When young Iraqi art student Nael Hanna came to Scotland in the 1980s he was so bowled over by the vast landscapes and dramatic coastline that he made Angus his adopted home.
Today, Nael is regarded as one of the most significant contemporary landscape painters living in the UK today. Having won a number of awards and exhibited all over the world, his paintings are also included within major collections worldwide.
And now his latest exhibition, Shorelines, will be on display at the Fraser Gallery in St Andrews from tomorrow until September 17 – an artistic love poem to his love of nature in all her forms.
The exhibition includes evocative seascapes from both the east and west coasts of Scotland as well as vibrant floral still-life pieces.
Nael’s expressive and distinctive near-abstract style owes much to his interesting background. Born in 1959 in Nineva, Northern Iraq, of mixed culture – Iraqi, Greek and Syrian Christian Orthodox – he spent much of his childhood studying and drawing animals, birds and people.
Drafted into the army to serve during the Iraq-Iran War, Nael continued to paint during his military service and was awarded a scholarship by the Ministry of Education in Baghdad to study art in Britain.
“I won a scholarship to a fine art degree course at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee,” says Nael, explaining what originally brought him to Scotland. In 1987, he won a further scholarship to study at Hospitalfield summer school in Arbroath and it was during this time that he developed a passion for painting the east coast of Scotland, with its dramatic scenery and ever changing weather.
Shorelines comprises around 50 paintings, some in oils, some in mixed media, and the exhibition has taken Neal a year and half to put together.
“I spend a great deal of time observing the coastal landscape near my Angus home and however much at times I feel I should escape from this recurring subject matter, I am always willingly drawn back by its sheer beauty and magnetism,” he says.
“I love the sea, the sun, the moon, the colour of the sky. I try to capture the light on the beach, on the grass, the changing mood and colours reflected in the sea…”
The paintings often address the human relationship with the land: the fisherfolk and the sea, the farmers working the land.
“I enjoy looking for the rhythms created in nature and hope to capture the force of the natural elements which dictate so much to the world we live in,” he says. However, he refuses to be pinned down to a favourite painting, explaining: “When you have an exhibition, you can’t have a favourite – I like all of them. When I work I don’t think about pleasing people, I paint to please myself. So if I don’t like a painting for any reason, or I’m not happy with it, then I’ll have a rethink.”
He cites 18th Century landscape painter JMW Turner as a major inspiration: “Turner could be a 21st Century artist – his paintings have such a modern feel to them.”
Other influences include the still life work of Scottish colourist Francis Cadell and the bold colourful art of David McClure. A regular solo exhibitor at the Fraser Gallery, Nael is looking forward to meeting visitors.
“I like talking to people and I’m always learning from others,” he says.
“Everyone reacts to art in their own way and they’re free to say anything they want about the paintings.”
Shorelines opens tomorrow at the Fraser Gallery St Andrews and runs until September 17.