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.
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.