Monday, November 30, 2015

Experiencing the Everyday

“Where would you like it to be?”
Linden Fredrick

The American landscape painter Linden Fredrick creates almost anonymous scenes of the rural built environment, often at dusk, devoid of the human figure. Although humanity has a strong implied presence in his paintings often presented as a welcoming lighted window to entice the weary traveler. Unlike the works of the famed American artist Edward Hooper to whom Fredrick is often compared; a comparison that is more about style than intent.

As Fredrick explained in a promotional video for Haynes Gallery “I always felt that once a figure, a person is in the painting then that painting becomes about that person and what is that person’s story. But when you take that person out it becomes the viewer’s story and to viewers that’s a lot more interesting.”

A dedicated cyclist Fredrick discovers many of his subjects whilst out riding, a practice that allows him the time to experience the passing parade more intimately than from the window of a motor car and with a greater range than walking can provide.

Fredrick is also an amateur musician with an ongoing interest in stringed instruments. He makes cellos and is teaching himself to play the violin and it is an interest that affects his painting.

About which he said in a Forum Gallery promotional video “I think the correlation between music and my work is a good analogy because there are harmonies, there is an aesthetic, a mood.”

Using a palette limited to three colors from which he mixes all the colors needed for a painting, thus creating the harmony that holds his work together and provides its atmosphere.

As he says “I deal with what’s called a triad in which I think about only three colors. It’s like chords in music, so you take the key of C and there’s three major members of that. I do the same thing with painting and it’s based on the same kind of mathematical form.”

But unlike the musician who uses sound to provoke an experience, Fredrick uses paint.

As he has explained “It’s about where people live and work. It’s a lot about the road, what we all see as everyday places. It’s also seeing the extraordinary in an everyday place.

His current exhibition Linden Fredrick: Roadside Tales is on show at Pennsylvania’s James A. Michener Art Museum until the 13th of March 2016.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Painting the Theatre of Life

“Hopefully I can paint/draw pretty good”
Steven Assael

Increasingly recognized as one of America’s leading figurative painters the New York artist Steven Assael paints narrative works imbued with a theatrical impulse. He paints and draws from live models, the camera has no place in his production.

As he told Fine Art Connoisseur’s Peter Trippi “The great advantage that painting from life has is the embodiment of what is expected and unexpected. Chance cannot enter the process this way with photography. Photos can be helpful for general references, but I’m really all about how ideas are generated by the memory and the synthesis of experienced perceptions.”

“I usually start,” he continues, “with a visual, thematic idea – brides, for example – but the narrative evolves, its subtleties articulated as the painting develops. I select what is observed to support any change in feeling, or draw on memory, or respond to the unexpected. Over time, my sitter’s reveal themselves and their individuality becomes part of the narrative.”

It is a process he likes to film direction.

“I allow for the sitters’ performance to interfere with my concept. I think of sitters as actors, revealing an outward formality and an inner history. As a director, a strong actor can change everything, can steer the narrative in one direction over another. The moments in sequence embody the fullness of movement and an experience.”

Growing up as an only child Assael developed a love of drawing and encouraged by his mother he would often visit and sketch in the museums of his home town, New York.

In a promotional video for an exhibition at the Forum Gallery Assael said “The nights in armor at The Met were incredibly powerful and very theatrical as well. In a way I could say that still stayed with me because I’m very interested in theatre and the idea of art having a theatrical impulse.”

Today, apart from making his own paintings, Assael teaches at the New York Academy Graduate School and Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute as well as conducting master classes at his Manhattan studio.

Driven by his continued interest in deciphering and depicting life’s strange and often bizarre occurrences, American Artist reports that Assael impresses upon his student’s “If you have no understanding of what excites you, you will cease to paint, because you will have no sincere and no individuated motivation to do so.”

