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‘Ammar Alobaidi: A Tale of the City’ Debuting at O’Kane Gallery

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One might think that the works of artist Ammar Alobaidi might draw on the artist’s experiences as a refugee. That’s not the case for this painter, who left his homeland—the volatile nation of Iraq—to an equally unstable Libya then to Jordan and now Houston.

His works reflect a sense of optimism with abstract shapes toned by vibrant colors. It was through his experiences in two war-torn nations that he was able to realize the beauty that lies behind the darkness. Houstonians soon will experience Alobaidi’s creative vision during his first solo exhibition.

“Ammar Alobaidi: A Tale of the City” will debut at the University of Houston-Downtown’s (UHD) O’Kane Gallery with an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m., Feb. 9. The exhibition will feature more than 20 of Alobaidi’s works and run through March 25.

“I have many recurring themes in my work, such as beauty and life, but I really enjoy painting with the goal to express situational feelings and emotions on a variety of different levels,” Alobaidi said.

Thanks to a chance meeting with gallery director and UHD associate professor of art Mark Cervenka, the University will be among the first American venues for his art. The two met at an Arab Community Center event. After a visit to Alobaidi’s studio, Cervenka invited him to show his work at UHD.

“I was instantly impressed,” Cervenka said. “Considering his story, many people would think that themes of ‘conflict’ and ‘cultural differences’ would factor into his work. However, the bulk of his work is not about that. It’s more about ‘purity,’ which is addressed in form and color, but it’s very much about the connections between human beings.”

The artist cites Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Salvador Dali, Wassily Kandinsky and Iraqi painter Muhiraldeen among his influences. Particularly inspiring for Alobaidi is Picasso’s synthetic and analytic cubist periods. But, his ultimate influence was his father, who would occasionally draw and paint.

“The motivation behind the beginning of my art springs from the past, when I used to watch my father paint,” the Baghdad native said. “I felt that art was in my blood.”

Although his academic background is rooted in science with an engineering degree from the University of Baghdad; his passions lie in art. For Alobaidi, the two disciplines are intertwined and are essential to promoting joy in people’s lives.

“Art is the basis of science and as humans, we have to feel happiness in our surroundings,” he said. “My strong belief is that art can help us achieve that happiness.”

Alobaidi’s paintings were among the works featured as part of last year’s “Triumph of the Human Spirit” exhibition at St. John’s School in Houston. Several shows in Jordan also have featured his work. As an artist on the rise in Houston, Alobaidi melds with the profile of creative minds who have been featured in the O’Kane Gallery.

“The mission of the gallery is to be open to diversity in terms of artistic styles, viewpoints and materials,” Cervenka said. “We’re excited to welcome his paintings to our gallery and invite Houstonians to experience one of the city’s up and coming artists.”

Gallery hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and noon – 5 p.m., Saturday. For more information about the O’Kane Gallery, contact or 713-221-8042.