Mueen Saheed’s abstract narrative painting invites lasting contemplation rather than dazzling the eye for a fleeting instant.
Saheed, a contemporary abstract artist from Colombo, Sri Lanka, was recently commissioned to paint two pairs of doors and four shutters on the exterior of a new boutique hotel in Galle. The hotel owner, who commissioned the work, imagined vivid painting that evoked the atmosphere of the city with its riveting, multi-layered history. Because of the importance of the location, Saheed was compelled thoroughly researching the city’s history and studying its artifacts before he started painting.
Sri Lanka has been a mysterious, dynamic location for as long as anyone can remember. It attracts many sojourners every year, and Galle is one of the most visited cities in Sri Lanka today. The city is home to an impressive mix of architecture left behind by Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonizers.
The city’s magnificent fort was built by the Portuguese during the 16th century, highly fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century, and has undergone extensive restoration since. Today, it is a cosmopolitan ensemble embodying the interaction between European and South Asian styles. UNESCO’s world heritage organization designates the fort as an architectural monument to be carefully preserved.
Additionally, merchants from around the globe have been anchoring at this fascinating port of call for centuries. Sri Lanka has been a vital exporter of quality goods throughout history. Coffee, tea, culture and more have shipped to destinations the world over. Indeed, some came and decided to stay. Moorish descendants continue to inhabit the fort to the present day.
When I look back at my work as it has matured over the years and the flow of consciousness from my mind to the brush has increased in speed and richness of expression.
— Mueen Saheed
Saheed has drawn upon his research, as well as color, song, and so forth, to weave storylines together in his painting. The artist views abstraction as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind. As he painted the doors and shutters of the chic new hotel for the city with old world charm, he drew abstract form and color from his subconscious for the purpose of evoking the spirit of Galle.
What I do differently in my abstract painting is express the emotive quality of the space behind the doors.
The artist says that instead of relying on realistic representation, he wants to present thoughts in color and brushstroke. Unlike most historical depictions that do rely on representation, Saheed’s narrative paintings are mostly abstract. They seek a higher state of consciousness rather than traditional didactic purposes. The artist says I am a lover of the Sufi ways and the works of the Persian poet Rumi. I believe in equality and all the finer whispering of life. Abstract form and color provide the artist with an avenue for expressing sacred meaning in nuanced form.
The artist also draws upon symbolism in his effort to elevate the conversation to a philosophical platform. In contrast to an immovable canvas, he sees a door as a metaphor for a passageway. He invites the viewer into moments from Galle’s past, or a whimsical garden, or perhaps an intimate kitchen.
Saheed shifts attention towards the essence of places, with their finer whisperings, with painted metaphors for songs sung in friendly places.
He evokes the heart of a kitchen fragrant with masala.
He also recalls cozy afternoons by the fire in his painting.
He conjures a playful garden out of form and color.
Finally, he paints what he cherishes on the surface of his metaphorical passageways.
Saheed’s process allows him to evoke an infinite number of moods in abstract form. Although he usually paints in purely abstract style, he included figurative bits from Galle’s history in the recent commission. A sampling of literal references allowed the artist to emphasize the significance of the location.
While the artist’s abstract style is meant to convey the aura of Galle, the representational pieces refer to its variegated history. Sri Lanka has been a sacred location for many since time immemorial. If colonization is ethically disgraceful in a post-colonial era, the site has worked its magic over the people who came to its shores for numerous reasons. It likely enchanted the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, as it fascinates and mystifies many people today.
The artists paintings reflect the manner in which European influence has integrated with Sri Lanka’s tradition.
At the same time, his painting stirs an unexpected reaction. The mix of abstract form and color meant to evoke a subconscious reaction with literal references to identifiable reality have the potential to provoke an unusual response from the viewer. While the conscious mind identifies with what it recognizes, the unconscious observes the aura of the place represented. Saheed’s paintings encourage the viewer’s conscious mind to trip over into the unconscious to make any number of associations.
Evocative aesthetics in combination with realistic symbolism lends itself to contemplation. The artist’s trademark abstract narrative style is different than most contemporary abstract art. Lasting contemplation allows for a nuanced exploration of the subject. The longer the viewer contemplates his painting recognizing hidden pictures and observing its vibration, the more they discover.
Saheed is not seeking a traditional response with fixed meaning. Instead, the purpose of his art is to prompt focused reflection in a world where everything is photographed and hash-tagged. More, Saheed feels that society’s mass consumption of imagery makes abstraction more relevant than ever in its capacity to stir lasting contemplation.
The artist’s paintings have become a familiar landmark in Galle attracting many visitors to this special city. More, he yearns to travel the world visiting other intriguing cities. Saheed also aspires to paint other abstract narratives on other doors that echo the spirit of other vibrant places around the world.