Horizons: Abed Monawar at South Plains College, Levelland

by Michelle Kraft February 18, 2024
Installation view of landscape paintings on a wall

Installation view of “Horizons: Abed Monawar” at South Plains College in Levelland

In the 16th century, the Spanish explorer Coronado wrote a letter to King Charles V with the first European account of the Llano Estacado region of the High Plains of North America. In his report, Coronado portrayed this vast flatland in sublime terms, describing his encounter being akin to having been “swallowed up by the sea.” As far as the eye could discern, for the nine hundred miles he traveled, there seemed to be limitless horizon in all directions. He and his explorer-conquerors were circumscribed by an infinite line separating earth and sky. It was as if, having never found the cities of gold they sought, they were doomed to perpetually wander this purgatory of grasslands, until crushed to dust by the firmaments.

Installation view of three long paintings of horizons

Abed Monawar, “Horizon at Sunset,” “Horizon with Night Storm,” and “Horizon at Sunrise,” on view at South Plains College in Levelland

In his exhibition Horizons, Abed Monawar, reminds us of the transcendent wonder of the West Texas/Panhandle’s austere topography. He does this not through monumental works of acrylic on canvas, but through narrow, linear paintings — some vertical, most horizontal — that exemplify a landscape compressed by its burden of sky. Though relatively small (around eight by forty inches), many of the pieces convey an immensity, as in the three bands entitled Horizon at Sunset, Horizon with Night Storm, and Horizon at Sunrise. Here, the viewer has the sensation of having survived an epic event: a weeklong solo trek through the desert, or the intensity of a surprise monsoon, or forty days in wilderness, or all of the above. Similarly, his Horizon at Night, with its arc of Milky Way stars set over low desert mountains, evokes an awe-inspiring canopy of heavens overspreading a diminutive earth. 

Long, narrow, horizontal painting of a night sky with stars

Abed Monawar, “Horizon at Night,” on view at South Plains College in Levelland

There are human-built environments portrayed within Monawar’s paintings, too, but these serve as rigid foils against the organic lyricism of nature. Even within the neat cotton-crop furrows of his plowed West Texas Snow series, however, there are hints of dribbled paint, á la Pollock. These seem to remind the viewer that our interventions upon the landscape are but a veneer, a comforting pretense of order applied to a deeply wild and unforgiving land. Similar dribbles appear prominently in Lightning, in which overly white thunderbolts spill from sky to earth. Anyone who has witnessed storms over the Llano Estacado recognizes such depictions of lightning as accurate and not mere visual hyperbole.

Taken as a group, Monawar’s paintings in Horizons recollect author Willa Cather’s rendering of the tension between earth and sky in Death Comes to the Archbishop: 

The plain was there, under one’s feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. 

long, narrow painting of lightening in a field

Abed Monawar, “Lightning,” on view at South Plains College in Levelland

These landscapes speak to the fleeting ephemerality of human endeavor set against a permanence of terrain and cosmos. Perhaps there is folly in trying to eke out an agricultural living in a land as relentless and unforgiving as the “Staked Plains.” One is reminded of the deceitful promises of verdant Eden used to lure immigrants west to settle the Plains, and the bitterness of the gold cities that never materialized.

Installation view of two paintings of the West Texas landscape

Abed Monawar, from the series “West Texas Snow,” on view at South Plains College in Levelland


Abed Monawar: Horizons is on view through February 26 at the Christine Devitt Fine Arts Center Gallery at South Plains College in Levelland. An artist reception is scheduled for Thursday, February 22.

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