Mohammed Omar Khalil
Contemporary Art Platform is pleased to present one of Mohammad Omar Khalil’s biggest exhibitions to date in the region. A Retrospective that covers 50 years of his life in Printmaking which includes more than 120 works on display. Many of these works have never been exhibited before, they present an alternative reading of the artist’s entire career, not only as a traveler between cultures and epochs, but as re-interpreter of the meaning of visual culture in general: He attempts to re-locate sensorial experience elsewhere than with the pure colors that characterize the postmodern, hereby searching in the black, for a warmer place where his book of art and life meets the viewer.
Applying a traditional technique acquired from European print-makers from earlier centuries, Khalil’s etchings on black represent with vividness all his pictorial periods, from the early student days investigating modern art through his numerous travels, the experiments with abstract figures, and ultimately renditions of tributes to modern music and classical painting. Withdrawing from the visual field, the artist is opening the possibility of entering the world with an altogether different morphology, causing apparently unrelated elements to collide into each other and emerge as distinct syntactic compositions. A precise amalgamation between folkloric elements and handicraft, and the timeless quality of art history, give birth to composite worlds with life of their own.
Mohammad Omar Khalil has been both a pioneer and role model in print-making throughout the region, and one of the most important living artists working on the format that he has as well taught in prestigious American universities, such as Columbia and the Parsons School of Design at the New School. Staying away from the minimal and abstract that shaped his generation, the artist has developed a grammar of his own, excavating surfaces of consciousness and presenting them as narrative sequences in snapshots that might be arranged differently each time we observe them. The fifty years encompassed in this exhibition are by no means a composite whole more than they are the traces and coded signals of a fertile career, nowhere finished and still on the search for new groundbreaking paths.
The artist is one of the distinguished artistic practitioners of the Middle East, having pioneered not only printmaking but conceptual drawing and different styles in painting interweaving contemporary ideas with classical techniques and the use of ready-mades and crass-objects. Born in Burri, Sudan, in 1936, studied at the School of Fine and Applied Arts in Khartoum, Sudan, and then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. Since 1967, he has lived and worked in New York. His work has been showcased in important venues all over the world, including the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, Kunsthalle Darmstadt in Germany, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum, both in New York City.
Project conceived by Hayfa Aljishi, Founder of Al Bareh Gallery, Bahrain
Book Published by Al Bareh Art Gallery
Mohammed Omar Khalil was born in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1936 and lives and works in New York City since 1967. Khalil is one of the Arab world’s most important contemporary painters, having influenced two generations of regional artists. His work, spanning over forty years, across painting and print-making, is in a privileged position between the canon of modern Arab art and the artist’s ground-breaking practice, searching for a dialogue between dissimilar cultures. Profoundly influenced by his travels throughout the Middle East – in particular Morocco and Sudan – and the art history of Europe that he became immersed in during his studies in Italy, Khalil has brought to life a pioneering form of art, in which elements and patterns from tradition merge with pop art and fine prints.
Khalil’s work illustrates with vividness the complex relationship between the symbolic forms of the East and the conceptual art born in Europe. His series “The Battle of San Romano” is a contemporary rendition of the history paintings by the 15th century Florentine artist credited with pioneering in visual perspective, and not unlike Khalil, someone who transitioned between the late Gothic and the Early Renaissance. Using the same dimensions as Ucello’s grand-scale panels, the Sudanese artist’s canvases reproduce the perspective depth in a collage technique deploying his multi-layered signature symbolic order, merging at once fresco and mosaic. The effect is heightened by the introduction of decorative elements from the Islamic world and a balanced aura of earth colors.
A master print-maker on his own right, Mohammed Omar Khalil has been also working on etching throughout his whole career, using an age-old technique of the European masters to illustrate the book of contemporary art, inspired by the tragic history of the 20th century, letting his imagination run free and yet, running counter to the saturation of color and brightness typical of the pop art age. He has developed a composite grammar of omnipresent blackness, retrieving a primal simplicity as the preferred site for his cosmopolitan observations and the stage of his many aesthetic interventions that sooner or later found their way into the more colorful canvases. At the climax of his creative forces, the artist’s desire to inflect the consciousness of the era is made manifest in discreet impressions.
Mohammed Omar Khalil studied at the School of Fine and Applied Art in Khartoum, Sudan and then pursued graduated studies in fresco painting and print-making in Florence. Since then, he has been living in the United States and until recently, taught at the Parsons School of Design in the New School. His work has been part of numerous solo and group exhibitions in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the Americas. The artist’s work is found in different public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Grenoble Museum in France, the Jordanian National Museum and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. A retrospective of his print-making work with an accompanying monograph will be showcased at Albareh in 2014.