Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2014

An iconoclast of his time

A tribute to Imran Mir (1950-2014).
Photograph by Arif Mahmood/White Star.
Photograph by Arif Mahmood/White Star.

"2013 was a challenging year for me. I had health issues which laid me up but I was eager and raring to get on my feet and back to painting. Adversity of any kind does not hold me down for long ...

“As usual I decided to plug into positive energies and started work on my Twelfth Paper on Modern Art and found my mind racing with ideas and concepts that I found hard to keep pace with.”

Excerpted from what you see is what you see by Imran Mir (The book’s title is all in lower case and knowing Imran’s sensitivity towards font, I left it as it is).

Apart from grieving the loss of one of Pakistan’s most significant contemporary artists, the family and friends of Imran Mir are left with two deep regrets.

He did not live long enough to see the launch of his book, what you see is what you see or the planned exhibition of his work, Twelfth Paper on Modern Art.

Many of his works from the Twelfth Paper – paintings and installations – are reproduced in the book. They clearly show his development from his work on the Eleventh Paper. The Twelfth Paper projects a sense of renewed energy and boldness from an artist whose physical health was on the decline.

I became acquainted with Imran’s work even before I got to know him. Working for MNJ Communications in the early 70s, we were taken to see the thesis work of design students of the Central Institute of Arts & Crafts (CIAC), at the time Karachi’s leading art school.

Imran was already showing potential and was considered to be one of the top students. The CIAC, with Ali Imam as principal, had on its faculty several inspiring teachers, including Rashid Arshed and Bashir Mirza. After graduating, Imran left to study at OCAD in Canada. This was a period that perhaps shaped his later work – both in graphic design and his art. Much later, in the 90s, he became one of the founders of the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture.

I got to know Imran well when he started working for IAL. At the same time he was beginning to hold highly successful exhibitions and getting recognition as a true modernist. The first major show I remember going to was at the Indus Gallery where Imran’s work had been accepted by the extremely discerning Ali Imam. Both the grounds and the hall of the gallery came alive with the robustness of Imran’s installations and canvases.

Imran and I became colleagues when he left IAL to take up the challenge of editorial design at Pakistan Herald Publications. In the early 80s, editorial design was unheard of and publications were put together in a somewhat ad hoc manner by the editorial team itself with little concern for layout and aesthetics. He set up the Creative Department in Haroon House, bringing to the team former talented colleagues. Apart from the challenge of giving publications that were beginning to look old and tired a new, inviting look, he also had to contend with the personal preferences of strong-minded editors.

While there was perfect compatibility between Imran and myself in our perceptions of editorial design, he had a tougher time convincing the editors of Herald and DAWN. However, he soon developed a rapport with Razia Bhatti, editor of Herald, and produced many covers that aptly reflected Herald’s bold cover stories. Among the designs he created for the Star Weekend (that I was editing at the time), my favourite is his design for a special report we published on Karachi. It appropriately captured the essence of the city, its diversity and chaos. Of course this was the Karachi of the early 80s, of happier times, free of ethnic and sectarian violence.

Imran Mir was rare in his ability to move between the demands of graphic design and his own artistic yearnings without compromising on his sense of modernism or aesthetics. Even in his graphic designs, done for commercial clients, one can discern elements of sensibilities that are more evident in his works of art on larger spaces. Leaving The Dawn Group with some permanent imprints of his design, he set up his own advertising agency, The Circuit in 1987. The logo he created for his agency encapsulates his approach to his art in a simple, definitive way. Both its geometric form and selection of font are quintessentially Imran.

Imran was selective in accepting clients and, in a fiercely competitive commercial environment, managed to secure considerable creative freedom. Though soft-spoken with a gentle demeanour, he showed a resolute will when it came to his work, unwilling to accept compromises that he believed would adversely affect his design. Some of his more familiar iconic logos include the one for Geo (though modified later) which encapsulated through the use of blue and orange the nature of a 24-hour news channel and Meat One with its stylised depiction of a butcher’s cleaver. He also created the masthead for The News when it was launched, modernising the traditional serif style associated with newspapers. Imran was particularly proud of the brand identity he created for One Potato Two Potato, popularly known as optp. Its sophistication and appeal led most consumers to believe that optp was a global franchise.

With an impressive portfolio of trailblazing designs, Imran had, over the past few years, began to focus more on his art delegating the agency’s responsibilities to his son Gibran. Judging by the impressive and spectacular output created for the Twelfth Paper, many of which can be viewed in his book, it was the right decision. Imran Mir’s studio and home (designed by Sri Lankan architect Anjalendran and Pakistani architect Shahid Abdulla) also provided an inspiring, stimulating environment for his boundless creative energy.

Talking about Twelfth Paper on Modern Art, Imran says in what you see is what you see:

“It has been almost like cracking the code, and then finding an immeasurable treasure trove of possibilities and permutations stretching out for miles into infinity in front of me. With an inexplicable feeling of exhilaration I leap ahead in mind and spirit to revel in the scenario. What more can an artist, or a man, ask for in life?”

I do hope that with the passage of time, his family will consider sharing this monumental collection of new work with the public.

Zohra Yusuf is Executive Creative Director, Spectrum Y&R.