Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Escape scenery

Rania Khallaf is fascinated by an experimental landscape show

Escape scenery

Landscape painting is a difficult art. Experimental landscape painting is even more difficult. At the Picasso Gallery, under the title “Burullus Magic”, Ibrahim Ghazala gave one of the most luminous and spiritual landscape exhibitions I have ever seen. Including 20 large oil paintings with strong warm colours and a unique sense of composition, the show was inspired by a visit to the Lake Burullus protectorate for the Burullus Mural Painting Festival in 2015, yet it communicates a universal sense of beauty not limited to one place or locality.

A 1984 graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Helwan University, Ghazala — who now teaches painting in Minya — was born in the village of Al-Aziza overlooking Lake Manzala, and so landscape is an essential part of his character and sense of home. “I was lucky to be raised in such a beautiful, peaceful and unpolluted place back in the early 1960s,” he says. “I had the privilege of watching the different shades of colour in plants as they grew and emerged from their roots. One of the scenes I will never forget is the planting of rice when regular, systematic green dots would appear on the black surface of the soil.” 


Escape scenery

But Lake Mazala would soon be lost to the Al-Salam Canal, a state initiative that robbed it of much of its beauty. Lake Burullus, by contrast, remains relatively unspoiled, full of fishing boats, ditch reeds (boos in Arabic) and migrant birds. “When I first visited Lake Burullus two years ago, the intimate scenery threw me back to my childhood, to the idyll that I left when I was a teen to enrol in the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo,” Ghazala recalls.

In one fantastic painting, the reeds appear as two thick patches in black, and between them narrow yellow boats glide. Painted in various conditions, colours (from green to black) and thicknesses, and positioned variously within the frame of the canvas, the reeds seem to be an artistic discovery of Ghazala’s. The boat-making industry, by contrast, includes a range of designs inspiring a range of geometric compositions. Ghazala lines the boats in different ways, varying their positions and patterns. A predominance of yellow and red reflects the impact of the scorching sun. 

Ghazala’s first solo exhibition was held in 1978 at the Akhenaton Gallery, and apart from another 10 years ago at the Picasso Gallery this is Ghazala’s next show. For 10 years, he confided, Ghazala had been uninspired — until he visited Burullus. There he sketched, never photographing. He has drawn from life in the outdoors since he was a child, and some of the paintings on show show clear evidence of lines sketched in oil pastels. Indeed the more you look at these paintings the more they play with your mind.


Escape scenery

Backgrounds, regulated by strips reflecting the wood planks of the boats or the patterns of agricultural fields, are another feature to admire. In one mostly black and yellow acrylic on canvas, the canvas is made up of three horizontal strips like photo frames, each showing a different scene; but all are united by the background lines. “My method,” he explained, “is to make a large number of sketches on the spot, and then back in my studio, I create totally new compositions that never existed before. It is about creating my own formula, my own lake, if we can say that.” 

Ghazala rejects the term “abstraction”. His style, rather, employs an ancient Egyptian-like “wisdom”, he says. “In their works, the ancient Egyptian artists resorted to simplicity, keeping that iconic formula that has never been repeated in any other civilisation. The technique,” he goes on, “is only one element; the artist’s vision and knowledge are equally significant.” And dedication to the landscape genre: “In many ways landscape artists are like fishermen or hunters who go after their prey. They will never find a ready-to-paint scene; they should be out there at different times of day, always hunting.”

In a previous show, Ghazala painted the landscape in Nubia, Luxor and Aswan, producing a marvellous collection where smooth and “emotional” houses, as he puts it, take up most of the scenery, with few human figures. Here too, he says, “The scenery of Lake Burullus with its beautifully painted carved boats was more stimulating than the fishermen.”  


Escape scenery

The artist has travelled to many landscapes outside Egypt, in Yugoslavia and Italy among others, tracing the beauty of nature. He also travelled to Oman in 1990, on a mission to document the landscape. “Travel for the visual artist is equal to reading for the writer. It is like building up your visual vocabulary. I also observed that colours are not the same; they differ from one geographical spot to another.” Nor does it ever feel like a constraint, he assures me:

“On the contrary, landscape is a great enjoyment. I usually resort to landscape to escape depressing reality. The more people have access to nature, the more they feel relaxed and happy. Most Egyptians have lost their connection to nature; they have become very materialistic. They judge everything by its commercial value — a great shame, for if we registered how many creatures are there for us to look at and admire, we would understand the significance of meditation.”

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