In last week of June, the holy month of Ramadan arrived. So did Art Noor’s solo exhibition of Paintings depicting the divine ‘99 names of Allah’.
Titled, “Fragrance of Faith”, it exhibited 48 artworks at Le Patio in St Regis Dubai on a much larger scale than his earlier exhibition which was held last Ramadan at Sofitel the Palm Dubai. He has been having the exhibitions on the same subject since 2004, when his first solo exhibition called ‘Noor’ was held in the UAE organized by Directorate of Art, Sharjah.
Though invited, I couldn’t make it to the opening reception, but heard about the beautiful event which attracted eclectic crowd and rave reviews from the guests who attended the event.
I had to visit it at a later date and spend time with his art like I do every year. His work has inspired me enough to begin painting myself last year. His unique color palettes depict the mystical realms with drama and meaning, woven into layers of gestural strokes that spring to life with moving subtlety and majesty. I was looking forward to an evening charged with artistic and divine energy and to contemplating on the beauty of the divine names.
What I saw surpassed my expectation. As I explored the depths of huge artworks in “Fragrance of Faith”, Noor sat behind a table busy signing the 99 Names of Allah book being given as a Ramadan gift for the visitors. And l used the opportunity to catch up with him and also interview him for KM.
Talking to Noor is akin to having a conversation, with your own self, which opens dormant windows that tempt you to peep within. I asked him dozens of questions, but here will include those which pertain to his art and some which give insights into the mind of man who personifies a true artist. His art appears to be an extension of his persona. Deep, searching and alive in the present moment, yet in close touch with both past and the future in his outlook.
My first question was about the genre of his work. The Baroque-like quality, which some of his paintings appear to have – grandiose movement, eloquent drama and supercharged with emotional dynamism, elegantly subtle and intensely passionate at the same time. Some of it might sound like the harmony of opposites, but that is what his art is. Hot and cold colors blend in total abandonment, provoking and soothing at the same time.
Do you see your work as related to any current movement or direction in visual art or painting?
Hey, I don’t want to go and sit inside the tight box called genre. Isn’t that the job of art critics and curators, who label the artist being so and so?
Yes, there has been some confusion in the art circles about the genre my work belongs to. Because Allah’s names have traditionally been written as Arabic calligraphy or as calligraphic art.
My work is neither of the two. I use the calligraphic forms only as a subject, but my work is not calligraphy at all. I incorporate some calligraphic shapes, but only as a visually recognizable subject, without any intention to either imitate or create the traditional calligraphy.
I don’t follow the route of predetermination. Or the desire to belong in certain genres or avoiding some. It gives me freedom to create what the subject demands, or my heart yearns for. Without worrying about the labels or tags it may attract.
My responsibility as an artist is to be honest with my interpretation of the chosen subject. And not to be necessarily confined to a school or a stereotyped expectation.
To date, I have also avoided being confined to a signature style, which is considered fundamental to recognition in the art business. I feel, it will limit me from experimenting and taking on these abstract voyages. I want to be free to go where my heart leads me to. Which is why I got into art to begin with. I left advertising because its only motive is to sell and that is not the greatest goal in the world.
If you had the chance to live in any artistic movement which one would you choose?
It’s a tough question, for there are pros and cons to all. Perhaps making a hybrid of a couple movements would suit me more. I will choose the freedom and possibilities of post modernism with the discipline and energy of renaissance. The present moment is a great time for the artists to thrive and find their unique audience. Just look around, art seems to be everywhere, from social media to buildings and cars, even in your cup of coffee. Though I wonder how it will morph into the Orwellian future.
What is your train of thought as you paint? Do you listen to the music while you do it?
No, I usually paint in absolute silence. My studio is located at a remote location in Sharjah Airport Free Zone. And the only sounds I hear is an occasional aircraft which flies overhead. But I have got so used to it. I barely notice it.
In silence, one can watch one’s thoughts as they come and go. It requires meditative practice but is immensely rewarding. It puts you in touch with your inner most thoughts as a watcher and not a thinker of those thoughts.
Our internal dialogue is the essence of the consciousness. It evolves with time and into new patterns. One has to train regularly for it. It’s not easy.
Looking at what you have created in the past, would you change anything today? Why or why not?
