Sands & serendipity - artist statement

This series of paintings is an expression of my inner registration of something really beautiful, the uniqueness of the Arabian desert and its people, in abstracted visuals. It is the result of a connection, a relationship between desert landscapes and myself; a story of Sands and Serendipity.

In the late summer of 2012, I arrived in the Arabian Peninsula. At first sight I was immediately impressed, intrigued, both stunned and confused. I quickly started to fall in love with the landscape. How can I connect myself to this new ‘other’ world? Everything was new to my eyes. My lack of knowledge about this part of the world, its culture, its nature was evident. Whilst standing in front of my empty canvases and looking at my paintbrush, I was left wondering how I could possibly capture this rugged, harsh, stunningly beautiful new landscape. 

I have to put myself back into the place of a beginner, which is actually a nice place to be. I took my time in absorbing every detail that caught my attention. I let go of the control and allowed my eyes to guide me to what seemed new and exciting. There are a lot of horizontals in Saudi Arabia, what do I do with them? I had mastered painting lush greens and blues and here I am in the middle of a desert with beige hues, oranges and a crisp clear blue sky.

But who really wants to paint in different shades of beige, I asked myself? Bright orange versus blue for that matter? I realized I needed to start a relationship with my subject matter, but how? I decided the best way to start was to collect images, gather impressions, travel into the desert, collect data, lean out of the passenger seat of the car and click away with my camera. 

I started off by making simple sketches. Talking to the locals, asking questions I tried to absorb as much as I could to gather as much information as possible. I allowed myself to take in this new beauty. By deconstructing, unraveling and analyzing what I have come to learn, I finally begin to internalize and translate the story in my own painting lexicon. I paint with heart and soul. I tapped into my own culture and drew similarities between my past, my own religious upbringing to help me understand this whole new world.

The desert awoke memories of old biblical stories I used to hear as a child, especially those focused on the Middle East. I remember building tents when I used to go camping, imagining myself having a nomadic lifestyle. Given all the traveling I’ve done as an adult and all the fascinating places I have lived in, I do consider myself, in a way, a modern day nomad. I began to evoke these emotions into my paintings whilst drawing on from my new inspiration of the Saudi landscape. 

The desert landscape forced me to use a different approach of painting, one I was unfamiliar with. My stylistic approach, my familiar use of color, the size of my brushstrokes, the type of paint, they no longer apply to this panorama. How do I paint such a rugged harsh landscape was a question I found myself asking often. 

On one of my trips to the souk, I came across a unique type of canvas, made from the same material bedu tents are made from. It was a very dry, thirsty, coarse canvas, which best described the desert to me. When I began to paint, I realized that I was often more inclined to use tools, rather than merely paintbrushes, to characterize the austerity of the desert. I wanted to take the desert and place it onto the canvas, so I used sand and other organic materials such as dried bits of palm tree to create a somewhat uneven surface and texture, in order to truly capture the desert’s temperament.

Serendipity to me was stumbling across objects that stay with me long after I have seen them, they are the thoughts that linger with me. They are the objects that build the bridge between myself and my new environment, objects that help me to connect. Lucky finds, like a Qibla in the desert, Mary’s Palm, Cistanche Tubulosa, and the fantastic Tarthuth stimulate my relationship with this environment. I managed to find my own rhythm, my own flow so to say, in becoming one with my subject matter.  

My thoughts are becoming fields of color; nerves do not end where my hand stops. The lines and strokes on the canvas are a part of me. Stepping out of myself. Hypnotized. This is my connection with the captivatingly beautiful Arabian desert.

This is my story. Creating abstracted visuals of Sands and Serendipity.

Caroline Havers, Riyadh 2014