UNPOLISHED GEMS OF THE ORIENT
Morocco is a paradox. When it became public knowledge that I would be visiting ancient Marrakech, Fez and Casablanca in 2005, the comments always centred around how ‘colourful Morocco’, would influence my work. The truth is that Morocco is colourless! It is a typical dessert city similar to Cairo, where the earthy coffee-, crème- and beiges tints and hues of the inhabitants, architecture and surrounds, become the canvas on which the colour is artificially added, by cleverly incorporating bright and colourful textiles and paint.
I was intrigued by the authenticity of the people and architecture and fascinated by the dark cool passages with silhouettes of figures in billowing clothes and donkeys and children etched against the light that sliced the picture frame.
On visiting an historic library in Marrakech, I entered the sun-splashed courtyard where an artist sat at a table in the shade of one of the inside walls. After dipping his brush into a modest plastic container, he deftly wrote the names of tourists in beautiful Arabic script. What really held my attention was the quality of the ink. The colour was a deep ‘Van Dyke’ brown, slightly transparent and with a satin sheen. The artists’ reply, when I enquired about the ink, was that it was brou de Noix, which is an extract of nuts. He seemed amused that I was so ignorant. However, up to date, I have not succeeded in finding any reference or mention of the ink or of its origin, in any scholarly handbook on art materials. A kind request was made for a sample of the ancient liquid and he graciously complied by delivering it to the hotel lobby at the legendary Grande Dame of hotels: La Mamounia, where he left a plastic container (smelling of antiseptic and filled with the concentrate) at the desk, with instructions to dilute the brou de Noix, as it was so densely pigmented. After examining the bottle carefully, I realized that it had previously contained Dettol.
A comprehensive series of smaller scaled paintings flowed from my brush, as the monochromatic brou de Noix on handmade paper, was so perfectly suited to the feelings evoked by Morocco and India and which were dramatic yet natural.
Later on, many works were executed in charcoal and to me that medium also described and expressed the intensity and authenticity of my feelings.
In 2006 I visited India and the visual stimulus was rather similar to Morocco. I had even closer and accelerated contact with animals, poverty and decay. My main purpose however, was to take an expedition to the ancient caves of Ajanta and Ellorah near Aurangabad. I also stayed in Mumbai and Delhi and managed to visit the Taj Mahal. I had several mystical experiences and was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of activity and abundance, whether negative or positive.