There’s a wonderful story behind the Omani-Italian exhibition, In the Shade, in the Sun, currently showing at the Omani Society for Fine Arts. When the renowned Italian painter, Attilio Forgioli encountered Omani artist, Mohammed Al Maamri, he felt an immediate connection, a kinship that grew into a magical friendship. Forgioli noted that while his abstract paintings are in the shade with their meanings subtly obscured, Al Maamri’s figurative paintings are in the sun with their character brightly exposed. The sun and shade metaphor comes from idyllic summer days when Forgioli would push his little grand- daughters on a swing under a tree and they would sail through the air from the shade into the sun and back again.
The two painters met last summer at the Milan Expo where Forgioli helped Mohammed curate his exhibition. Taking the young Omani painter under his wing, Forgioli showed Mohammed a panorama of great Italian art in Milan’s premier museum, the Pinacoteca di Brera. The powerful canvasses of the famous Baroque master, Michelangelo Caravaggio (1571-1610) moved Mohammed Al Maamri to tears. Forgioli recognised in Mohammed a “pure and noble soul”... and an unbreakable friendship took flight.
Although Forgioli recognises a commonality in the way he and Mohammed choose to surround their images with blank space, the styles of the two painters are worlds apart, contrasting like sun with shade. Nevertheless, in the universal language of art, the artists are connected through a shared vision of intercultural inspiration.
Through the determined application of inborn talent, Mohammed has mastered the fine details of facial expression to reveal character in people as well as camels. With emerging potential, his paintings have an incipient dynamism that teeter on the edge of lyrical abstraction. Born in 1933, Forgioli has been painting every day for decades and his art has entered a realm of sublime mastery of form, texture and colour in unique expressions of his painterly philosophy. On Forgioli’s raw canvasses, oil pigments fade and meander like watercolours. His depictions of cut pomegranates leave us in awe of the miraculous inner structures of nature, including our own bodies. This is a realm where a fragile sepia door that seems to disappear and reappear in dusky time is a remembrance of lives lost in the Holocaust, a realm where the vague, almost identifiable lines of an elephant trunk emerging from a mysterious mass of tangled grey sets me dreaming of the time I saw these astonishing prehistoric creatures on the plains of the Serengeti. The vision of this prescient philosopher-painter is such that he expresses the essence of Africa without ever setting foot there.
The magic of the friendship between the two artists permeates the atmosphere of this special exhibition, which is beautifully presented with soft lights illuminating the paintings as in an old-world museum.
The exhibition, which includes an interesting film by Forgioli, continues at the Omani Society for Fine Arts adjacent to Al Shatti Cinema until May 16, with opening hours from 10am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday.