Morocco – Art, Travel, and Painting

April/May 2018
This journey exceeded high expectations, stunning landscapes, architecture, medinas (old city centres), kasbahs (forts, citadels), souks (markets) and riads (traditional town houses). Arrived in Casablanca in time to meet up with a small group of painters over dinner to plan out our seventeen days in Morocco. The trip traversed the regions from Casablanca on the Atlantic coast, to Marrakech in mid-southwestern region, across the High Atlas mountains to Tinerhir and Todra Gorge, then onto Café Tissardmine near Rissani close to the Algerian border in the Sahara desert, then north back across the High Atlas to Fes in the Middle Atlas mountains, then further north to Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains, back to Fes then to Casablanca overnight before the flight home.
Some travel notes and references.

Casablanca the ‘commercial and financial capital, where tradition and modernity co-exist1 On the Atlantic coast, the Phoenicians established a small trading post in the 6th century BC’2 Arrived and departed from Casablanca. Incredible how one film can conjure up an image of place. What you get is a crowded, noisy, chaotic city but with hidden gems, French colonial architecture, restaurants and bars. Only overnight in Casablanca then onto Marrakech.

Marrakech a ‘Berber city at the point of interchange between the Sahara, the Atlas and the Anti Atlas mountains1. Almost 1,000 years after its founding the red city continues to evolve, where tradition and modernity merge.’2 Walking around the old medina a sensory overload, souks awash with a vivid colours, high quality handcrafted artisan goods of all descriptions including carpets, leather, ceramics, jewellery, lamps, woodwork, copper, metalwork, basketry, fabrics, dyed yarn, olives, spices. Three days to take in the city including the gardens around the Koutoubia Mosque, Museé de Marrakech, Palais Bahia, Maison de la Photographie, combined with sketching from rooftop cafes and in the main square Djemaa el-Fna.

After Marrakech, drove onto Tinerhir via Ait Benhaddou with its ancient earthen clay architecture, used as a location for many films. Striking contrasts of the green river courses and oasis in the desert, a product of the snow melt from the High Atlas mountains, the life line of the surprisingly large inland cities. Overnight in Tinerhir and the next morning sketching in Todra Gorge, eastern part of the High Atlas Mountains, where ‘sheer cliffs 300m (985ft) rise up each side of the gorge1. After the gorge drove onto Café Tissardmine, a cultural retreat and guest house near the town of Rissani. Time out for almost a week, to sketch and paint each day. The stay allowed time for a visit to the local Berber village, Tissardmine, to Erg Chebbi at sunset, massive sand dunes, an absolute highlight of the trip, next day an excellent performance by the musicians Gnaoua Khamlia, at Merzouga about 35 kilometres southeast of Rissani, then the following morning trip to the Rissani markets ‘The Rissani souk is one of the most famous in the area’1.

After a week of relative peace and quiet in the desert, a full day’s drive (eight hours) back across the High Atlas, snow-capped peaks in the distance, across the Middle Atlas, through expansive farmland, and a cedar forest to Fes. Fes the ‘oldest of the imperial cities, founded in 7891. The medina the world’s largest car free urban area”2 The souks like Marrakech, but without the motorbikes, packed with handmade goods of all descriptions. A photographers’ paradise. A morning at Madrasa Bou Inania, founded in 1351–56, location for some sketching until the tour groups arrived. Then onto Palais Galoui ‘18th-century palace is as fascinating for its state of disrepair as it is for its architectural Andalucian style magnificence’2, off the tourist routes and hence time out for a peaceful morning of sketching.

After three days in Fes, a four hour drive to Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains ‘located in the hollow of two mountains: ech-Chaoua (The Horns). White and indigo lime-washed buildings and red tile roofs1. The old medina a mix of Moroccan and Andalucian influence’2. Our guide assured us that it was impossible to get lost in such a small town, but after a while the lanes all started to look the same, and I found myself lost in the labyrinth of blue laneways, felt like I had walked up and down thousands of blue steps, but remembered the old bushwalkers code, the only way out, head to high ground to locate the landforms to get a sense of direction, in this case the twin peaks. Time for some sketching in the souk, and then back to do some painting on the rooftop terrace with expansive views. Time as always was too short and we drove back to Fes for an overnight stopover, and then onto Casablanca for our last rather chaotic night, the clocks changed over, end of daylight saving which threw the flight times out, but somehow it was possible to negotiate the airport mayhem.