Don’t you think time could be an illusion, since there was a time before time? Even in the Einstein theory of relativity of time, past, present and future are seamlessly connected. Our lives are too short and perhaps can be likened to a minuscule moment. Most of us often contemplate what we can change about our past and future. Past is unchangeable. Future, we can probably modify and influence. But we can’t really become something which we were not created for or be someone else by aping them.
The spiritual truth is, we all must learn to be grateful for who we are and accept others as they are.
I mean self-acceptance and alignment with others is the key for a tranquil sense of self. This also reminds me of the Sufi prayer, “God, give me strength to change what I can, Give me patience to accept what I can’t, And the wisdom to differentiate between the two.”
What kind of habits do you have for self and time management?
I usually wake up early and work through the day. The work is demanding in the sense that there are hundreds of little things which are related but don’t show up in the paintings. If you want to practice a good work ethic, you have to be in a good shape both mentally and spiritually.
I am also careful what I eat and usually fix up my meals myself. I also have to find time to experiment, read, write, and go hunting for materials and supplies. I don’t habitually watch TV but go for an occasional movie with a friend if it’s showing in 3D. The last one I saw was ‘The Martian’ about a year ago and I haven’t seen any since then.
What has been your biggest disappointment and greatest joy thus far in life?
Disappointments and mistakes are two words which I have tried to give new meanings in my dictionary for a many year now. There is so much we have in our lives to be grateful for. Any kind of regret is based on ignorance and erroneous thinking. If we find ourselves feeling shortchanged by life, we must rethink our expectations.
Though easier said than done, we will be better off to focus on what we have instead of what we don’t. It’s called mining the field of your dreams,which lies right under your feet.
Mistakes are made due to insufficient knowledge and experience. Paradoxically, we get more knowledge and experience by making loads of them. It’s a catch 22 situation. One can’t avoid making mistakes if you are trying to do anything new. In painting, one gets ahead by treating them as opportunities. Which lead you to places which you didn’t know existed.
What is your Philosophy and Motto in life?
Let’s look at it the other way around. My life is my philosophy. I paint because I love to. It must be true love if I could give up a lucrative and successful advertising career to paint full time. Which translates into the motto of doing what you love, as the first part. And being grateful for what you have or get, as the second part.
How do you determine prices for your art?
I am a full time, professional artist, living and working in the UAE. Which means, I have to have a company, pay various rents, salaries and other costs. Besides a whole lot of related expenses for exhibitions, travel and publications. The sales revenue has to cover all these costs for me to sustain the set up and the art practice. That’s why my original work may appear to be high priced. But for ethical reasons, I do follow a standardised formula for pricing with a uniform rational basis. For art collectors on a budget, there’s a lower cost option in my signed prints available through Monda Gallery at Kinokunia in Dubai Mall.
What are you working on right now?
I have just begun a commissioned assignment of four meters wide monumental paintings. The project is challenging because of the large dimension and the location where it has to complement an existing interior. Which means, I have to paint within a limited color palette, without compromising on spontaneity and essence of the moment.
Unlike many other artists, I love painting on demand. It kind of builds a provocative pressure. Which leads to creative and unexpected outcomes most of the time.
What about your plans to exhibit internationally in the future?
Perhaps, I should be asking the future of its plans. Yes, of course, I have a long list of things to do this year and the next one, including a travelling show starting with UAE and concluding in London. But the timing and schedule is not in my control. I just do what can be done and leave the rest for the divine providence. If it works out then great, otherwise it was never meant to be.
On that note, I realized it was time for me to head homewards. As I made my way towards the lift lobby, I saw the visitors streaming in in the wee hours of the night at Le Patio for Suhoor. While waiting for the lift, I watched them take selfies while standing in front of the paintings. I felt a sense of connection, with the feeling which we all share on a subconscious level. Uniting us in joy or grief, as though we are a manifestation of a larger whole, connected by a divine connection.
Perhaps this is what Noor’s mission is. To touch the hearts with interpretations of the divine attributes through his memorable strokes of emotion and faith and put them in touch with the sacred within.
Once back home, I went to sleep after Suhoor feeling intoxicated by the evening and the aesthetic experience with the most comforting thought that it doesn’t matter where we reach in the physical world. The only destination which counts is the one inside your heart.
And it’s best done on the wings light.