Gilgamesh Through The Canvas
BY ANAAM IKRAM
An enthusiast of both science and art and a Petroleum Engineer by profession, working as Deputy CEO of Tatweer Petroleum, Hisham Zubari has always been passionate about painting. Coming from a family of artists, it was inevitable that Hisham too would develop an interest in relaying his creativity onto the canvas, resulting in an extensive collection of paintings. Initially taking a keen interest in Arabian horses, Hisham’s body of work consists of numerous paintings capturing horses in great detail before dedicating himself to the Epic of Gilgamesh. Spanning over 20 years of his life, Hisham’s paintings recounting the parable are undoubtedly his most notable pieces of work. Having held an exhibition showcasing the Gilgamesh paintings previously, Hisham’s book titled, Gilgamesh: A Passion For Immortality, is a compilation of his paintings with text from the tale in 6 different languages.
Hisham spoke to Perle Magazine about how his fascination with the tale of Gilgamesh turned into his muse for his art collection.
Dating back to around 4000BC, the Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the most widely known works of literature and is often deemed as the first great literary pieces. Comprised of 5 Sumerian poems combined together about the Demigod and King of Uruk, Gilgamesh, the epic stems from ancient Mesopotamia and was inscribed onto 12 tablets. Over the years it was interpreted into many different versions and languages, with the original version dating to 18th century BC. Hisham’s interest in Gilgamesh arose due to his appreciation for ancient history, especially as the main part of Gilgamesh epic took place in Bahrain. Taking place in two other locations, Iraq and the Cedar Forest in Lebanon, Hisham says through his book he hopes to spread more awareness about Gilgamesh and what it means to Bahrain.
With over 40 paintings in the book, Hisham says when he started reading the text for Gilgamesh he was able to instantly visualise his paintings.
“I can see colours and shapes in different forms in my mind and I tried to capture that, and it happens naturally, I don’t have to force it”, he says.
As the epic was engraved onto clay tablets over 6000 years ago, it was inevitable that some of them were damaged, leaving gaps in the story. This allowed different authors to present their own interpretations, and that, Hisham says, is also what makes the story unique as he enjoys reading the different versions. His art pieces and book join the existing anthology of different perspectives of Gilgamesh.
Admiring the works of famous artists such as Gustav Klimt, Paul Gaugin, Bahraini artists Nasser Al Yousif, and Rashed Al Araifi, Hisham says of his work, elements similar to that of Klimt’s style of painting can be seen.
Through his vivid and brightly coloured paintings, Hisham says he wants people to try and find a deeper meaning behind what their eyes see. “Behind each of my paintings, there is a story that nobody knows but me, and I want the viewers to try and understand what I am showing them”, he adds.
Launching the book and hosting a second showing of the Gilgamesh paintings at Al Riwaq Art Gallery from January 13-15 2016, Hisham says his paintings on the epic will always be an ongoing work as he has dedicated a very long time to the subject and it is something that will always be there in the back of his mind.
Painting, Hisham says, though is a hobby, can also serve as an escape from his highly technical job as the Deputy CEO of Tatweer Petroleum. The art, he says, complements the scientific element of his life and the more pressure he faces at work, the more he enjoys painting. “Some people question why I paint even though I am an engineer, but that’s the point, because it is the complete opposite of what I do, it is so much more satisfying.”
Hisham’s individual painting, “Maha”, also earned him the Gold Leaf Award in 1999 at the GCC Art Exhibition held in Qatar. The painting of an Oryx standing next to a wall was created using oil and acrylic paints mixed with sand to create the texture of the wall. Hisham says he has always been fascinated with creating different types of textures and likes to experiment to achieve that look. The talented artist also likes to create harmony between each of his pieces, as can be seen in the paintings of the Arabian horses and Gilgamesh, and therefore works on multiple paintings at a time.
Having been surrounded by artists his whole life, Hisham says he has grown up watching his father and brother, calligrapher Khalid Zubari, create art regularly and his uncle, the late Aziz Zubari, was one of the founders of modern art in Bahrain. Noting that Bahrain has a great level of awareness and appreciation for art, Hisham says it is also important to have critics, as without the three elements – the artists, the art enthusiasts and buyers, the critics – it will be impossible to create an art movement.
Exploring new techniques recently, Hisham says he wants to experiment with different styles. Rather than using paintbrushes to create his pieces, Hisham uses a knife palette and acrylic paints straight from the tube to paint his image. Trying to get away from the use of lines in his paintings, Hisham says the new method allows him to be more creative and spontaneous. The talented artist says that though painting has always been a medium for him to relax through, the new adapted form of creating art lets him paint freely. “What happens is, when you stand in front of a plain, white canvas, so much fear overcomes you, but overtime you become more confident and that materialises. With this new style, the level of comfort is instant. I just put paint on to the canvas and go along with what happens naturally without even thinking about it”, Hisham details. He adds that, undoubtedly, this liberal way of painting is also due to an accumulation of experience over the years. Preferring to work on bigger canvases, Hisham says as he is still experimenting with the new style and working on a smaller canvas, even though it can be restricting. He adds it is important for him to challenge himself and break the artistic barriers after he has become comfortable with a specific style. “It takes a lot of courage. I still think there is room for improvement but once I am confident in this style, I will spend a few years on it and then it will be time to change again.”
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