VIVA Magzine, Amman

Feature: Matthew Hamilton. Photography: Al-Mukhtar Zeyad and courtesy of Jabal Amman Publishers.

Never too late to bloom

Peter Lawrence releases his second book, Colours of Jordan, featuring his reflections and paintings of the Kingdom

For her husband Peter's fiftieth birthday, Lis Lawrence gave him a weekend-long painting retreat at Great Missenden's, arts centre in Buckinghamshire, England. Although Peter had been a self-described art lover for most of his life, and had long painted as a hobby, he admits, “It triggered something in me.” The desire to paint had never been more forceful, and through experimentation, learning from more courses and from “painting holidays,” as Peter calls them, his style has developed and his passion for painting has grown.

Peter has always had an interest in art and painting but when his career took him from his native England to Bahrain in 1975, and in 1977, to Saudi Arabia, painting offered a release. “At one point in my career, I was spending weeks or months at a time away from my family, who were living in England. In that spare time, I painted.” He used books to learn the basics, and translated his affinity for Arab landscapes with his brush, paint and canvas.

Last year when Arabtech Jardaneh, a Jordanian engineering company, named Peter the director of strategy and business development for Water and Environment, he and Lis moved to Amman. Although he had been visiting Jordan since 1985 for work and pleasure, living in the Kingdom afforded more time to see and explore. “Scenically, Jordan is stunning,” explains Peter, who marvels at the geographic diversity despite the small area. “You have the Dead Sea, the mountains, many different climatic regions and incredible wadis; geologically, Jordan is fascinating. There is inspiration for painting everywhere you look,” he says.

The inspiring landscape lent itself to prolific painting, and Peter hatched the idea of compiling his work into a book. “Having published a book with Mike Shepley seeded this project,” he explains, referring to Al Khaleej and Beyond: Reflections of Two ArtistsI, the book he co-authored with Shepley when the pair where living in the UAE. Add to the experience in publishing the anxieties caused by the economic recession. According to him, “The recession caused some stress, and one way to cope with stress was to give myself over to a project and occupy myself.”

Peter immersed himself in art, until serendipity connected him with a suitable local publisher. A friend in the Dozan wa Awtar choir in which Peter sings connected him with Sinan Sweis, the director of Jabal Amman Publishers. “When the idea for Peter's book came, my reaction was that we don't publish art books,” says Sweis, continuing, “I have a passion for the arts, and when I met Peter, viewed his paintings and saw his perseverance, I decided to publish the book.” Their meeting took place in January 2011, and this month, Colours of Jordan will go on sale with an official launch coinciding with Zakharef in Motion – the Amman International Dance Festival and with a public display of his work at the King Hussein Cultural Centre in Ras al Ain.

The title of the book rings true, as each page is rich and vibrant, and with each painting capturing the essence of beloved Jordanian scenes and vistas. “I paint about a scene and convey what I feel about a landscape. It is not literal; I try to conjure up an atmosphere,” summarises the artist, who has included his reflections on the scenes and spaces for both English and Arabic readers. Comments Sweis, “I liked how Peter's style and words truly personalize these spaces around Jordan.”

Colours of Jordan has been made possible not only due to Peter, Sweis, and the masterful editing of Lis, but many sponsoring organisations. The Ministry of Culture provided generous  support, along with LEMA, Arabtech Jardaneh, Evason Ma'in, HSBC, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, the American Center for Oriental Research and The Good Bookshop. Peter especially notes the support, advice and encouragement of Jeryes Samawi,  of the Ministry of Culture, who has written a Foreword to the book and of Jane Taylor who has contributed a preface from her persective of  a fellow lover of Jordan,  renowned historian, photographer and publisher of many superb books on Jordan and the region.

With his book now on sale, Peter reflects, “I am very excited, very happy and slightly gobsmacked.” Sinan echoes this pride, but sees another project in the works, saying, “I am encouraging Peter to start painting different scenes of Amman for our next book!”