Abstract painters: in contemporary painting, you might call them a voluntary minority. Over the past five years, the number of people who entered their work in the competition for the Royal Awards for Painting lay roughly between 210 and 280 per year, and while the jury never actually counted which share of the artists had entered abstract work, sometimes you could almost see our ears prick up when we encountered an isolated example. We wouldn’t be able to give you any percentages: the jury wasn’t interested in statistics. And abstract or figurative, or a mixture of the two, aren’t a mark of quality in their own right.
But as soon as Omar Koubâa’s work emerged from the large number of paintings vying for our attention most of which dropped from our view just as quickly we reacted as if we’d seen a unicorn umping by in the fog: did our eyes deceive us?! T our surprise, a second look confirmed that the paintings in question did indeed possess a delicate, fairylike charm, which to an extent might explain our feeling that our minds were playing tricks on us.
The other abstract paintings we saw on that occasion were mostly dominated by clean lines, cool monochromes and other echoes of Minimalism. However you put it, this lyrical abstraction presented itself as an anomaly. Omar Koubâa’s was exotic, it caught our attention, and even after looking at it for an extended period, it continued to hold our gaze. There’s no way we could ignore his work – nor did we want to. You could say that on a small scale, the jury of the Royal Award for Painting, which with the inclusion of the jury chair consists of seven people, reflects the full breadth of styles, tastes and temperaments found among the competition’s many, many entrants. But on this we all agreed: Omar Koubâa was a winner.
For the catalogue that accompanied the 2011 edition of the Royal Awards for Painting, I wrote the following about Omar Koubâa’s work – and today, in late 2012, I am still firmly convinced that we made the right choice; or rather, that he has a special talent: “The whirling landscapes by Omar Koubâa (1979, Hengelo) offer no place for the eye to rest – no horizon or vanishing point. They unlock a dream world in which idiosyncratic colours drive each other on – generous, warm and fuzzy, yet neither limp nor cloying. The jury admires the balance between lyrical turbulence and tranquillity achieved in these works. Koubâa’s compositions offer both expansiveness and equilibrium, with a lovely, rugged surface of paint – like a flying carpet that takes us on a journey halfway between the earth and the vault of heaven.”
Chair of the 2011 Royal Awards for Painting
Curator of modern and contemporary art Stedelijk Museum Schiedam