Monthly Archives: July 2013

Painting a City

It was the end of a travel – a return to the desert where I lived at the time. I had been to London, among other places, and was still quite full of its colours, sounds, smells, its rain, its greenery, its crowds, its art. But it was after the return to the arid, scorching  heat of Arabia in August, when the future painting of London started forming in my mind. It must have been the tension created by the extreme contrast between the two worlds – and me caught in between – that sublimated in this piece.


London, oil on canvas, 110 x 90 cm


I wanted to tell my story of London. It is a city where I have never lived and which I know more from things that I have read and watched. So in many ways London is part of my imagination, rather than my existence and real life experience. So my story of London is not a narrative, it is impromptu, more like a verse, an emotional record of brief torrid encounters, unconscious of the passage of time, when I  immerse myself and absorb its London-ness as much as I can before returning to the desert where the narrative of my daily life was ticking. That exhilarating feeling, a mixture of urgency, joy laced with an underlying sense of doom.

The Process

I do not take snapshots – especially in places which I want to ‘live’ rather than observe. I had a vivid emotional cityscape in my mind ready to be poured out.  To trigger the externalization process, I collected images which carried something of that ‘je ne sais quois’ which I was feeling inside. Then I assembled them in a mood board, similar to this:



London – the mood board


I normally do a lot of sketches in the process of developing a composition and then I discard most of them, which probably I shouldn’t do. I remember doing a colour study too, but I don’t think that has survived either.  As with most of my work, this painting went through several com-positional revisions until it arrived at its final stage.  I normally work on a piece continuously until it is finished.  Leaving a piece in progress for a long period of time then coming back to it has not worked for me so far. I do scrape out and paint over, sometimes I move whole compositions around. Sometimes glimpses from other pieces suddenly appear and persist.  For me painting is the most exciting, all-consuming, exhausting and rewarding thing – the process and the ‘high’ of being in the zone are the only reason I do it.

 Looking back at this piece it makes me wonder what my story of London would have been  if I had lived  there. What does a piece of art capture and express? It also makes me think of the impermanence of existence – London is not the same from one day to the next;  the impermanence of  perception –  the London of my imagination is not the same from one encounter to another – memories and experiences, direct, or indirect – all the images which we receive from through media etc, add layer after layer on my idea of the city and it evolves in a life of its own. Likewise my painting will receive layer after layer of meaning, attributed to it by every viewer who, in the process of seeing it will bring to it his or her feelings, experiences and imagination.  




The Qatari’s to Spend $1 Billion on art. Why? Because they can.


Doha – view to the new developments

Just came across the story below in The linked article (Everyone knew that Qatar was big in the art market) is the most interesting part. I have been to Qatar many times. It is tiny, dismal and fiercely ambitious. Perky sheikhas and all … Yet, try to get a visa for a single woman …  Somebody said somewhere that the art market today is where money and art have sex in public. This kind of sex in public seems to be OK in Qatar, Abu Dhabi or Dubai. 

– Qatar’s $1-Billion Art BudgetEveryone knew that Qatar was big in the art market. But how big? The Qatari royal family, in particular Sheika al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, now has an acquisition budget that experts estimate at a staggering $1 billion a year. Recent acquisitions include a $70-million Rothko, a $20-million Damien Hirst pill cabinet, and the Cézanne’s “Card Players,” famously purchased for $250 million, the highest price ever paid for a painting. “They’re the most important buyers of art in the market today,” said Patricia G. Hambrecht, the chief business development officer for Phillips auction house. “The amount of money being spent is mind-boggling.” [NYT]

More on Understanding Contemporary Art

I read this at the MoMA Facebook page and thought it was extremely well said and worth sharing:

“Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences. (Roy Ascott’s phrase.) That solves a lot of problems: we don’t have to argue whether photographs are art, or whether performances are art, or whether Carl Andre’s bricks or Andrew Serranos’s piss or Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’ are art, because we say, ‘Art is something that happens, a process, not a quality, and all sorts of things can make it happen.’ … [W]hat makes a work of art ‘good’ for you is not something that is already ‘inside’ it, but something that happens inside you — so the value of the work lies in the degree to which it can help you have the kind of experience that you call art.” – Brian Eno, “Miraculous Cures And The Canonization Of Basquiat”


Samia Halaby on Abstraction and Illusion – crisp and brilliant

I am posting a short text by Samia Halaby – an artist I enormously admire, which gives a crisp and clear explanation of abstract art in comparison with illusionist  (or representative) art. The visuals have been inserted by me.

Abstraction And Illusion

by Samia A. Halaby, April 1995

Abstraction is just as connected to nature and reality as is illusionism. It too relies on reality as its only source. I disagree with historians and critics who claim that it is based solely on mental formulations.

Even though the representation of nature may seem more direct in an illusionist painting, its role as the basis of the work is not more significant than in abstraction. While illusionist painters view nature in order to capture a reflection of it from a single point of view, abstractionists seek to extract and depict general principles of motion. They cohere visual knowledge of things from multiple encounters, and contemplate similarities to other formations and patterns in nature.

Samia Halaby, TheSwimmer

To paint the morning, Monet painted a cathedral bathed in light from one point of view. He captured the morning colors of a specific season and place.

Monet, Rouen Cathedral

To paint the morning an abstract painter, on the other hand, may select any one of numerous palettes which would describe morning, use the shapes more likely to be seen early in the day, and as much variation of rhythm and detail of texture as would communicate flavors of things.

Samia Halaby – Lemon Blossoms

Thus while the illusionist captures particulars, the abstractionist captures the general essence of things. Impressionist painting is, of course, itself a great advance in painting, a first step in escaping particulars and ascending to the general — really one of the first steps towards abstraction.

Monet, Water Lilies (detail) This is a fragment of Monet’s triptych Water Lilies, which can be seen n MoMA, sharing space with the Abstract Expressionists. It is a painting, where impressionism verges on the abstract.

Because abstract representations deal with general principles, their content excludes the imaging of particular objects and specific people. This frees the artists from the burden of illustrating any one nation’s mythological and propagandistic agenda. As a consequence, they transcend national boundaries more readily. It makes sense, then, that in the history of the early twentieth century, abstraction began with the international spread of Cubism and Constrctivism and the revolutionary fervor which gave them their ambiance.