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Landscape Painting: Dubai and Beyond

Nabil F. Safwat

April 2015

Nabil F. Safwat’s second exhibition at Total Arts consists of his most recent canvases of the desert and the sea of the Emirates. Landscape painting is a theme that has always interested Safwat. The landscape of the UAE has been his inspiration in the last 13 years that he has been residing in Dubai. The dunes and its sweeping plains, majestic skies, and the elusive effects of light, are his most distinctive and fascinating painting subjects.

In the artist’s words: “During sunrise and sunset (but seldom during the glaring sun of high noon) an event takes place of indescribable beauty. Momentarily, it reveals its beauty and quickly passes irrevocably beyond the veil. Everyday, nature gives us a whisper, a hint, an insight of its wonders, offered to us to savior. But if that intimation is neglected, it will be forever lost. In nature new dreams come to pass every day. As the sun rises and sets it reflects the distance at which the painter stands from his painting. It is a sensation, which is not easily explained in words. Words give only a general impression of how it feels. The mood of the ascending sun from the horizon and the charm of it declining towards the west are invariably mesmerizing.

What I see, then, in my head is what I endeavor to paint. Time at these expressive moments seem to slows down to a standstill. But then in few moments this is followed by the heavy darkness of night.”


Historically, the development of seasonal landscape painting was essentially mastered by the Chinese. Its scenic, contemplative, and nostalgic beauty is considered to have never been equaled or surpassed. Painting was regarded as another word for feeling, and for wandering in the marvels of nature.


In the West, particularly in Holland's Golden Age, landscape painting became an important subject for artists. Even Rembrandt, the master of figure painting, was fascinated by the subject of landscape painting. The stormy skies, the dunes and country roads later amalgamated to became an amorphous background and backdrop in his paintings.


Among the following generations of painters a new pictorial language for the landscape was established; gradually interweaving realistic and imaginary motifs. Today, the various motifs and devices, the startling 'independent' colors, sometimes, but not always, have integrity of their own. In some ways they are regarded as cultivation and an enhancement of that long and fascinating process of communicating personal visions, meanings and endeavors of the artist. 


The recording and recalling these fleeting images in Safwat’s painting enhances the indulgent eye and provides the basis to enduring aesthetic experience. “To record what I saw in those seconds – flashes almost imperceptible – has been my task in almost all the paintings that I have painted.”


The artist, working entirely in oils, has developed his own style in private while carving out a career as a noted scholar of Islamic art and the calligraphy of the Muslim world as a celebrated author, broadcaster and lecturer on Islamic art history.


Safwat studied fine arts and art history in the US, and received his PhD in Islamic art history from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He has written extensively on the subject of calligraphy. His published books are: The Art of the Pen, The Harmony of Letters, Golden Pages, A Collector's Eye, and Understanding Calligraphy.

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