The desert landscape
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Winter has arrived and the weather is perfect for going outdoors here in the UAE. Sometimes during the week I drive to the Al Qudra Nature reserve and lakes to walk and take in the air. The reserve is in the middle of the Saih Al Salam Desert spread over 10 hectares and is home to more than one hundred species of birds including many migratory birds. The other day I met up with a friend to take a two hour walk around the lake which was as always visually breathtaking in the early evening.
Driving back down Al Qudra Road I was thinking about how fantastic it would be to paint this amazing beautiful featureless landscape. This brought me onto thinking about why I found it so beautifully fascinating? Was it because of its lack of distinctive landmarks or qualities? Perhaps the vast emptiness? Or was it the endless sand dunes, the indigenous plants, the combined featureless look of it all? Maybe it was because the man made features such as the road signage and the odd building contrast so dramatically against the empty backdrop. Or could it be that if these man made features were placed in another setting such as a forest they would be overlooked, and suddenly take on a different meaning?
Spatial Perception and the mapping of oneself in space is a much explored subject in landscape visual art.
Spatial perception is the ability to be aware of one’s own relationship with the environment around you and with yourself and is made up of two processes, the exteroceptives, which create representations about our space through feelings, and interoceptive processes, which create representations about our body, like its position or orientation. Space is what surrounds us: objects, elements, people, etc. Space also makes up part of our thinking, as it’s where we join all of our experiences. Having good spatial perception is the ability to situate yourself, move around, orient yourself, make multiple decisions, analyse situations and representations of our surroundings and the relationship our body has with it.
In Western art the notion of landscape has a wide range of connotations. When the word was introduced into English around 1600, it was borrowed as a painters' term from the Dutch “landschap”, at a time when Dutch artists were becoming masters of the landscape genre. Originally, 'landscape' meant a picture of a view, taking another thirty years to acquire the meaning of the view itself.
The contemporary understanding in art of landscape includes the sense of it as an ideological tool shaping the way in which we envision and construct the natural world and is closely linked with our social perception of the natural world. The social aspect of landscape can be traced in the areas of gender, class and national identity etc. Every person and every group perceives a landscape in their own way, assigning their own meanings to it, to produce their own representation of the landscape. For example, Bedouin populations mention the landscape of nature in a poetic context, mainly focused on the beauty of flowers which arise after the fall of the rain. The cultivated landscape such as constructed waterways, orchards and gardens are scarcely mentioned in Arabic poetics. This might be explained by the disregard of the Bedouins towards sedentary ways of living.
The featureless landscape of the desert would certainly be a rich spatial theme to explore.