His love for aeroplanes and passion to draw them, inspired Gp Capt Syed Masood Akhtar Hussaini from an early age. The pursuit of his skills as a painter led him to where he stands today – the premier aviation artist for Pakistan Air Force. His impressions interpret the meaning of PAF traditions and customs with impressive understanding.
The accuracy with which his paintings depict the most intricate details of jet planes, flybys and dog fights cover all phases of Pakistan Air Force. Publications of his works include pictures of pilots, airmen and virtually all PAF planes, parked on the tarmac and engaged in air combat, describing on canvas the actions they saw. Hussaini’s drawings, sketches and paintings grew out of research and chronicle the spirit of PAF in the air. Hussaini has had the honour of attending events as guest speaker at the National Museum for Naval Aviation, Florida, Miramar Airbase, NASA Space Center, Boeing Airline Museum in Seattle, and American Airline Museum, Dallas.
Group Captain Syed Masood Akhtar Hussaini has spent his entire life documenting and preserving PAF history on canvases with his paint and brush. FS Hussaini’s low level inverted aerobatics in Peshawar, 1949, the PAF ‘Falcons’ setting world record in 16 F-86 tight formation in 1958, Flt Lt Hameed Anwar performing to the delight of Jordanian King Hussein 1 looking on from the control tower in 1965, to a more adventurous version of Flt Lt Aliuddin napalming and strafing Indian army in Thar desert, 1971, the violent confrontation over narrow valleys in Parachinar, 1986, where Sqn Ldr Hameed Qadri’s AIM-9L missile turns an SU-22 into a fireball, 16,000 ft high while Sqn Ldr Yousaf Chaudhry chases the other intruder during Afghan War.
He was found painting history again after Pakistan Air Force pilots inspired him to pick up his brush and paint palette and depict Wing Commander Abhinandan eject, after a PAF aircraft shot him down on 27th February, 2019.
“Metal consists of many different colours. An artist has to create that effect by often using all the colours in the rainbow. It looks grey but is a reflection of its environment, blues, browns, earthy colours, pretty much everything to give that metal effect,” Masood Akhtar Hussaini said as he painted the light source above the grey fuselage of aircraft.
His latest illustration depicts a missile launched from a slightly ascending PAF aircraft into a dark blue sky more than 30, 000 feet high. The other half of the impression shows the Indian MIG around 16, 000 feet below that starts to trail black smoke, and Abhinandan’s ejection seat rocketing out of his aircraft. That is how the pilots described it to me, PAF’s premier aviation artist said, bending over the work in his studio where he has been painting since last 40 years.
Having a talent is a great start. That is all it is – a great start. The rest of the path to excellence is through chiselling the talent throughout ones’ life. Masood Akhtar Hussaini started painting when he was five years old. In those days, it was mandatory for every school to have an art teacher and drawing used to be a compulsory subject. When Hussaini joined the PAF College Sargodha, adjacent to the runway, he was right in the center of aviation activity. “Every morning afforded a fine view across the landscape of jets taking off and landing – arrival of Starfighter 104, aerobatics, I witnessed them all in my five years of student life there,” Hussaini reminisced. It was there that the metamorphosis of his creative process began with the nucleus of an idea to paint aeroplanes, followed by numerous painful trial and error sketching and sometimes the completed painting. After joining the Air Force in 1963, he used to draw and paint for his own pleasure.
“It was in the 1980s during my posting in Saudi Arabia as Flt Lt, when I painted the experience of a Vietnam vet who flew the Phantom. Before I knew, I was painting encounters of American pilots who served in the Vietnam war,” Hussaini said with a grin.
Air Chief Marshal Anwar Shamim, the then-CAS was in search of an aviation illustrator. ACM Anwar Shamim gave him his studio, a rectangular room, tucked away in a corner inside Chaklala Airbase. He was permitted to go through documents, archived pictures and given unlimited access to places to impart the feelings of power, motion, and the intensity required to breathe life on his canvass. Hussaini wanted a better understanding of places and purposes of his subjects. As an artist, he appreciated natural beauty of landscape and atmosphere.