Ait Benhaddou
Todra Gorge
Café Tissardmine
Erg Chebbi

Sense of Place

180426 Djemaa el-Fna (Main Square) Marrakech
Djemaa el-Fna (Main Square) Marrakech, 26/4/2018

180427 Musee de Marrakech
Museé de Marrakech, 27/4/2018

180427 Pigments in the souk, Marrakech
Pigments, souk in Marrakech, 27/4/2018

180427 Roof top cafe sketching, Marrakech
From roof top café, sketching location, Marrakech, 27/4/2018

180428 Jewelery in the souk, Marrakech
Jewellery, souk in Marrakech, 28/4/2018

180428 lamps, in the souk, Marrakech
Lamps, souk in Marrakech, 28/4/2018

180428 woodwork, in the souk, Marrakech
Woodwork, souk in Marrakech, 28/4/2018

180429 1 Road over the High Atlas Mountains Morocco
Road over the High Atlas Mountains, 29/4/2018

180429 2 Snow capped peaks High Atlas Mountains
Snow-capped peaks High Atlas Mountains, 29/4/2018

180429 3 Ait benhaddou, High Atlas Mountains
Ait benhaddou, 29/4/2018

180429 4 Entrance Ait benhaddou
Entrance Ait benhaddou, 29/4/2018

180430 1 Todra Gorge
Todra Gorge, 30/4/2018

180430 2 Goat stampede Todra Gorge
Goat stampede Todra Gorge, 30/4/2018

180430 3 lunch Tinerhir, Morocco
Tinerhir, 30/4/2018

180430 5 Cafe Tissardmine, Erg Chebbi in the distance
Cafe Tissardmine, Erg Chebbi in the distance, 30/4/2018

180501 1 a Tissardmine, Berber village
Tissardmine, Berber village, 1/5/2018

180501 3 Erg Chebbi sunset
Erg Chebbi at sunset, 1/5/2018

180501 4 Erg Chebbi sunset
Erg Chebbi at sunset, 1/5/2018

180502 Cafe Tissardmine from the roof terrace
Cafe Tissardmine from the roof terrace, 2/5/2018

180502 Courtyard, Cafe Tessardmine
Courtyard, Cafe Tessardmine, 2/5/2018

180502 Musician, Gnaoua Khamlia, Merzouga
Musician, Gnaoua Khamlia, Merzouga, 2/5/2018

180504 Cafe Tissardmine verandah 2
Cafe Tissardmine veranda, 4/5/2018

180505 Indoor studio, Cafe Tissardmine
Indoor studio, Cafe Tissardmine, 5/5/2018

180507 Fes the old medina view from the castle
Fes, the old medina, view from the castle 7/5/2018

180507 Laneway in the medina, Fes
Laneway in the medina, Fes 7/5/2018

180507 The tannery and dye pits, Fes 1
The tannery and dye pits, Fes 7/5/2018

180508 Madrasa Bouinania, Fes
Madrasa Bouinania, Fes 8/5/2018

180508 Minaret, Madrasa Bouinania, Fes
Minaret, Madrasa Bouinania, Fes 8/5/2018

180508 Palais Glaoui
Palais Glaoui, Fes 8/5/2018

180508 Palais Glaoui 2
Palais Glaoui, Fes 8/5/2018

180508 The artist's riad
The artist’s riad, Fes 8/5/2018

180508 View from the terrace, Hotal Merenides, Fes
View from the terrace, Hotel Merenides, Old Medina, Fes 8/5/2018

180509 View from the roof, Chefchaouen
View from the roof terrace, Chefchaouen 9/5/2018

180509 Doorway, Chefchaouen
Doorway, Chefchaouen 9/5/2018

180510 Laneway, Chefchaouen
Laneway, Chefchaouen 10/5/2018

180510 Work inprogress, Chefchaouen
Work in progress, Chefchaouen 10/5/2018

Sketches in ink, pigments, gouache, acrylics
Great to be in a different, culturally rich environment, a challenge, out of my comfort zone. However, difficult to focus, sustain concentration, find a rhythm with so many distractions, the hazards of attempting painting en plein air. Back to basics, drawing and painting over simplified, quick sketches and impressions, but useful for later work. The pigments bought in the souk in Marrakech another challenge to work with.

