Tell us about your family. Was art inculcated in you since you were a child? My father, Fazal Karim, was an Urdu teacher. During the pre-Partition era, he used to teach Urdu to British soldiers to help them converse with the locals. He used to be transferred at various places for that matter but he liked Quetta the best, so one day he decided to shift there permanently. I was born in Khakhar but my parents took me to Quetta when I was very young. The weather was excellent there and so life was amazing. All my childhood has been spent there including my early education. My maternal grandfather Yousaf Barelvi was a skilled calligraphist. I used to love being in his company and work on calligraphy with him. I knew it was something I had a general inclination towards. Plus, my father’s handwriting was so beautiful. He used to write on a takhti (writing board) for me to emulate him. And then, in school, I always excelled in art classes. I became a pro at art gradually and steadily, discovering myself. In 1960, I took admission at NCA and my life changed after that. I graduated in 1964. The principal at that time, Shakir Ali, offered me to teach there. I joined as junior instructor, then after a few years, became senior and then eventually a full-time lecturer. Tell us about the very first portrait or piece of art that you created after reaching adulthood. After Partition, my father landed a printing press contract at the Command & Staff College, Quetta. The institution is for the military’s highest command. The college was adorned with beautiful paintings of royalty, etc. I gained an interest in those hypnotic works of art and used to observe them from afar. And then one day, I just started painting. The effect of those stunning creations was such. I remember I went to Karachi after that and told my maternal grandfather that I had decided to become an artist. He told me to draw and paint something for him. When I showed him, he directed me to shift to Lahore and take admission at NCA. By that time, NCA had already established itself from Mayo School of Arts to the prestigious National College of Arts. Creating portraits must require a lot of focus and attention. Being a family man, how do you clear your head when working? Any mental exercises before you got to work? One has to get into the nitty gritty of a subject and do justice to it at any cost. I had made Quaid-e-Azam’s portrait which hangs at the State Bank of Pakistan, Islamabad. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto saw that painting and called Shakir Ali sahib. Bhutto told him the painting was the most beautiful work of art he had ever seen and wanted to know who was behind it. The next day, I received a call from Bhutto sahib who was the president at that time. I, along with Shakir Ali sahib, went to the Governor House. I was requested to make portraits of leading Pakistani dignitaries for the entire President House. And I did exactly that. Bhutto sahib told me to make his portrait but made it clear that he will not sit for hours in front of me as he did not have that much time on him. So I requested him for a photograph of his, which I could emulate and give my own touch. My hand-painted portraits now cover the walls of the Governor House Durbar Hall, Lahore, Quetta and Karachi, as well as the National Assembly. Following the anatomy of a figure should be taken into account when working on one’s portrait. Jinnah’s bone structure was very distinct. I followed that. He is not an easy man to paint or draw. One mistake and you’re bound to offend masses. To paint his body, I made someone wear a suit or a sherwani so I could reimagine the photo. You are the recipient of the Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence). Which according to you has been your biggest achievement so far? The awards and laurels I’ve received from my home country mean the world to me and make me swell with pride. In the year 1993, I received the Pride of Performance award. Then in 2011, I got Sitara-i-Imtiaz. Two years back, I received the Lifetime Achievement award from the Punjab government. I’ll be 78 in two months; all my life I’ve taught so many children and have trained so many skilled artists of today. I look back at all these achievements with humility and pride. “Knowledge is not your possession, it’s meant to be imparted” What is your vision for Pakistan and what does it mean to be Pakistan for you? Everything I have done has been for my country, like Jinnah’s portrait. I painted Abdul Sattar Edhi’s memorial ticket and limited-edition coin. When our government wakes up, they decide to appreciate artists more. A lot of hard work was required in forming that coin and I was very meticulous in doing that, because I knew I was doing something to serve my country again. Have you ever been associated with any charity? When Rawalpindi was struck with an earthquake, one of my portraits sold for Rs 300,000; an amount I donated to the victims. Describe a typical day in the life of Saeed Akhtar. I spend my days very well, indeed. I wake up at 4:30am for prayers after which I shower and have breakfast. I make it a routine to drop my grandchildren off to school. After that, I come home and work some. And then it’s the usual lunch time for me, followed by entertaining some guests, socialising a bit, having my tea and then ending my day with a light dinner. What have you learned the hard way in this industry? You see, I’ve been very blessed that I was trained by some of the finest art teachers who were the pioneers of art of their time. I learnt that knowledge should be taken forth, the flame of creativity and imparting skill should be protected from dying. Knowledge is not your possession, it’s meant to be imparted. What advice would you have given to a young Saeed Akhtar? Always be honest, no matter what and work hard. Tell us about a memorable moment in your career. Definitely when I made Jinnah’s portrait which now hangs at the State Bank of Pakistan’s building in Islamabad. My father was very nervous when he heard I was going to make that portrait. He thought I might not be able to do a fair job. He was quite sceptical. However, when he saw the final result, he was teary-eyed. His approval moved me. Winning the National Exhibition Award in my home country thrice is also very memorable to me, including bagging the Chughtai Award for art. We, at Daily Times, consider you one of our national heroes. Who are some of yours? RM Naeem, Nabeel and Talat Ahmed. Achievements Raking In the Awards Artist and painter Saeed Akhtar has numerous awards and laurels to his credit. He is the proud recipient of the Sitara-i-Imtiaz, the Pride of Performance award, three times winner of the National Exhibition Award, the Chughtai Award for Art as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed by the Punjab government. His Art Covers the Walls of Historic Sites Saeed Akhtar’s renowned portrait of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah hangs at the State Bank of Pakistan. Its copy covers the wall of the National Assembly Hall. The Durbar Hall of Governor House, Lahore, Quetta and Karachi is also adorned with Akhtar’s stunning portraits of leading Pakistani dignitaries. Unparalleled Art Pro Akhtar’s work has also been displayed in many exhibitions in Pakistan. He was commissioned to design Pakistan’s largest stamp issue consisting of 27 stamps. He painted Abdul Sattar Edhi’s memorial ticket and limited-edition coin.