Squadron Leader Adnan Siraj of Pakistan Air Force is a young officer driven by passion for aviation and love for painting. He has dedicated his life to preserving PAF’s glorious moments on canvas.
Although making a career out of his artistic ability was never an ambition, fate had it in store. While growing up in the air force surroundings at Rawalpindi where he attended the PAF School, Chaklala, the young Siraj was bound to develop a fascination for aircraft and the PAF. It was in those formative years in the1980s when, as he fondly recalls, he found a motivation of another kind.
He began sketching and painting aircraft. Life took a turn when upon completing high-school he rushed for selection as a fighter pilot and was turned down down. Fortunately for the PAF, however, in this young man an undeterred spirit of patriotism had struck root. Even if not a pilot, he was a fighter indeed. And for the air force an ideal candidate for preservation of its glorious history and achievements.
While Siraj pursued higher studies and received a master’s in English Literature from the Punjab University he continued to indulge in art and managed to further polish his skills. Although he never received any art education, his quality of work continued to improve as he kept pace with the swift worlds of art and aviation both. During this time he also met artists and painters, showing them his work. Their response was against his expectations. Some of them criticised the objective of his work and the lack of its social significance.
While he found the critique disenchanting, he never gave up. ‘Aviation art is a very specialised genre, which can only be appreciated by those who have an interest in flying; it can also only be created by those who can visualise and understand the dynamics of flight,’ he says.
Then gratifications followed. One of his paintings was selected for the Lockheed Martin Code One magazine’s ‘Art of the F-16’ issue in 1995. From then on the obvious path to take was to pursue what he did best ‘I felt that even if I was in a non-flying branch, I would have much better access to aircraft and would be considered an insider. This was way better than the odds I faced as a civilian!’ he recalls.
He applied to the Education Branch of the PAF, and was selected. He was sent to the PAF Academy, Risalpur for training, after which he was duly commissioned into the PAF in July 1997. There began a journey of contentment. He was posted as an instructor to the PAF Academy where he taught air warriors for three years. Then he was finally posted closer to his element at the department of Flight Safety as illustrator and art editor of the department’s journal. During his six years with Flight Safety he was in charge of planning and designing titles, layouts, and most importantly illustrations accompanying the narratives from pilots.
It was finally in 2006 that he was transferred to the Air Headquarters in recognition of his artistic ability to capture the intricate details involved in portraying aircraft. ‘It is fortunate that I have found myself in this position after years of perseverance and I’m proud to serve the PAF through my art. I’m also proud to continue the rich legacy of the undoubted pioneer Group Captain Hussaini,’ he says.
Siraj now has about forty paintings to his credit along with numerous sketches. His favourite and primary medium is oil on canvas, while he is equally at ease with watercolour, pencil sketches, acrylic as well as pen and ink on paper. Some of his masterpieces include tributes to squadrons through portrayal of their history of exemplary service by men and aircraft alike.
A most exciting aspect of his work remains the designs and colour schemes of the PAF aircrafts for ceremonial displays on national days. He has managed to gain recognition from some of the world’s renowned aviation artists, including Bill Philips, Keith Ferris, R.G Smith and Ronald Wong, and holds the Fellowship of the American Society of Aviation Artists. He is also a member of the Guild of Aviation Artists, UK.