Ammar Alobaidi is a refugee living in Houston, but the only label he identifies with is artist. After living in Iraq, Libya and Jordan, he now calls the Bayou City home. This Thursday, Alobaidi will debut 20 paintings at University of Houston-Downtown’s O’Kane Gallery in A Tale of the City, his first U.S. exhibition.
For Alobaidi, art is like music in its universal appeal. Even though he is deeply influenced by the rich cultural heritage of his hometown, Baghdad, he never paints a specific scenario or iconography.
“When I see something happen, I try to translate from the situation to paint or sketch the feelings,” Alobaidi says. “I show people that life is beautiful and many things in life are very good.”
An engineer by education, Alobaidi believes art is the highest form of science. His acrylic paintings burst with vibrant colors, sometimes contrasting; other times echoing in harmony. However, his clean-cut compositions are entangled with geometric and organic shapes that are reminiscent of Picasso’s Cubism period. While highly abstract, the paintings are specific in the human-nature dynamism that they capture.
Susan Baker, UHD professor of art history, says she was stunned by her first visit to Alobaidi’s studio, saying she was moved by every single painting.
“It fascinates me how his work is the purest visual expression,” Baker says. “You start to see an image, you are tempted to interpret something as a symbol or a narrative which takes it over to literature, but it comes back. It retains its pure visual language.”
Alobaidi has an inexplicable relationship with art, which comes from watching his father sketch and paint when he was a child. He created his first painting in high school, which was a reflection on humans’ need to think. Since then, his artistic energy has been unstoppable.
He painted through his relocations and ultimately landed in Houston, when he met Mark Cervenk, O’Kane Gallery director and UHD associate professor of art, at an event at the Arab American Community Center. Alobaidi's story and passion for art captivated Cervenka.
“There is a clear discipline and follow-through in what he is doing. No part of the canvas is left unresolved; unthought of,” Cervenka says. “It shows a kind of dedication, honesty and sincerity with what he’s doing.”
Alobaidi prefers to focus on his professional endeavors rather than his experience as a refugee. When asked why he settled in Houston, he gives a simple answer.
“To live in peace," Alobaidi says. "To find a peaceful place and comfortable place—that is it.”