Art Travelling: Mohamed Abla and the colours of Egypt

Abla’s paintings demonstrate how Egypt’s wonderful topography is seen with a painter’s eye. 

In my last essay I wrote about how Cairo is the ‘yellow city’,  its colors dominated by the tonality of the Desert Sands which surround the capital. Here I’m writing about how Egyptian artists reflect the natural topography of Egypt but particularly the bounty and munificence of the Nile, with its Riot of colours,  foliage and wildlife. 

Mohamed Abla is probably Egypt’s greatest living painter – a real master – and this exhibition  at Saferkhan Gallery exhibits paintings that truly demonstrate how a painter sees his own daily lived experience: how the light falls in a particularly way in the studio, how how the cacti (symbol of enduring life) spring out of the desolate sand and explode into bloom, how the desert gives forth as much as does the Valley…

Of course the paintings are very beautiful but it is not just about beauty (as important as that is) more importantly they attest to the importance of looking,  paying attention to detail, seeing things as they are but with fresh eyes everyday. 

I feel the same way when I walk around Maadi, the neighborhood I’m staying in Cairo, which has dozens of little parks and gardens, each of which boasts a huge diversity in plant life, different trees, different shades of Green and Brown and all kinds of blooming plants: red hibiscus,  all kinds of Pink, yellow, orange.  It’s all overseen by the steady gaze of the neighbourhood cats who sit in the shade of the magnificent trees or sun themselves on the stretches of grass  and observe the world go by.

We are usually in such a rush that we don’t look, we don’t appreciate and as a consequence we don’t see. Abla’s paintings reinforce the importance of looking at, seeing and touching the world. His paintings make you feel as though you are actually inside them, washed in his colours.  The most fantastic thing is, these colours are real; they may be paint on canvas but actually these are the colours of Egypt. You can feel them when you’re here. 

I mentioned in my previous essay that complex colour pigment was actually invented here in Egypt, and so it’s not really surprising that Egyptian painters are so good with colour.  Abla is the foremost exponent of that today.

the Art Traveller with Mohamed Abla

Mohamed Abla also runs an art school and museum in Fayum, and teaches art history and cinema at the Film School.

Abla with young artist Ahmed Laithey