His ccurrent exhibition Steven Assael: New Paintings and Drawings is on show at New Yorks Forum Gallery until the 31st of December.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Marriage of Two Minds

“Underneath the arches,
We dream our Dreams away,
Underneath the arches,
On cobble stones we lay.”
Flanagan and Allen

Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore are Italian and British respectively but are best known as the British artist Gilbert & George. A relationship about which they say “It’s not a collaboration…  We are two people, but one artist.” 

They met at London’s St Martins school of Art whilst studying sculpture in 1967. In a world dominated by Pop, Minimal, and Conceptual art they decided to become “living sculptures.” Performing the Flanagan and Allen 1940’s music hall standard Underneath the Arches was their way of breaking out of the confines of the art elite to make “art for all.”

Since then Gilbert & George have made art across a variety of mediums which they regard as sculptures which include Postal Sculptures, Magazine Sculptures, Charcoal on Paper Sculptures, Drinking Sculptures, and Video Sculptures.

Their current sculptures are digitally manipulated photographs fitted into a predetermined grid that they call “The Pictures” and if not featuring themselves visually are concerned with their reaction to the world they live in.

As they told Whitewall Magazine’s Slava Mogutin “We believe these are pictures not by picture-makers but “living sculptures.” We are the center of our art, so what we leave behind is all us speaking to the viewer, you see always us part of being here. It was not a performance but a kind of sculpture, a living sculpture, and for us this is a very good form to speak. If the young people go to college and learn how to make pictures, they should learn how to make these ones. They’re letters, visual letters… We always say we make a kind of moralogue: good people, bad people, what should be changed, sexuality, unhappiness, drunkenness, religion, politics—all included, all what’s inside human beings, not the abstract art that doesn’t offend anybody. We believe that people who see our exhibitions become slightly different from those who don’t see, unavoidably. When we started out, it was all about concept art—minimalist, no emotions, not too much color, no sex… It was totally alien to what we were doing, we did always the opposite: too much color, too much sex, too much drunkenness. So it is very human art, more down to earth, like human beings are, not someone who is superior… 30 years ago when we did pictures with Christ or sex or nakedness, the art world thought we were fucking crazy. That’s been sorted out. Today these are the biggest issues in the world. Every newspaper talks about gay marriage nonstop.” 

With the political content of their work their marriage in 2008 was viewed in some quarters as a symbolic act.

But, about which they said “Quite pragmatic. Practical. We didn’t want to pretend straight marriage. If one of us fell under a bus tomorrow, it would be a disaster because by law the estate would go to some distant relative, we would lose control… not that anyone is dying. We have a foundation and by law everything would go back to my family, so that’s why it was very important. When that happened a lot of journalists from France were very interested. A lady journalist asked, ‘What do you think about the gay marriage?’ And I said, ‘Why, are you thinking of marrying a poof?’ There was a very good piece in The Independent about that recently. The Independent would love to attack the bishops, but they’re limited by law. But if somebody else attacks them, then it’s ok. So we said two or three things about gay marriage. Maybe more gay people would like to be married in the church just as a revenge on these bigots. But, rather, why would you want to get married in church by a bunch of pedophiles? We have a very good quote on that from Russia. There was a lady working at one of the commercial galleries and she asked one of the organizers if homosexuality was legal in Russia. And he said, ‘Yes, in prison!’ Our motto is: sex is sex, we don’t want to know what it is. George always says when you ask for the meat in a restaurant you don’t ask for a boy or girl meat!

And as Gilbert said in a 2012 artnet video interview “We are campaigning artists, we are going out there like missionaries, no, preaching morality.”

Gilbert & Georges current exhibition The Banners is on show at London’s White Cube Gallery until the 24th of January next year and their first Australian retrospective exhibition will be on show at Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art from the 28th of November until the 28th of March 2016.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

An Harmonic Chord of Nostalgia

“If I didn't start painting, I would have raised chickens.
Grandma Moses

The painter Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses, even over half a century after her death in 1961 at the age of 101, is an icon of American art in general and that country’s expression of ‘primitive’ art in particular. With her ‘memory’ landscapes, whose compositions would not have embarrassed the 16th Century Flemish master Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the self-taught Moses gave her audience a bucolic vision of 19th Century American rural life.

