For most of his artistic life, Madhu's passion has been to paint portraits. Much of the Pakistani native's work incorporates a spiritual quality that speaks to humanity's place in the cosmos.
Madhu, whose full name is Madadaly Rajabali, works primarily in oils mixed with pastels, along with some pencil work. The Hanover Park resident's work is featured in the Community Center Art Gallery, 1919 Walnut Ave., Hanover Park, during April. A reception with Madhu will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at the gallery.
Much of the work in the exhibition is on loan from its owners, as Madhu had been commissioned to do the work. An example is the pencil portrait of the late Chris Brandt, son of Madhu's co-worker, Susan Brandt, which is typical of the way he incorporates spirituality into his art. The piece shows Brandt's head along with a depiction of Jesus Christ and an angel overhead. Christ's robe curls around Brandt, enveloping him.
'I didn't want to do just a portrait,' Madhu said. 'I put the robe of Christ around him to show Christ taking him into his fold.'
His portraiture work often incorporates religious symbols, some obvious and some not so, or some other symbolic settings, such as the starry background in his Elvis collage that shows Presley in three stages of his life.
Madhu studied art in his native country at the Cultural Council of Pakistan.
'I never finished my education because they weren't teaching me what I was interested in,' he said.
During his time in art school, however, he took graphic design courses, which lead to a position with the Pakistani office of advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, and eventually to the opening of his own graphic design agency.
That ended, however, when he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1985. Unable to find a job in his field, he took jobs in pizzerias and similar establishments and saved enough money until he could go into partnership of a Subway franchise in Roselle. Madhu sold the franchise several years ago and now works in the photo department of Wal-Mart in Streamwood.
Although he has concentrated on portraits for most of his artistic life, Madhu has begun to produce work that is more abstract and symbolic and includes Islamic images.
One of the reasons he includes Islamic symbols in his work is to foster better understanding between Americans and people coming from Islamic cultures.
'I'm trying to bring a positive side to this religion because of a few negative people, others think negatively of it,' Madhu said. 'I'm trying to show what Islam was originally intended to be.'
Of the pieces included in the Hanover Park show, two in particular have strong Islamic imagery. One, in various shades of yellow, orange and brown, depicts the word Al-Razzaq in the shape of a water drop. Al-Razzaq is one of the 99 names of God mentioned in the Quran.
'Al-Razzaq means the Provider,' Madhu said. 'Some of the other names of God are Merciful and Beneficial.'
The overall tone of this work is harsh, bleak and negative with its scorching sun and parched, dry earth. Yet, there is a glimmer of hope, too. Madhu painted the hands in the piece in varying colors to show the simultaneous diversity and unity of the world's races. Under the depiction of Al-Razzaq, rising out of the parched earth is a vibrant blade of grass, symbolizing hope, life and a new beginning in the most adverse conditions.
'I have tried to express here that the prayer from the heart will always be answered even in the most adverse condition,' Madhu said. 'The drop of water stands for the life-sustaining mercy of the Provider, Al-Razzaq.'
Another larger and more complex painting in the exhibition also contains Islamic imagery, namely the circular logo from a hospital complex in Pakistan by Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the spiritual leader of the Isma'illi Muslim community.
'I think every human being in his/her lifetime find themselves at a crossroad where they have to confront this vital question, 'What is God, what is the meaning of life, what is this all about?'' Madhu said.
The images included in this work reflect the various ways humans attempt to find the divine and the meaning of life, usually focusing on only one path at a time. The images included in this work depict the cosmos, an hourglass, mathematical equations, Einstein's theory of relativity and the like.
All of these symbols represent humanity's attempts to find the meaning of life, but they are all incomplete. All of these attempts, Madhu noted, will fall short, leaving individuals to go on to the next image until they come to God.
'We are like fish in the ocean, surrounded by God all of the time,' Madhu said. 'If you hold fast to the rope of God, you will understand.'
Text and image by Daily Herald Inc.