The camouflage of the aircraft, tail number, armament it is carrying, altitude, position of the sun at that time of a particular event, pilots’ log books and experiences, pulling up, the position of the target, finding people who saw it all happen, all these factors and a lot more figure into his paintings of high speed low level formation flights, high action dog fights and PAF jets engaging in air-to-ground attacks.
Hussaini is a realist in the tradition of the leading aviation artist of the United States Keith Ferris, Frank Wootton of the UK and Paul Langeley of France. Ferris was the first professional artist to recognize Hussaini’s talent and became his friend and mentor. Hussaini shares with these aviation artists the ability to use aerial points of view that are both unusual and dramatic, perspectives that instill a sense of G-force and excitement on the canvass.
Keith Ferris has enjoyed knowing Hussiani for more than 30 years. “It has been a pleasure to watch Hussaini’s progress in the aviation art world as he became the official Pakistan Air Force artist and the author of a fine series of books on PAF. The American Society of Aviation Artists has been proud to include Hussaini as a Foreign Associate Artist Fellow and Life Member for the past 25 years,” Ferris said.
Former Air Chief Marshal Jamal A Khan saw Hussaini as an artist who painted a dynamic air force life and events that are as enjoyable and inspiring as they were at the time of their occurrence. Art historian and author FS Aijazuddin, described his paintings as homage to a service and a tribute by a grateful nation to Pakistan Air Force.
Acrylics are his choice of medium that has fast-drying qualities, which enables him to attain a high level of detail and intricacy. With dozens of books, aircraft models, magazines and photographs in his studio, Hussaini has created accurate and authentic works, relying on his references to ensure that each artwork is in line with his high quality standards.
Hussaini gives us a dramatic pilots’-eye view over Umarkot, 1971, after Gp Capt Waqar Azim delivered a coup-de-grace during the desert strikes, nail-biting drama during the 1965 Pathankot attack, a bitter air battle over Gurdaspur, when debris pierced the right wing of Alauddin “Butch” Ahmad’s low flying F-86, and the struggle for air supremacy when a PAF F-16 pilot downing a Russian SU-25.
The artist has held several exhibitions at home and abroad, most recently at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) show, where the inside of a PAF C-130 was turned into an art gallery.
Masood Akhtar Hussaini has built up his reputation as an aviation artist in his ability to paint a wide range of aviation subjects, capturing mood and atmospherics of a phenomenal moment or event in PAF aviation history.
It’s not easy to paint these days though, he said. “Aerial combat has changed so much and is fought from a distance. Today pilots cannot describe the chaos of aerial battles, whether the enemy was raked across the fuselage with gunfire or where the he crashed. Now you have to go through computer recordings to get a picture of what happened and how it must have looked,” Hussaini said.
Hussaini loves painting the F-86. It’s an aircraft, he says, that is beautiful from all angles. While all his 300 plus paintings are his best works, in the moment when he painted them, Hussaini has yet to finish his most important painting ever. He has been working on it for decades. This work is bigger than images of planes flying through a cloudy night or against a brilliant sunset — mist blowing off wings or sunlight reflecting from the fuselage. That painting, which commemorates the service of the late pilot officer Rashid Minhas.
Hussaini was not just in the same 51st GDP course as Rashid Minhas, they were roommates. “Mattiur Rehman made the worst choice when he chose Rashid Minhas for his mission. I knew Matti would never make it,” Hussaini said in his tribute to Rashid Minhas.
Hussaini paints him on and off but it is never enough. He has painted officers with admiration such as Wing Commander M Zafar Masud, the leader of ‘Falcons’, 1958, ‘prince of pilots’ Sqn Ldr FS Hussaini, and Sqn Ldr Sarfaraz Rafiqui, giving them an air of movie star glamour, youthful handsomeness or a steely gaze, and other knights of the air in dashing PAF uniforms . But he often asks himself, how does one pay homage to the mammoth act of gallantry of Rashid Minhas?
Until the day that the PAF’s resident magician completes his greatest work till date, that space on the wall of his studio will miss a painting that captures the spirit of the men and women who serve in Pakistan Air Force – the men and women that spend their lives in the strive to keep the Pakistan Air Force, Second to None.