Determined to pursue painting, Ammar sought out direction and training at an early age. At just seventeen, he attended fortnightly lessons with Turkish watercolourist and neighbour Hidayet for two years, until Ammar’s enrolment at the School of Fine Art in Cairo in 1948. He studied under the likes of Ahmed Sabri, Hussein Bicar and Pierre Beppi-Martin at school, then later with Sayed Abdel Rassoul and Salah Taher in Luxor and at the studio of André Lhote with the muralist Augame. The incredible diversity in mentors, influences and practices has had an inevitable impact on the enigmatic and often complex styles seen across Ammar’s oeuvre. He cited the orientalist Beppi-Martin as a key figure that helped his fascination with Egyptian culture blossom, teaching him about the “authenticity of Cairo and its old neighbourhoods. And it’s aesthetic worth, even when there was ugliness in the surroundings and the architecture. This orientalist man taught me nostalgia towards our past”, (Fatenn Mostafa, Mamdouh Ammar (1928-2012) A World of Magic and War, Cairo 2014, p. 20). Utterly allured by the charms and mysticism that shrouds much of Egypt’s provincial cultures and past, Ammar’s captivation intensified as he saw the persistence of some rituals; those practiced in his small village could also be seen in the bustling metropolitan city of Cairo. It is remnants of this fascination that we see in Contemplations, abated with a sadness that came with a scepticism and faltering faith in humanity. With a backdrop and figures similar to those seen in Femme en Haute Egypte (1986), the hazy backdrop, obscured faces and dusty palette creates a furtive and strategically surreal atmosphere.
Moody and overcast skies complement the leathery browns of the foreground, all providing contrast with the protagonist women sitting separately in stark white galabeya. Disparately placed pot plants and trellis hint at lost domestic traditions, adding to the surrealism that permeates the painting. An aching affection for a folkloric past is overhung by disorientation and dissolution. A hauntingly beautiful piece, Contemplations loaded an ode to a lost past and an unknown future.
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