Ali Omar Ermes’ works speak to the viewer. Many of us can’t read the script scrawled across the immense canvases, but the movement of colours and the forms are emotive – sometimes soothing and sometimes exciting.
This ability to talk to anybody, despite dealing in Arabic script, is the beauty of the 65-year-old Libyan’s art, and perhaps why it is so sought after: his works are part of the permanent collections of The Smithsonian in Washington; No 10 Downing Street in London; HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai; and HRH The Prince of Wales. As Middle Eastern art scholar Dale Egee explains in a 2003 text on the artist: ‘Ali Omar leaves a legacy, he has brought the beauty of Arabic calligraphy to all of us in the non-Arab world, and we are the richer for that.’
Knowing this about the man, it’s a little nerve-wracking sitting down to quiz him about his art, but five minutes into the conversation we relax. It’s a little like speaking to a favourite philosophy lecturer, as Ali Omar darts from a question about why he uses the Arabic script in his work to discussing hefty existential issues on what constitutes creativity.
‘Mimicking nature is, I think, a waste of time. If you enjoy painting a landscape, fine, but you cannot claim this is creativity. Creativity is not replication – look how many billions of hours have been spent mimicking what is already there. We could go beyond this. It is far better, as I see it, to develop on something that humans started doing, and language is the best example in the world of human creativity. The ability to be able to communicate between people, and to write and send information, ideas, feelings and thoughts through time to the future, that is beautiful creativity on a human scale.’
So, through language, Ali Omar attacks issues on his canvases – a collection of words, from pre-Islamic poets, Islamic poets and himself (he’s also a writer and social activist), work in unison to say something that today’s world, in the artist’s opinion, needs to hear. And in our opinion, his perfectly executed canvases need to be seen.
Ali Omar Ermes’s works are on show at Meem Gallery until January 31.