As the writer and curator Judith E. Stein quotes Moses as saying in her 2001 essay The White-Haired Girl: A feminist Reading I didn't have an opportunity to study art … but if a thing seems right to me, I do it. Art is like the Bible. Everyone reads the Bible and has a different opinion. Everyone looks at pictures and has a different opinion, so I go on my own. I love bright colors so I use bright colors. I don't know much about perspective and things like that. But I paint because I like to and I know what I want to paint… I like pretty things the best, what's the use of painting a picture if it isn't something nice? So I think real hard till I think of something real pretty, and then I paint it."

But perhaps what endeared Moses to the American psyche even more was the age at which she embodied the American dream by personifying the adage “It’s never too late.” For Moses was in her late seventies when she started to take the craft seriously.

As she told an interviewer in 1943 "I had always wanted to paint, but I just didn't have time until I was seventy-six." 

At the age of 12 Moses worked as maid on neighboring farms and at 27 became a farmer’s wife. She bore ten children, five of whom survived infancy, as well as contributing to the family income with the sale of homemade butter and preserves whilst practicing the handicrafts of embroidery and quilting.

The onset of arthritis forced Moses to abandon her handicrafts and rather than being idle she took her sister’s suggestion to try painting.

About which she has said: "I did not want my pictures to be eaten by moths, so when my sister, who had taken lessons in art, suggested I try working in oils, I thought it was a good idea. I started in and found that it kept me busy and out of mischief."

The New York collector Louis J. Caldor discovered her paintings in a Hoosick Falls drug store and purchased the lot along with another ten from the artist. At his insistence Moses was included in a 1939 Museum of Modern Art exhibition of contemporary unknown painters. A year later she had her first New York solo exhibition What a Farm Wife Painted which was followed by an exhibition at Macy’s Department Store celebrating Thanksgiving.

At this second solo exhibition Moses gave a talk that avoided the subject of her art and instead concentrated on making bread and preserves and the Thanksgiving customs of her childhood. It was an instant success with the press and from then on Moses was associated with that holiday and Christmas with ongoing feature articles extolling the antiquated "girl next door" and the farm wife's adaptability for turning her hand to anything."

Such was the popular acclaim that followed the primitive artist received two honorary doctorates, messages from President’s and her last two birthdays were proclaimed as ‘Grandma Moses Day’ in New York. And the prices of her paintings went $3 and $5, depending on size, to $8000 to $10,000 with her painting Sugaring off (see below) selling at auction for $1.2 million in 2006.

But with her feet firmly placed on the ground, Moses has been quoted as saying in 1947 “A primitive artist is an amateur whose work sells.

The exhibition American Sampler: Grandma Moses and the Handicraft Tradition is currently on show at The Dayton Art Institute until the 21st of February next year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Seducing Both the East & the West

“I attempt to multiply the power of temptation by displaying it on my canvasses.”
Ling Jian

The Chinese artist Ling Jian paints attractive young women of Asian descent in a hyperrealist and exaggerated manner that reflects his two decade study of and immersion in European art.

As he told the lifestyle magazine Homemtl “Young women are a very ancient and eternal art topic. During my return to the Chinese culture in recent years, great changes have taken place there. I grew during the Cultural Revolution period. Sexy, vane, vulnerable woman did not exist, or [they were] not allowed to exist. But the reality of today in a commercial society, all of which shows in front of you, the ideal values and the practical values have conflicted greatly causing the vanity, vulnerability and sexuality.”

