Tribute to Oman
There is something about Oman’s topography that has almost always struck a chord with the painter’s brush.
The wadis sandwiched between sun-baked mountains, the blue-green ocean, the humble oasis embedded comfortingly within the arid desert, the faint mirage on terra firma, the impressive fortresses and crawling wildlife have stirred the imaginations of many.
Taking the tradition forward, the Netherlands Embassy and Royal Court Affairs of Oman recently invited art agency Enterprise & Art to showcase the works of six European artists who’ve captured the country’s pristine nature and landscape in their vast body of work.
The exhibition titled ‘Oman in Paintings: Culture, Nature and Wildlife,’ was inaugurated by Eng Mohsin bin Mohammed bin Ali al Sheikh, chairman of Muscat Municipality, at InterContinental Muscat. On display was a wide array of compositions, ranging from watercolours to oils by Dutch artists Araun Gordijn, Dick van Heerde, Ahmad Haraji and Renso Tamse, British artist John Bawtree and German artist Bernd Popplemann.
The paintings, which are on sale, will be on display till January 14.
“This is our small tribute to the wonderful country of Oman,” said H E Barbara Joziasse, Ambassador of the Netherlands.”
She added, “The paintings are naturalistic and the use of light and colours reflect a technique that was popular among 17th century Dutch painters, especially artists like Rembrandt.”
Interestingly, some of these artists have only seen Oman in pictures, yet manage to captivatingly portray the place of their imagination with astounding detail. One such work is the landscape Wadi Tiwi, Oman by Iranian-born Dutch artist Haraji.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t been to Oman, but it reminds me of my own country Iran. Though I live in the Netherlands, the oriental world always makes me nostalgic and continues to remain my source of inspiration,” he said via e-mail.
Explaining why most of his paintings are dominated by light, Haraji stated, “I first appreciated the magic of light when I was in Iran. My most vivid memory of the place was those of the walks I took through orchards that were lined with clay walls.
“The reflection of sunlight passing through the branches and tree leaves on those clay walls mesmerised me,” he said, adding, “Light is also a symbol of hope and life. I believe that the interplay of light seeps into my work and enhances the beauty of my subject.”
The influence of light is also seen in the wildlife paintings by Heerde. In the last six years, Heerde has made over four trips to Oman, travelling into its wild to arrest its exotic wildlife on canvas.
“When I visited Oman for the first time, I had the same feeling as on my first trip to Africa, where I had been painting for over 25 years. The light and colours of Oman’s landscape moved me... and the possibility to combine it with animals like the oryx, leopards and Arabian gazelles, only made it seem like a dream come true.”
A similar fascination - for Oman’s coastal landscape - drew British artist and architect Bawtree to revisit the country in his paintings. Bawtree is a topographical painter who spent quite some time in Oman and the Arabian Peninsula in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and still remembers Oman’s cliffs and coast.
“The profile of five or six mountain ranges in the distance with the plains below being grazed by camels and goats in the long shadows of the evening sun still stimulates me,” he said via e-mail.
While Bawtree appears to be partial to the rocky terrains of Oman, his favourite painting of the country is of its market life. “I love the painting of the Nizwa Goat Market by Julian Barrow. He was a frequent visitor to Oman in the 1980s and sadly died this year.”
Another telling piece of art on display at the exhibition was Ford in Omani landscape by watercolourist Gordijn.
“I use automobiles in almost each and every work of mine. To me, the car is a symbol of travelling in time. There’s nothing like vintage cars to help you reconstruct an era that’s gone. Placing cars in the timeless environment of the desert space also enables me to draw parallels between nature and man-made culture,” Gordijn explained.
Though he also practices oil paintings, the artist only chose watercolours. “Oils usually create very bright and strong colours. To recreate Oman’s scenic view, I wanted a soft-tonal light, which can best be produced by watercolours.”
From the assorted portraits that were on display, one takes away more than what Oman has to offer. It reminds us of a muse that will never cease to fascinate those absorbed in nature. Its charm is its landscape, which lends itself beautifully to the canvas.