Watercolour Miniatures: A Dream within a Dream

Issue #4 • 1759

Paintings and drawings are just paintings and drawings, but the artist is concealed in his mastery. In this beautiful melody, listen to the singer only, for every sweet sound of the string is produced by him.

Javad Nurbakhsh. Seven Essays on Sufism


Bukhara is a city with special energy and special history. For twenty five centuries the city was the place where mind and will, spirit and labour merged – the city where craft has always been art, and art the language of God. Blessed and Holy Bukhara – thus it was called in the Middle Ages, and so it remains today with its majestic buildings, mosques, Sufi abodes, qubba shrines, and minarets, inviting a meditative contemplation of the meaning of life and man’s place in this world, and urging us to seek higher knowledge.

There are many remarkable artists here. Some paint large canvases, some imitate the work of old masters of miniature painting, some capture perishing antiquity in quick sketches…

Artist Ulugbek Mukhamedov lives and works in the city. He discovered his own path and his own vision of the city, its streets, people and nature. He found a particular form and style where the most important thing is to comprehend the language of sky in its everyday greatness expressed in the ultimate simplicity of lines and paints. He creates rather small watercolours (7×10, 8×24 cm), but regardless of the dimension, the most important thing about his pictures is the quest for higher knowledge through the understanding of himself. These works show the greatness of cosmos and philosophical depth; they appear epic. Mukhamedov’s art awaken the thought and put imagination at work; they make us ask questions and seek answers, empathize and co-create.

Ulugbek was born on April 18, 1969 inTashkent. He graduated from the Ben’kov Republican Art College (1984-1992). Since 2000 he has been member of the Artist’s Union of Uzbekistan. In 2011 he joined “Ijod” Association of Uzbekistan. He participated in many exhibitions at home and abroad (France, USA, Russia, Switzerland), where his art is highly valued and where he often gives master-classes to artists who admire his unusual technique and skill. His work is the subject of numerous publications in the Western press, and of programs on local and Western television and radio. Yet few people know him in our country. By the will of fates he happened to visit Bukhara and realized: this is where he wanted to live and work.

Ulugbek’s spiritual development was strongly influenced by Sufism, or taawwuf, the mystical dimension of Islam, which allows the possibility of immediate communication between man and God by means of enlightenment, ecstasy and love of God. Sufism originated in Arabia in the VIII century and spread throughout the Muslim world; until the beginning of the XX century it retained its great significance in religious and social life in Central Asia. In the Middle Ages Bukhara was one of the centres of Sufism.

Sufism and its ideas now appeal to many contemporary artists in Uzbekistan. Yet many masters tend to use mostly its external attributes, inhabiting their pictures with the images of dervishes, sheikhs, qalandars (mendicant pilgrims) and charming moon-face beauties. Unlike them, Ulugbek seeks to comprehend the very essence of Sufism that appeals to the artist with its multidimensional and polysemantic experience. That is why his works show so much depth and philosophy, prompting multiple interpretations. “One image inside the other, almost like a dream within a dream – that is the core of his method”, says Vasily Zolottsev, the artist’s fan and organizer of his New York exhibition.

“In watercolours I always try to show the spirit of my home town and the spirit of antiquity”, says the artist. He has found his own technique: watercolour on grain- textured paper soaked in black tea, which mimics antiquity wonderfully. Lately, Mukhamedov has also used oak bark water. In the process, he first soaks the sheet in tea, and then, in one breath, paints the sky, space, and air in broad brush strokes. At the very end, he outlines one or more human figures with light strokes – and the miniature acquires profundity of poetic and philosophical dimension. The microcosm in his works turns into a macrocosm of the universe, lending them scale, despite the size. He enjoys giving his miniatures a verbal commentary: parables, quotations from Sufi or contemporary poetry, his own experiences, and verses that help understand the artist’s idea and relate the works to the traditional art of book miniature, where text and picture complement one another.

The art of Ulugbek Mukhamedov is metaphorical. The artist makes the best of the fine pictorial capacity of watercolours, creating images that appeal to our subconscious and, therefore, produce powerful emotional impact. His works, like those of the Sufi poets and artists, provoke a chain of associations and meanings.


Caravan Returning to Bukhara. Paper, watercolour. 2011


Street Motif. Paper, watercolour. 2011


A Dusty Day in Bukhara. Paper, watercolour. 2011


Contemplation. Paper, watercolour. 2011


…Exhausted camel.

Sands. The winding yellow lines.

Pale mirages are rising –

Hallucinations of the Desert

Bring visions of the castellation

Of ancient towers.


Reading the Koran. Paper, watercolour. 2010


Let’s read the Koran!

Chanting, they read slowly

Mysterious Arabic sounds.

It seems, one cannot breathe at all,

Just listen with one’s heart so keenly

(D. Marcus)


Meeting. Paper, watercolour. 2009


It feels as if the rain of stars

Has cleansed my eyes, my face, my shoulders.

Or maybe it was just a dream,

And dawn again to rush the meeting! …

(verses by Vera Lukyantseva)


Street after the Rain. Paper, watercolour. 2010


The Truth is Out There. Paper, watercolour. 2010


Sultry Day in the Mountains. Paper, watercolour. 2010

Pin It

Comments are closed.