An observation Jian expands upon in his essay Something transient – A choice of temptation. “The cold skin of the lady in my painting symbolizes a high degree of spiritual indifference and melancholy that come[s] about when ideals have vanished… If we take a chronological look at the history and evolution of humanity, women are very often the symbol of an era. By taking a closer look at the changes in women and how they are represented, various changes can be suggested about the human race. By the same token, women’s attire, decorum and the manner that they are advertised in pictures aptly represents Shanghai in the 1920’s, the Renaissance in Europe and even present day global developments that we have come to understand in terms of politics, economics and culture through these respective periods – women are the manifestation of myriad personalities and lifestyles in a particular climate. This is why it can be said that women take the lead in changing the times. These “beautiful women’ in my paintings are simply spiritual representations of the Chinese and their new found complacency towards neo-nationalism as well as towards their values and aesthetic perspectives.”

Born in 1963, Jian grew up during the restrictive times of China’s Cultural Revolution. In the 1980’s he studied abstraction at the Fine Arts Department of Tsinghua University Art College in Beijing and after graduating he moved to Europe.

As he told Zhang Yizhou in a 2008 interview “Abstract art didn’t have any meaning for me. I couldn’t express my feelings or the interesting times we live in with it. Age strides such big space in time, from the proletariat 1950’s and 1960’s when I was a boy, when there was a revolutionary ideal in difficult economic situations, to 1980’s and 1990’s when I was abroad, discovering that the economic development in the West gave rise to the high quality of the cultural life, till I came back to China in late 1990’s when China has already started its substantial boom. Those huge changes formed my ideas about many things. Many questions, contradictions and ideal impacts.”

Now working in a realist style which combined with Jian’s cross cultural fertilization enables him to speak to both the East and the West.

As the American art critic Peter Frank noted in his essay Ling Jian – Two Worlds, One System “Ling Jian’s art is, thus, not Westernized Chinese art (or, for that matter, Orientalized western art), but a carefully negotiated hybridization calibrated to the artist’s expressive concerns… What speaks to Chinese circumstances not only speaks to Westerners about those circumstances, but speaks to Western conditions as well. Ling’s paintings, it turns out, are not windows onto a distant civilization, but mirrors of the global village into which the distance has been collapsing.”

Jian’s current exhibition Nature Chain is on show at New York’s Klein Sun Gallery until the 23rd of December.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Reflections on Humanity Through Art

“Our body does not belong just to us. It creates a relationship with the world. And this relationship is the most interesting thing of all.”
Lee Ufan

In a 2011 article New York’s Brooklyn Rail Magazine described the Korean born painter and sculptor Lee Ufan, who currently shares his time between Japan and France, as being an artist who “is more of a philosopher who expresses his ideas through art.” And whilst he abandoned art school in Korea to study philosophy in Japan in his twenties, it is a descriptor that Ufan is not entirely comfortable with.

As he told Apollo Magazine’s Martin Gayford “My painting is a game, with the canvas as my opponent. There is a tension between myself and the canvas, and the brushstroke is the product of that tension. So I am not entirely in control… In my everyday life, I use logical ways of thinking that I learnt. So in some sense it has been useful; but having said that, I don’t want to turn philosophy into art. Philosophy is based on reflection, thinking. Art is an action, based on our emotion or perception.”

Although when viewing Ufan’s work, with their nod towards minimalism, a sense of self contemplation inevitably arises. This is particularly true of his sculptural pieces that explore time and the relationships between the manmade and the natural.

About which he has said “Stones are the oldest thing we ever encounter in our world. There is an unimaginably long time inside them: a kind of concentration of several hundred million years. And within a stone there are elements we can use to forge a metal such as steel. I really value what does need to be made, the uncreated, the not made. My aim is to make the not-manmade speak. I really want you to hear the voice of these things: to put the manmade and non-manmade in juxtaposition. This combination is fundamental for me.”

This philosophical underpinning is also evident in the museum dedicated to his work on the Japanese island of Naoshima; a collaborative project between Ufan and the architect Tadao Ando.

