Abdul Qader Al Rais: 50 Years of Art brings together a survey and an evolution of the artist Abdul Qader Al Rais’ career from his early figurative paintings to his most recent and recognisable series of calligraphic abstraction. Born in 1951, Abdul Qader Al Rais is regarded as one of the most celebrated and influential Emirati artists working today, with works spanning from the late 1960s. He was a pioneering artist who helped shape the language of painting in the United Arab Emirates. Al Rais’ self-taught practice encompasses oil, acrylic and watercolour. This retrospective is the first of its scale in the UAE for the artist. It intends to bring together the full range of concepts and techniques featured in his work that have rarely been seen before, of which Al Rais has masterfully conducted over the 50 years.
Abdul Qader Al Rais philosophically explores the complex relationship between man and nature in his painting. Depicting the sky, land and sea through a rich palette of colours, he explores God’s creation, looking at the immaculate and searching for the balance of natural elements. However, he also explores the conceptual nature of Arabic calligraphy in an ongoing series called, Hurufiyyat. Other works touch upon political and social issues throughout the Arab region such as the Palestinian cause, the Gulf War and more recently the Syrian crisis . In a series of figurative works, the artist has documented the historic urban landscapes of the UAE in an attempt to preserve cultural identity and collective memory. Through these different sections, the exhibition survey seeks to explore the many transitions and transformations that the artist has witnessed throughout his life in his country.
The first section, Early Figures features a range of paintings from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Portraiture was once an important part of Al Rais’s work. While in school in Kuwait, Al Rais frequently painted himself, children around him, still life and his environment. An array of sketches, studies of the human figure, old newspapers and magazines from the artists’ personal archive accompany this section, revealing Al Rais’ methods and practice.
The next section, Home, explores the artist’s observations of the nation’s traditional identity as modernisation and globalisation change the urban environments around him. Paintings of traditional Emirati architecture, barjeels (Wind towers) and dhows become windows to the past that advocate for the preservation of the UAE’s cultural heritage. These nostalgic places trace back to the roots of the country, exploring its humble beginnings.
Earth & Sky, is a section solely dedicated to the natural and rural landscapes of the UAE. The paintings are large, immersive and capture the colours and tones of Emirati nature. Beyond the towering metropoles, he paints the mountains, sandy deserts, oases, vegetation, sea and sky. Here, Al Rais’ searches for understanding of God’s creation and ultimately, discovers inner peace .
The fourth section titled, People & Time, Al Rais’ delves into the assessment and observations of political and social tensions in the region. These instances and events are explored using surrealism and abstract expressionism techniques, allowing Al Rais to express a sense of urgency and deep connection to the people of the Arab world.
In Impressions & Abstractions, the artist merges between the figurative and abstracted forms. Distinct shapes and patterns inspired by traditional landscapes and architecture are joined in an impressionistic field of colour. His signature elementalsquare, which references traditional coral and mud brick houses and simultaneously alludes to the nuqta (dot) in Arabic letters, floats carefree in the painting.
Finally, Hurufiyyat, centres around Al Rais’s transition into painting non-objective works exploring interpretations of Arabic calligraphy. The artist studies the formal and conceptual potential of letters from the Arabic language and specifically, the ha’ and the waw.
In this retrospective, Abdul Qader Al Rais: 50 years of Art intends to reveal the artist’s personal journey and artistic progression over the decades.
The exhibition is curated by Maisa Al Qassimi, Senior Project Manager, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Sara Bin Safwan, Assistant Curator, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi.
- Early Figures
- Earth & Sky
- People & Time
- Impressions & Abstractions