Jamali's art comes from places far away and times long past. He has been called a shaman-artist, a spirit-traveler who communes with the sacred. Yet Jamali's images rest easily in the most contemporary surroundings and speak the language of a New Age. His remarkable career reflects both his powerful artistic vision and a determination to trace his own path to success in the contemporary art world.
That maverick's path has led Jamali from his early experiences in Pakistan's desert and mountain villages to the high-tech workshop and studios that he maintains today in Florida. He was born to professional parents in the ancient crossroads city of Peshawar, once a Buddhist capital and a transit center on the Silk Road. When he was expelled from his schoolboy military academy, Jamali took up residence in a small community in the Rajasthan desert. There, living for five years a simple and impoverished existence, he encountered the Sufi custom of dancing as prayer to God, an important later influence on his art. After a university education in science and economics, Jamali went to live with the mountain-dwelling Kafir people, among whom ancient animist and shamanic traditions persist. These exotic experiences were compounded with his exposure to Peshawar's ancient Buddhist relics and ruins - all before any firsthand contact with art in Europe and the U.S.
When he came to the U.S. in 1973 and settled in Florida, though, Jamali still had not found his true calling. He was dabbling in business studies and writing mystical poetry when a series of revelatory dreams came to him in 1976, the year of his father's death. "Again and again this person came to me and said, 'I gave you those poems, and with them I gave you a mission'," recounts Jamali. In accordance with the apparition's command, the artist explains, "I named my life's work 'Art and Peace'." With art, to make peace - this became Jamali's vocation as an artist. It explains not only his visionary idea of the artist's role in contemporary society but also his unconventional path to artistic success.
Jamali had begun to paint as a solitary and meditative ritual - at first by pulling his truck to the side of the road and laying out his canvas in the woods. His practice was to enter a trance-like state and then lay down a paint in a whirling, barefoot dance across a canvas laid out in the open air. He is the only artist to bring dance and painting together in such a sacred, ritualized style. His sculpted surfaces are thick with paint and marked with stylized, boldly drawn images - usually the outline of faces, masks, or the human figure. The result, as critic Donald Kuspit has remarked, are pregnant surfaces of unmatched textural complexity. Jamali often leaves his canvases outdoors for days, weeks, or years, where they are finished by the chance addition of fallen leaves or the tracks of a skittering lizard. Thus, paintings that originate in the inner world of the artist's dreams find completion by opening themselves to the outer world of time and nature.
Pursuing this visionary discipline over a quarter century, Jamali has produced a body of work achieved by few artists of his time - more than 14,000 original works, many of them paintings on a monumental scale. Kuspit has termed Jamali's style "mystical expressionism," with clear connections to the gestural methods of the New York school. But artists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko were wholehearted creatures of the modern world. Jamali's style evokes such ancient forms of human art as cave art, rock painting, and those radically simplified figurines of the goddess. These are the connections that make Jamali's expressionism "mystical." Kuspit regards him as the originator of a new school of painting called "mystical expressionism." By adapting the Sufis' ecstatic dance and Buddhist meditation, Jamali seeks to experience the primordial mental states in which humans first created art. That is why Kuspit calls Jamali a "shaman-artist." Like the shaman, Jamali is a spirit-traveler who makes contact with the sacred mystery of life and returns with a message that he is obligated to share with the world. It's not surprising that an artist of such mystical inspiration might seek his own path in the contemporary art world. Establishing himself in Winter Park, Florida, where he could paint outdoors year-round, Jamali created the Art & Peach foundation in 1982 to promote his artistic mission. Jamali's success has brought him acclaim in national and international publications and more than fifty solo exhibitions nationwide. His works are held in more than 3,000 collections worldwide. His life and art are the subject of a documentary film being produced by the University of Central Florida and a book series by the art publisher Rizzoli, the first two volumes (in print and in press, respectively) with definitive essays by Donald Kuspit on the nature and origins of Jamali's mystical expressionism. Four additional volumes by Rizzoli are planned, and Jamali has initiated his own printing enterprise, Mardan Publishing, Inc. His artistic methods may be mystical, buy Jamali's business bears the mark of a savvy and independent maverick. He has designed and built his own state-of-the-art studios and workshop, with a large full-time staff and in-house facilities for photography, graphic production, print reproduction, framing, and shipping. The artist controls every aspect of the production of his work.
In Jamali's view, this comprehensive business operation is just part of realizing his artistic vision - to bring his message of art and peace to the widest possible audience. The spiritual strength of Jamali's painting arises out of dream, trance, prayer, the most ancient sources of artistic inspiration. His work bears a deeply philosophical message about the "divine resolution" of life and death, as he describes it. Yet his remarkable career demonstrates the public's hunger for an authentic art that speaks of the unity of life. Jamali's path has led him from the mountains around the Khyber Pass to the frontier of a New Age, in which he sees art and science being reconciled in a single "ecological vision." It's a path that could only be trod by an artist of deep conviction and intense charisma. It's a path that Jamali believes still will lead us through art to peace.
"JAMALI Limited Editions 2002"
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