As he explained “What I really wanted to make was a space like a cave. Something that would be like entering and leaving a tomb, or a human body. The final result is not a space conceived by an architect, with the artwork installed in it afterwards. Not at all. Ando couldn’t have done it on his own, nor could I. Our two sets of ideas were juxtaposed to create what you see. Fortunately, Ando is an old friend of mine, so there were no quarrels or disagreements. Our discussions went mysteriously smoothly.”

It is this interaction with its philosophical implications that perhaps ultimately drive Ufan’s production.

As he told Frieze Magazine’s Melissa Chiu “It’s important to think about holding back and stopping to think, to be quiet, and to think of ourselves as part of the universe. Humans shouldn’t be at the center of it. And we should be more reflective about who we are and what we do.

Ufan’s current exhibition of New Works is on show at Hong Kong’s Pace Gallery until the 9th of January.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Lure of American Icons

“I don't like cuteness. Cuteness is not there.”
Joyce Pensato

The Brooklyn born and bred, American-Sicilian artist Joyce Pensato paints the underside of the American dream as represented by the output of Hollywood and its merchandising. From Batman to Donald Duck, from Homer Simpson to Elmo, Pensato’s dark sense of humor invades these icons in her almost monochromatic renderings that nod more towards Abstract Expressionism than Pop Art. 
As she explained to Art Paper’s Will CorwinGrowing up Catholic has something to do with it. Going to church, you're seeing the altars, the theater. I went to church every Sunday, but I did a lot of fantasy dreaming there… and it was not religious! I love all that heavy emotion, the drama of Christ on the cross. I couldn't get enough of it. Even a big Donald Duck face is a symbol that we all know, but it's also very powerful.”

It was whilst studying at the New York Studio School, at the urging of her teachers in the early 1970’s that Pensato found her niche.

About which she told Time Out London last year “I was doing these big abstract paintings at the New York Studio School, which was all about the “still life”. They weren’t coming together so my tutor said, “I don’t care what you look at but you have to work from something.” I knew that I didn’t want to do apples and pears, so I got out of the studio to see what I wanted to work with. At that time it was pop culture and you could get a lifesize cardboard cut-out of Batman, and so I set that up as a still life on the floor and realised that I had found my language.”

But over the years Pensato has found that she can only relate to certain American popular icons and European ones leave her totally cold.

As she says “It's the aesthetic structure. Superman is too human, Superman has a real face—I like disguises; I like masks. I tried doing Spider-Man, but I found him too round and soft... Batman is very angular—a tough guy—but he also represents pop culture. They have to have something deeper that I connect to. If I connect to it, I know the viewer is also connecting to something as well. I haven't analyzed it too deeply, but I think I'm connecting to everyone's inner self—to their childhood. I know I'm just having fun, but I'm dealing with the American icon. They have to be more than Mickey Mouse with a lobotomy. Icons! I like icons… They're not cute; they're bad boys. I use them as a form of getting into the paint. I see them as abstraction—they're very simple and abstract, a couple of swipes with the brush—but they mean something. Homer is amazing. He's a symbol of every man with a bald head. I don't watch The Simpsons, but I love the way they're drawn. They're an American culture thing. I seem to connect with that. When I was living in France I tried to get hooked up to the stuff in France and Belgium. Tintin? I had no connection to it. I find I'm still crazed over Donald Duck.”

Pensato’s currnet exhibition Later is Now is on show at Berlin’s Capitain Petzel gallery until the 22 of December.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Art as Business

“I've always considered myself a popular artist.

Maxfield Parrish

Were it not for Norman Rockwell, the painter he considered his muse, Maxfield Parrish would have been considered the most popular American illustrator of all time, for at the height of his fame Parrish prints adorned the walls of one in four American homes. Where Rockwell painted the everyday if from a sentimental point of view Parrish painted Victorian renderings of “Eden” inspired by classical themes of erotic innocence.

