Born in Burri, Sudan, 1936
Mohammed Omar Khalil was born in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1936 and lives and works in New York City since 1967. Khalil is one of the Arab world’s most important contemporary painters, having influenced two generations of regional artists. His work, spanning over forty years, across painting and print-making, is in a privileged position between the canon of modern Arab art and the artist’s ground-breaking practice, searching for a dialogue between dissimilar cultures. Profoundly influenced by his travels throughout the Middle East – in particular Morocco and Sudan – and the art history of Europe that he became immersed in during his studies in Italy, Khalil has brought to life a pioneering form of art, in which elements and patterns from tradition merge with pop art and fine prints.
Khalil’s work illustrates with vividness the complex relationship between the symbolic forms of the East and the conceptual art born in Europe. His series “The Battle of San Romano” is a contemporary rendition of the history paintings by the 15th century Florentine artist credited with pioneering in visual perspective, and not unlike Khalil, someone who transitioned between the late Gothic and the Early Renaissance. Using the same dimensions as Ucello’s grand-scale panels, the Sudanese artist’s canvases reproduce the perspective depth in a collage technique deploying his multi-layered signature symbolic order, merging at once fresco and mosaic. The effect is heightened by the introduction of decorative elements from the Islamic world and a balanced aura of earth colors.
A master print-maker on his own right, Mohammed Omar Khalil has been also working on etching throughout his whole career, using an age-old technique of the European masters to illustrate the book of contemporary art, inspired by the tragic history of the 20th century, letting his imagination run free and yet, running counter to the saturation of color and brightness typical of the pop art age. He has developed a composite grammar of omnipresent blackness, retrieving a primal simplicity as the preferred site for his cosmopolitan observations and the stage of his many aesthetic interventions that sooner or later found their way into the more colorful canvases. At the climax of his creative forces, the artist’s desire to inflect the consciousness of the era is made manifest in discreet impressions.
Mohammed Omar Khalil studied at the School of Fine and Applied Art in Khartoum, Sudan and then pursued graduated studies in fresco painting and print-making in Florence. Since then, he has been living in the United States and until recently, taught at the Parsons School of Design in the New School. His work has been part of numerous solo and group exhibitions in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the Americas. The artist’s work is found in different public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Grenoble Museum in France, the Jordanian National Museum and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. A retrospective of his print-making work with an accompanying monograph will be showcased at Albareh in 2014.