Fahd Burki, Noon, 2015, acrylic and pencil on paper, 30 × 22".

Fahd Burki, Noon, 2015, acrylic and pencil on paper, 30 × 22".

Fahd Burki

Fahd Burki, Noon, 2015, acrylic and pencil on paper, 30 × 22".

Lahore, Pakistan–based Fahd Burki’s recent exhibition “New Works” marked a notable rupture in his practice: a dramatic shift toward near total abstraction. In the suite of subtle works on paper and canvas, Burki all but abandoned the playful but enigmatic imagery—graphic, at times comical, icons loosely inspired by archaic mythologies and future visions—that characterized his earlier work. The distinct black lines and flat, opaque blocks of vivid, occasionally neon, color Burki formerly used have been replaced by quiet compositions of basic elements—lines, grids, squares, circles, triangles—executed using soft graphite or pencil, and delicate, translucent washes of acrylic that allow the resulting forms to be carefully layered without obscuring what lies below. Abandoning recognizable subject matter altogether, these gentle geometric abstractions present precise though intuitive exercises in composition, rhythm, and alignment.

Elation and Beautiful Day, both 2015, suggest simple architectural plans; the latter augments the base of the square outline featured in the former with a squat rectangle. A stack of fifteen equidistant narrow horizontal bands, each broken up into smaller segments of varying size and color, Journey, 2015, resembles a genomic map or an abstract score in which traditional notation has been replaced with a progression of subtle chromatic and tonal shifts, turning color and its intensities into a type of musical language. This impulse to convey perceptual or phenomenological experiences through reductive, diagrammatic compositions is present in much of this work. Titles such as Dawn and Noon, both 2015, indicate an interest in representing the shifting qualities of light through the course of a day and across seasons. In the former, irregular arrays of identically sized crystalline red and blue circles—that overlap and align to varying degrees, creating a field of mini Venn diagrams—float atop a horizontally lined background. The composition’s precise but muted hues and quiet buzz perfectly capture the liminality of crepuscular light. As one might expect, the latter work is chromatically stronger and compositionally sharper; the circles are grayish green and uncolored, and yellow triangles of two distinct tonalities have been added to the mix, all against a dotted grid that anchors but does not organize the overlapping shapes. In Winter’s End, 2016, a square composed of vertical tan stripes is nestled at the center of a field of pale green horizontal lines; dispersed across the composition, see-through gray circles hover indeterminately, like elusive particles that float around our fields of vision but only become visible when we stop looking.

Though their subdued palette evokes Agnes Martin, whose work has long fascinated Burki, the grid only occasionally dictates the overall composition. In the spare but beautifully balanced The Way Things Are, 2015, a wheat-colored sun-like circle hovers above a flattened rectangular grid that fills the bottom third of the frame. In this severely schematized cityscape, the modernist structural motif par excellence is reduced to a ready-made form, functioning as a discrete entity within the composition. In other works, where the grid is prominent, its rigid rational order is tempered by floating arrays of overlapping shapes or by bisecting diagonals that transform it into a dynamic field of little triangles.

Burki’s muted palette, translucent acrylic washes, and thin, precise lines do not demand our attention or command our vision, avoiding the strong, and often quick, retinal impact that characterizes most geometric abstraction. Shy rather than brash, these consciously understated works insist that we consider them slowly and carefully. They encourage intimate encounters that are not limited to the visual, priming us to register all the sensorial richness of their incremental shifts, gentle gradients, and degrees of (mis)alignment.

Murtaza Vali