As the art critic Robert L. Pincus wrote in his review of the 2005 exhibition Maxfield Parrish: Master of Make-Believe “Maxfield Parrish began his career making illustrations and book covers for children, like the charming Humpty-Dumpty image for L. Frank Baum's first book, "Mother Goose in Prose." A few years later, when his visions of women and girls in enchanted landscapes became the rage, he had performed a clever shift in strategy, making children's art for adults.

An excellent draftsman which combined with his luminous use of color, that saw Parrish Blue named in his honor, Parrish’s allegorical compositions employed the use of the geometric principals of root rectangles and the golden ratio in their construction. And more often than not his paintings were made to be reproduced as prints.

As Hilarie M. Sheets wrote in her New York Times review of the book Maxfield Parrish: 1870-1966 “From the outset of his career, Parrish hitched his fortunes to the technologically expanding publishing industry, doing his first magazine cover for Harper's Bazaar in 1895 and thereafter earning mass-market popularity with his winsome book illustrations, art posters, calendars, theater sets, murals and paintings -- some, like ''Daybreak,'' specifically commissioned to be reproduced and sold as prints.” 

In his 60’s Parrish abandoned his allegorical subjects to concentrate on landscapes.

As he is reported to have told the Associated Press in 1931 “I'm done with girls on rocks! I've painted them for thirteen years and I could paint them and sell them for thirteen more. That's the peril of the commercial art game. It tempts a man to repeat himself. It’s an awful thing to get to be a rubber stamp. I'm quitting my rut now while I'm still able.

Although his subject matter changed Parrish maintained his commercial links producing commissioned works for the Minnesota-based calendar company, Brown and Bigelow but without the popularity of his earlier ‘escapist’ works.

In the 1960’s, when Parrish was in his 90’s, there was a resurgence of interest in his work in association with the pop art movement. And like Andy Warhol who once said “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art,” Parrish was proud of his business acumen having reportedly described himself as “a businessman with a brush.”

The exhibition Maxfield Parrish: Paintings and Prints from the National Museum of American Illustration is currently on show at the Nassau County Museum of Art until the 28 of February next year.

Friday, November 20, 2015

For the Sake of Creating

“I’m just doing my thing, having fun with it.”
Augustine Kofie

The Los Angeles artist Augustine Kofie produces images that reflect his spray can graffiti beginnings using a variety of surfaces that range from walls to canvases and clip boards.

As he explains in the video Hyper Geometry in the City “Some circles know me as a graffiti writer, some circles know me as a muralist and in some circles I’m known as a fine artist. I like to think I’m a mixed media artist, I work in multiple mediums.”

Growing up in West LA with an artist mother and not so supportive father, Kofie experimented with the art supplies he found laying around his home and by middle school he was excelling at drawing. But it was on the streets that he found his calling.

As he told Dig In magazine “I started paying attention in 1988, did my first true illegal in 1990 and started writing Kofie in 1993.”

It was there that Kofie gained his technical skills and developed his ongoing interest in construction and form, structure and balance. And his work progressed from tagging to the architectural inspired works of today they now grace not only the streets but gallery walls.

About which he told Brooklyn Street ArtI’m inspired by preliminary design, drafting, architectural renderings and pre-production concepts revolving around visual futurist design… My work and I are in constant progression. Evolution is mandatory. There is no seam that defines a beginning or ending to who I am and what I wish to produce. I do both the Graffiti and ‘art on the street’ depending on the moment and situation and especially moods. I’m a moody cat and I tend to gravitate to what I want to do to ease my restlessness. 

A subject Kofie elaborated about with the Wide Walls Magazine stating “Evolution is a strange notion, even stranger when you have the chance to see it occur over the years within your own styles. Letters forms are still prevalent in the works, but not as literally for many reasons. I’m interested in how shapes and forms can and play off one another and interact, not what it says nor spells out… As the years go, I begin to understand the bigger picture in my works. I am fully aware that I am interested in the process of creating more than the final result. I create for the sake of creating, so when these works give an advanced impression from previous collections, then I am in truly coming into focus. In tune. The works are truly taking shape and becoming their own.”

