Some people can paint as a hobby and dabble in their artwork when it is convenient.
Long Island City artist Anowar Hossain is not one of those people.
He paints every day because it is a way for him to express his emotions.
Hossain’s journey as a painter, however, has had many challenges.
Born in Bangladesh, Hossain was drawing before he could write letters and numbers. His family and relatives were impressed by how well he could draw with pencil all the animals he saw in his country. Although Bangladesh has made economic strides within the last 30 years, it is still a country rife with poverty, political corruption, overpopulation and especially flooding.
After graduating from high school in the 1980s, Hossain moved to New York City in hopes of living in a more peaceful place to attain his dream of becoming a painter. After holding a series of jobs to support himself, he enrolled in the School of Visual Arts where he studied for four years and obtained his degree.
“Back home in Bangladesh I did some watercolor and pencil drawings,” he said. “Then I came to New York City and my schooling influenced me to do oil painting. I like it because I get it wet, wipe it, go over it again, and correct it. It’s not like making a mistake which I cannot correct.”
Following college, Hossain enrolled in the Art Students League of New York where he said he learned how to refine his drawings and paintings. The league was impressed with Hossain as they considered purchasing one of his oil paintings for their permanent collection.
While Hossain was in art school and in the few years following, he embraced figurative painting where his artwork represented forms that are recognizable from real life. Although Hossain was carefully following what he learned in school, he felt shackled by the structure.
“I never thought how these paintings would come out,” he said. “This is like magic happening right in front of you without expecting it.”
An admirer of Picasso’s artwork, Hossain cited a quote from Picasso which aptly describes the artistic route he took next: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
After years of representational painting, Hossain became an abstract expressionist. Suddenly, his canvases were filled with bright colors and shapes painted with sharp lines and contours.
Because of its mutable quality, Hossain prefers oil painting to other mediums.
Hossain also likes how oil painting helps him create different visions and colors.
“If you take a piece of rag, wipe it with oil paint, you can go over the canvas again,” he said. “Now you see how the two colors have diluted each other and created things you never dreamed before. When you do these things with watercolor, you make the picture muddy and dirty. With oil paint, you can paint on top of it and do anything you want.”
Since 2005, Hossain has exhibited a large solo show of his paintings every year at the Long Island City Art Center where he has a studio.
The subject matter of each show was influenced by his feelings at the time.
For example, in 2008 Hossain displayed paintings of Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After seeing the beautiful artwork the married couple had created during a trip to Mexico City, Hossain chose to paint a series of works of Kahlo and Rivera. During his studies in New York, Hossain had never learned about the two, which he felt was an injustice brought about because of anti-communist feelings during the Reagan era.
Some of the portraits of Kahlo are currently on display at Gallery 77, 35-57 77th St., in Jackson Heights.
In 2010 Hossain’s show dealt with the 2005 disaster of Hurricane Katrina. Like the ongoing flooding problems in Bangladesh, Hurricane Katrina caused death and suffering for many people. What surprised Hossain was that it took the United States’ government five days to come to the aid of the victims. The screaming faces he depicted on his canvases echoed the screaming face in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
After viewing Hossain’s expressive paintings at one of his solo shows, a viewer observed, “Anowar has such intense sincerity and he has a visceral need to communicate the truth that he feels. It’s his love of humanity that motivates him and makes him communicate what he feels.”