20180427 sketch from the roof top cafe, Marrakech (posca pen)
Sketch from the roof top café, carpets in the market, Marrakech 27/4/2018

20180430 Todra Gorge Morocco (posca pen)
Todra Gorge, before the goat stampede, 30/4/2018

20180501 Cafe Tessardmine courtyard 1 (gouache)
Cafe Tessardmine courtyard 1/5/2018

20180502 Cafe Tissardmine, Morocco (pen)
Cafe Tissardmine, 2/5/2018

20180502 z1 Cafe Tissardmine, Morocco, concertina book 1 (ink & pigment)
Messing about with pigments, Cafe Tissardmine, 2/5/2018

20180502 z4 Tissardmine Village, Morocco, concertina book p5 (ink & pigment)
Messing about with pigments, Cafe Tissardmine, 2/5/2018

20180508 Madrasa Bouinania, Fes, Morocco (posca pen)
Sketch, minaret, Madrasa Bouinania, Fes 8/5/2018

20180508 Palais Glaoui, Fes, Morocco (posca pen)
Sketch, Palais Glaoui, Fes 8/5/2018

20180508 Palais Glaoui, Fes, Morocco 2 (posca pen)
Sketch, Palais Glaoui, Fes 8/5/2018

20180508 from the roof terrace, Fes, Morocco 2 (posca pen)
Sketch of the view from the roof terrace, Riad Alya, Fes 8/5/2018

20180510 view from cafe, Chefchaouen, Morocco (posca pen)
This is what happens when you completely lose concentration, view from a café, Chefchaouen, 10/5/2018

Art References

Delacroix (Eugène ) sketchbook, Moroccan journey
Eugène Delacroix, sketchbook, Moroccan journey, 1832

Delacroix (Eugène) sketchbook, Moroccan journey, 1832 (2)
Eugène Delacroix, sketchbook, Moroccan journey, 1832

Roberts (Tom) A Moorish Doorway 1883
Tom Roberts, A Moorish Doorway, 1883

Kandinsky (Vassily) Arab Cemetery (1909)
Vassily Kandinsky Arab Cemetery, 1909

Klee (Paul) View towards the Harbour at Hammamet 1914
Paul Klee View towards the Harbour at Hammamet, 1914

Klee (Paul) Hammamet with Mosque (1914)
Paul Klee Hammamet with Mosque, 1914

Matisse (Henri) Moroccan Landscape (Acanthus), 1911-13
Henri Matisse, Moroccan Landscape (Acanthus), 1911-13

Matisse (henri) Entrance to the Kasbah, 1912, Hermitage Museum
Henri Matisse, Entrance to the Kasbah, 1912

Matisse (Henri) Window at Tangier, 1911-12 Pushkin Museum Fine Art
Henri Matisse, Window at Tangier, 1911-12

Matisse (Henri) The Moroccans, 1915-16, Museum of Modern Art
Henri Matisse, The Moroccans, 1915-16

Whiteley (Brett) Tangier Postcard 1967 (2)
Brett Whiteley, Tangier Postcard, 1967

Other references

1DK Eyewitness Travel – Morocco, travel guidebook, 2017

2Lonely Planet – Morocco, travel guidebook, 2017

Art Travel Adventures – Morocco

Kandinsky and Klee in Tunisia (Speaker: Professor Roger Benjamin, Art History, University of Sydney), Site specific: the power of place lecture series AGNSW, Wednesday 2 August 2017

The Heidelberg School: Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, Jane Sutherland, Frederick McCubbin (Speaker: Georgina Cole, Art History, National Art School), Site specific: the power of place lecture series AGNSW, Wednesday 9 August 2017

Art, Culture and Landscapes of Morocco (Speaker: Kenneth Park) AGNSW, Thursday 27 July 2017

How the Spirit of Morocco Seized Matisse, by Michael Kimmelman, NYT

Brett Whiteley Art and Life, Barry Pearce, Bryan Robertson, Wendy Whiteley, 1995