in appearance. I got some feedback over those from some women saying: “don’t you think you are bit bold presenting your female dancers”. My response was, this is how I wanted to show my dancing figures because my dancing figures are representing happiness and when you are happy you don’t care about your environment or anything else, you are just happy. My message is happiness. Whether it’s by painting ballerinas or if it’s by painting subcontinental miniature figures. I just want to depict a happy life and a happy message. I find that everyone’s lives are so overwhelming and nobody is having a perfect life to be honest- there is something going on in everyone’s life. I want people to, whoever is viewing my art, looking at my art, that they feel happy, they feel motivated. They feel that they can put all their sadness, sorrow and problems aside and that they’re having that moment with my paintings to enjoy that time.
Right and they’re always going to be a billion different interpretations about your artwork and people will have different opinions. But I love that you still stick to your main goal which is just to make people feel happy through your art. Do you have a favorite piece of artwork that you have made? And as we come to an end, are there parting words of wisdom that you would like to share?
Faiqa: After finishing a painting my first reaction or feeling about almost every painting is that there is something missing in it and that feeling motivates me to do more and try something else to figure out that missing element in my painting. I won’t say I have one favorite painting, one day I like one painting and the next day it’s another one. From my most recent work, there is this one ballerina painting that I really do love. I like the way I paint movement in there. There are three ballerinas and one of them is holding a Magnolia branch behind her back, and she is going to meet the other ballerina who is actually her own self to present the Magnolias she is holding. The third ballerina is observing all this. The theme behind this is that Magnolias are associated with females, their dignity and nobility.
Thank you for sharing that! Is there anything else that you would like to add or tell everybody right now that is listening?
Faiqa: I’d like to talk a bit about my floral art. Everybody loves flowers. Like I said earlier, my goal is to make everyone feel happy through my art and flowers are the one subject that makes everyone feel happy. You can easily convey your message through a flower, whether it be love, friendship, happiness, sadness, it’s just overall love to everyone and by painting flowers, I am expressing my love to anyone who is viewing my work!
Thank you so much for sharing that! And thank you for being here today with us, it was so nice to talk to you.
Faiqa: Thank you for having me here today, it has been an honor sharing my journey and experiences on the Rungg platform!
As an artist, I would say that whatever you do, you should have passion. I’m lucky enough in the sense that the circumstances were in my favor and are in my favor.
From Swan Lane | 31” x 39”
In Love With The Sun | 39” x 39”
Orchids | 47” x 39”
Getting Ready | 30” x 22”
Holding This Moment | 31” x 31”
The Song Within Magnolias | 39.5” x 31.5”
I couldn’t really visit art galleries at the time so watching videos was a way for me to feel involved and feel like I was learning something new. I got to see different people doing the same thing in their own different way. It was like a form of connecting with them without having to go outside.
When Light Shines | Acrylic on Canvas | 36” x 39”
Before | 31” x 39”
Time To Greet Myself | 39” x 59”
All images provided by courtesy of the artist.