Animals of Arabia, John Martin Gallery 24 June – 24 July 2010
John Martin Gallery is pleased to announce the first exhibition of Animals of the Arabian Peninsula, an ambitious and on-going project by the artist, Mark Adlington. Comprising drawings made on location and paintings completed later in his studio, the artist’s work was made possible with the help and support of The Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah where the artist spent over 11 weeks over the course of a five year period from 2006 to 2010.
Filling over 20 sketchbooks, Adlington benefitted from the extensive knowledge and experience of the centre’s scientists, vets and keepers. Drawing the animals in semicaptivity required immense patience and perseverance, yet Adlington was also able to make closer observations of some of the hand-reared animals and occasionally when opportunities arose such as when an Arabian leopard was anaethetised for several hours during a routine check-up. The success of the centre in breeding almost all species so successfully is a tribute to the whole operation and offered the artist an extraordinary opportunity to study an entire fauna in an environment either identical to, or very close to that found in the wild.
Adlington also made two separate trips to Oman exploring one of the last areas where any significant populations of Arabian mammals still exist. The second trip in February 2009 was a scientific research trip organised by Biosphere to gather data in remote wadis near the Yemeni border. Camping, and walking many kilometres per day, it was the perfect supplement to the work done at the Breeding Centre, and whilst giving him the chance to see several species in the wild also made him aware just how serious are the threats to many of these elusive animals.
Adlington’s finished drawings and paintings capture the spontaneity and life of the animals he encountered. As he observes in the introduction to the accompanying book, “the experience of animal by man, so vividly and powerfully expressed in painting by our Palaeolithic ancestors, is all too often reduced today to the flat, static, and second-hand information supplied by the photograph.”. For Adlington whose previous work includes studies of the rare European bison in Poland, Ibex in the mountains of Northern Italy and wolves in France and Spain, there is no substitute for a first hand experience to comprehend the inspiring beauty of our most magnificent and rare wildlife.
Further exhibitions in the GCC and the publication of an accompanying book will be
announced at a later date. All works can be seen at http://www.jmlondon.com/
Introduction to Mark Adlington’s forthcoming book
Animals of Arabia
The encounter of these two energies, their dialogue, does not have the form of question and answer. It is a ferocious and inarticulated dialogue. To sustain it requires faith. It is like a burrowing in the dark, a burrowing under the apparent. the great images occur when the two tunnels meet and join perfectly.
Sometimes when the dialogue is swift, almost instantaneous, it is like something thrown and caught. I offer no explanation for this experience. I simply believe very few artists will deny it.
Its a professional secret.”. - John Berger
Few genres of painting have suffered as badly at the hands of the camera as the art of the animalier. While the invention of the photograph was swiftly registered as an invaluable tool by painter and sculptor alike, in the case of the animal artist (already consigned by the art world to the bottom of the credibility pile), the photograph has proved a deadly and unhelpful temptation. Thus the experience of animal by man, so
vividly and powerfully expressed in painting by our Palaeolithic ancestors, is all too often reduced today to the flat, static, and second-hand information supplied by the photograph.
However slight, random or chaotic, there is always an unusual degree of truth and dynamism in marks made from life. John Berger describes the alchemy of this process with such insight that it leaves me with nothing to add. I would however like to say a few words about the subject matter, which in the last few years has become very important to me.
“Arabian animals ?.... ah yes, camels I suppose....”
This has been the almost universal response to the title of this book. While I have no wish to diminish the central and iconic position of Arabia’s ship of the desert, the Arabian peninsula, pivoted between Africa, Asia and Europe has so many magical
secrets to offer that I made the decision to leave the camel, which has in any case been domesticated since prehistory, for another project.
I am hugely indebted to all at Sharjah’s Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife for the support, generosity and knowledge they have given me. Even as a painter with a lifelong obsession with wildlife, the mammals of Arabia have been a
After years of working with hairy forest dwellers in the snow, the desert has presented very different challenges. The searing power of the middle-eastern sun, while frustratingly forcing both subjects and artist alike to seek shade and shelter for much of
the day, had one unexpected benefit. Working directly from life in watercolour and ink, which in Europe reduces paper to a sodden pulp for many hours, suddenly became a realistic and exciting proposition. Water was sucked instantaneously from the page, leaving the baked pigment frozen in time to become hair, fur, or the glint in a leopard’s eye.
Sadly the species represented in the comprehensive collection of fauna represented at Sharjah’s Breeding Centre are under intense pressure; from climate change, increased desertification from overgrazing, and from indiscriminate hunting –hugely facilitated
by the deadly combination of four wheel drive and firearm. As late as 1946 Aharoni describes herds of gazelle estimated at many thousands of animals. Today, any sighting of gazelle is a cause for celebration.
In 2008 I was fortunate enough to join a scientific expedition in southern Oman, to survey uncharted wadis for signs of the arabian leopard, and later to explore the long and spectacular coastline that joins Muscat and Salalah. We saw ibex, gazelle and oryx in small numbers, and evidence of leopard, fox, hyaena and caracal. It took little imagination though to imagine the luxury hotel developments that will follow hard on the heels of the first tarmac roads to sully the unspoilt beaches, and in the interior, despite laws to the contrary, there was clear evidence of hunting for sport. Michael McKinnon quotes the five tenets of Islamic teaching with regard to nature drawn up by Muslim scientists at the end of the last century.
The fifth and final tenet goes as follows;
“God’s wisdom has ordained to grant human being’s stewardship on the earth. Therefore in addition to being part of the earth and part of the universe, Man is also the
executor of God’s injunctions and commands. And, as such, he is only a mere manager of the earth and not a proprietor; a beneficiary and not a disposer or ordainer. For God alone is the real owner of heaven and earth and all that they contain. Man has been granted stewardship to manage the earth in accordance with the purposes of its Creator: to utilize it for the fulfilment of his interest and theirs. He is thus entrusted with its maintenance and care, and must use it as a trustee within the limits dictated by his
Arabia’s animals have evolved to cope with some of the planets harshest conditions, but unless we take our role as trustees a little more seriously, many of them may fail to survive the impact of man. This book is dedicated to all those who are trying to prevent that from happening.
Mark Adlington, 2010
For those who know little or nothing about The Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah You can read more about it by clicking HERE.
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