The Desert Series 2011 – 2014

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This is a series of over 40 paintings, each one inspired by a particular poem that was itself inspired by the desert. The title given to each painting is the title of the poem that inspired it with the name and nationality of the poet. In some cases it was only part of a much longer poem. The poems come from all over the world and were originally written in many different languages, but where necessary it was the English translation that was used.

Introduction to the Desert Series

‘A poem is an invisible painting. A painting is a visible poem.’ Guo Xi, China Eleventh Century

‘I,The Desert’ by Professor Assad Ali (Syria) From the poem ‘Happiness Without Death’ Oil on Canvas 100 x 100 cm.
‘I,The Desert’ by Professor Assad Ali (Syria) From the poem ‘Happiness Without Death’ Oil on Canvas 100 x 100 cm.

I love the desert.  I love it for its beauty; for its space, both physical and spiritual; for its light and forms which speak so strongly to me as an artist and for the seeming contradictions of its silence and its excitement.  I have lived in and painted many of the desert countries of the world.  Little by little the desert has seeped into my soul but I was not born in the desert to be raised in a desert tribe; I have not been in mortal danger in the desert; my life has not depended on finding uncertain water.  I have not fought a war in the desert.  I have not seen my whole life turned upside-down by revolution or exile.  To better understand the myriad lives and feelings associated with the desert I turned to poetry and found a thrilling treasure house of expression.  Gradually the beautiful words, with the visions and emotions they depict, fused with my own feelings and a series of paintings emerged.

I became aware of an amazing universality in the deserts of the world. The minutiae of the desert scene, described so eloquently in Classical Arab verses find echoes in the poems of Americans who made their home in the Western deserts.  To an Arab exile or a Native Australian or American who has lost his traditional territory the desert can represent the familiarity of home, even of a mother; while to the early Western explorers of the desert it was beautiful but unmitigatedly harsh and hostile.  Water in the desert, by its scarcity, takes on a special symbolism, whether to a woman fighting for her existence in the Atacama, or to a man who has spent his life on the banks of the Nile.  For those of any continent now overwhelmed by the noise and complexities of modern life, be they an Afghan woman in the midst of war or a thirteenth century mystic in central Europe, the desert can represent clarity, silence, simplicity, freedom, even ecstasy.

To absorb all this and to make it mine in a series of abstract oil paintings has been a great adventure.  Some of the paintings have an element of landscape but in all I have sought to express my own emotional response to the words as well as to the aspect of the desert that inspires the poem.

This collection is presented in the hope that those who do not know the desert will no longer think of it as a dead and empty place, and those who know it will find a resonance that transcends all man-made boundaries of time and place.

Mary Jose.

Note:  I have not been able to print the poems which have inspired the Desert Paintings because I do not have copyright permission, but many of them are available to read on the Internet.