On the work of Omar Koubâa

The work is both a visual and a mental journey. The activities are part of a unique history. They involve participation in an event that exceeds the self on all sides. What we are witnessing is a process of constant regeneration. It is a process of appropriation and relinquishing, of following trails and voices in a shifting space in which you are constantly presented with new perspectives. Any lasting insight – any resolution – is repeatedly postponed. And in this ambiguous, undulating fabric, in this shimmering interaction of tentative instances, a different dimension manifests itself: something of the other. At some point in his essay ‘Eye and Mind’, Merleau-Ponty writes: “We must take literally what vision teaches us: namely, that through it we touch the sun and the stars, that we are everywhere at once, as close to things that are far as to those that are nearby, and that even our power to imagine ourselves elsewhere – I am in Petersburg in my bed; in Paris, my eyes see the sun – or freely to envision real beings, wherever they are, borrows from vision and employs means we owe to it. Vision alone teaches us that beings that are different, ‘exterior’, foreign to one another, are yet absolutely together: it shows us ‘simultaneity’.”

Omar Koubâa’s work has an intangible presence, an instance of matter, which as a trail formed by the artist’s hand and eye invites me to keep looking. Its sensual and tactile activity reflects the light- hearted to-and-fro of dissonance and harmony. I see how the image emerges from the plane – how it literally ‘grabs its place’. How it chooses me even before I am able to choose it…It is travelling in new light through another space. The colours, the elusive nuances of the work, are a landscape that works as a provocation. This presence has the quality of the living instance. It is receptive to becoming one: I become highly aware of my act of viewing. The eye meets with something visible whose meaning has not yet crystallised, and this state of ‘not yet’ is stretched, spread and spun out in time and space, in a journey that at first glance promises to be endless. Through the act of viewing, I participate: my viewing also becomes action. The work as a technical extension of physicality embodies expression. The image is an animate body. A connection of subject and object. Time and time again, it forms the beginning of something new, and each time round, there’s the question: “Which effect does it have?” I wander through the known and unknown – and back again – and sense the unbridled energy, an ode to the unprejudiced gaze. My eye travels across the interface between the painter’s experience and my own. What I see hovers between life and imagery. The state of being presses; portrays; speaks to me; spins its tale – in other words: the work contains it. A joy forever. Omar Koubâa has discovered that it is all about the moment when appearance becomes aware of itself and as a result starts referring to something greater than appearance.

To express this moment of ‘more’, he employs (almost as a strategy) elements of the Romantic experience. The Romantics did not content themselves with a purely intellectual conception of reality. In their view, reality cannot be known solely through intuition and conception: it can only be experienced in a unity of subject and object (we can find the description of such an intuitive and mystical union in the works of Novalis). The Romantics set store by the powers of creative imagination and the importance of feelings and intuition, contrasting such pathways with the limitations of scientific knowledge. Each individual work is an experience. Each time round, I am immersed in an experience that cannot be captured in words. My expectations are thwarted, and I become entangled in a state of optical alertness, in the manifestation of the image that tells me something about the viewing experience. But not just my own viewing experience. Omar Koubâa’s perspective touches on the abrupt and overwhelming insight that the image always lies just in front or just beyond the point one is looking at, like something from a world that simultaneously exists in a space behind our own and one in front of it. Indeed, something that stems from a process in which everything that has gone before is intuitively preserved and regenerated in the next work. And the work does not so much imitate visible reality as ‘make visible’, while simultaneously remaining close to its own genesis. It seems to constantly rematerialise from its own elements. The work appears to be developing a means by which it can actively expand into the surrounding space.

It is precisely the simultaneity of all those connections – the convergence of all those different moments – that makes me change position and that delights me so. It is a presence that exceeds the surrounding space. I see the light of a falling star; I ponder the smell of silence; I become aware of the metamorphosis of time and discern the many different moments that are embedded in the image. Each work is a bold venture: a process of integrating an abundance of real and visual data – and the image adds itself as another fact to this multitude. Omar Koubâa’s work is like an experience in which the other is still unknown. It cautiously invites us to approach its mystery with a tentative caress (a kind of heightened perception). This caress is intended to establish a relationship with this other entity – the painting – an entity that actually aims to withdraw from such ties. But at the same time, the image continues to encourage this caress. It is an indiscrete fondling, an attempt to forcefully penetrate the mystery. An attempt to see the impossible – in other words, ‘picture it’. In fact, such a caress desecrates the mystery. However, in its impotence (the discovery that one will never be able to really fathom the depths of this mystery), this indiscrete caress may yet transform into an experience of the mystery as mystery.

The Truth of supreme Beauty lies beyond the dictionary meanings of words.
Alfred North Whitehead: Adventures of Ideas

Kars Persoon