“7-24-60,” which will be introduced in the four economic cities of Saudi Arabia by the ECA, aims to deliver every government service available to all residents, locals and expats within 60 minutes of request — around the clock, all week, all month and all year long.
By providing a platform for artists to showcase their work, “Project 60” is an ambitious plan to move forward with the next phase of development of “7-24-60” by extending support in view of the burgeoning cultural and creative growth.
“Project 60” launched the second artist exhibition last week at the King Abdullah Economic City, showcasing the latest series of paintings by Abdullah Hammas, a veteran Saudi modern abstract painter.
The exhibition was inaugurated by Amr Al-Dabbagh, SAGIA governor, and Fahad Al-Rashid, CEO of EMAAR. Its aim was to host a total of 60 emerging and established artists and utilizing the public spaces of the ECA office to reach a diverse audience, foster a creative working environment and infuse innovation and appreciation of arts in the social fabric of society.
This marked the 25th solo exhibition of Abdullah Hammas, a Jeddah-based painter born in a village near Abha in 1953 and one of the pioneering abstract artists in the kingdom.
His first solo exhibition, which he launched almost 37 years ago in Riyadh and which showcased a collection of half classical and half abstract, was not readily received with much appreciation and understanding that the genre of “figurative abstraction” deserved.
However, he has come a long way now, as his paintings have found home in many public collections across the Middle East, Europe and the US.
Having graduated from the Riyadh Institute of Arts in 1973, he taught art courses in secondary schools for 30 years and has now retired to his studio to resume engagement as a full-time painter. “I don’t teach anymore but I do have visitors who come to my studio very frequently to learn about my work,” he said.
His works are renowned for their monumental scale and the dynamic use of color and recurrent geometric patterns. What is visually most apparent in his paintings is the generous use of bright color palettes, almost demanding to work its way into the psyche of human meanderings. Also, the intricate use of geometric representations of circles, triangles, tripods, pyramids, arches and striations in his depiction of architecture, people and landscapes is an attempt at paying homage to his native hometown of Asir, which is situated in the southwest of Saudi Arabia.
His paintings have an abundance of iconic features that is typical of the Asir way of life, from the depiction of mud and stone-houses, Mexican-styled sombrero hats, palm trees, local carpeting patterns, lush green nature and the crescent of the local mosque, lending a style that is distinctively Hammas.
“Most of my paintings have their roots in the heritage of my hometown where I grew up,” he said. “The last painting I exhibited in Dubai, Paris and Abha was 100 meters by two meters.”
The juxtaposition of architectural forms and shapes with the exuberant and vivid color-pop is at times “slightly disturbing.” However, it is cleverly weighed with an intersperse of animate figures, bringing a certain amount of harmony and stimulation to the wondering eye and making his works “visually appeasing.”
There is a certain maturity that is lent to the somewhat childish doodling of stick figures with a very rigid geometric patterning. “The geometry I intend in my paintings is only to assume an outline; the rest is for the mind to decipher,” he mused.
A very interesting form of work on display was his acrylic and plaster “box-installation” with expressionist themes of the temperaments and lineages of men and women — a signatory style almost bordering on fauvism, consigned on wood and canvas.
“I personally collected over 3,000 boxes, each to represent a different subject,” said Hammas.
With major art patrons and buyers usually coming from Europe and North America for his artistic consumerism, they are eagerly compelled to shell out anywhere between SR15,000 to SR120,000.
“The buyers outside of Saudi Arabia are always better informed about the artist and his history”, said Hammas. Yet, he also believes that much has changed in the art field in Saudi Arabia in the last 20 years.
“Forty-five years ago, there were no galleries and studios here. When I traveled to Beirut, Baghdad and Cairo in my younger days, I saw a great arts movement there and I wondered why nobody here seemed to be that interested.”
With the establishment of a few galleries in the major metropolis of Jeddah and Riyadh, and a surge of interest in the abstract arts, “even if 10-12 serious artists emerge in 10 years time it will be a great step forward in the sustainability of this form of art,” he said.
In an era where everybody is an artist these days, Hammas is of the opinion that time will sieve the best.