A selection of Kofie’s studio works will be on show at New York’s Jonathan LeVine Gallery’s exhibition Inventory from the 21st of November to the 19th of December.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Working with Paint and Video

“Painting is the official sport in heaven.”
Khaled Hafez

In the early 1990’s when the Egyptian artist Khaled Hafez gave up his lucrative medical career to become a visual artist his doctor parents were not impressed. Even today, some twenty five years later, with a successful worldwide career under his belt that has included invitations to exhibit at Manifest 8, the 2010 Cairo Biennale and the Venice Biennale twice, his military orientated father regular asks And what exactly is it that you are doing?”

Although in part this confusion may well arise from the diversity of Hafez’s practice that includes painting, film/video, photography and installation.

As he told the Think Africa online Magazine’s Tace Bayliss “I love film/video and painting equally and I always describe myself as “a painter who uses film and video as a medium to tell stories”. As mediums, they require two very different mindsets: painting is much more pleasurable and sensual, while film and video is much more rigorous and less "at hand" since several people are involved in the making. As a video artist, I become a slave of external factors such as traffic, circumstances, electricity and technology breakdowns. I write my videos and rewrite and revise and rewrite. I shoot only when I have a script, and when I edit and place sound, either myself or with a team, there is no room for error. The creative pleasure happens in writing, correcting and retouching the final film after the team has finished; the process in-between is sometimes not that pleasurable as it entails discussions and disagreements. Unlike video work, painting is a medium with more “dictatorship” involved and it all lies in my very own hands at all stages of the work."

To which he has added “I am a studio artist and indeed I maintain a military discipline and long studio hours. Since 2005, I go to my studio around 8.30 am every day and leave 12 hours later. I write a video/film a year, use installation and photography frequently, but I paint every day.”

And for his painting Hafez is inspired by the ancient art of his Egyptian forebears about which he says “two dimensional ancient Egyptian painting is thus the first known comic strips in history.” Whereas his filmic works have a more up to date political orientation.

About which he said in Meem Gallery’s catalogue for the 2013 Abu Dhabi Art Fair My films and installations are heavily political. My painting is less so, though politics is not absent. I guess the case for photography and painting is different as aesthetics play an indispensable part during the viewing process. My international career boomed in the last decade with video/film much more than painting, though galleries deal easier with painting for obvious reasons: less risk, bigger collector base and blue chip auction propagation… Politically charged works have a better shelf life in museums, while collectors for the aesthetics favor relatively safer works.

Hafez’s current exhibition A Temple for Extended Days is on show at Ayyam’s Dubai Gallery until the 14th of January 2016.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

An Icon of the 21st Century?

“If you are in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good fucking luck.”
John Oliver, presenter of HBO’s This Week Tonight

And so it has come to pass. Within minutes of the Paris terrorist atrocity the French graphic designer Jean Jullien had created his “Peace for Paris,” image that went viral in a matter of hours. Not only on the internet, this symbol of peace and solidarity migrated from Instagram to posters, flags, t-shirts, all the paraphernalia of the modern world.

As Jullien told Wired Magazine “I didn’t do any sketches. It was a reaction. The first thing that came to me was the idea of peace, that we needed peace. I was trying to look for a symbol of Paris, and obviously the Eiffel Tower was the first thing that sprang to my mind. I just connected both of them. You know, there wasn’t much work process behind that. It was more an instinctive, human reaction than an illustrator’s reaction… I’m sort of almost embarrassed to be getting that much exposure as a result of such a tragic event.”

Jullien grew up in the French town of Cholet and after gaining a degree in graphic design from the Le Paraclet in Quimperhe he moved to London study at Central St Martins and Royal College of Art a decade ago. He has since been living and working in the British capital.

With a distinctive black line illustrative style his production covers illustration, photography, video, costumes, installations, books, posters and clothing creating what he calls “a coherent yet eclectic body of work.” Which has seen him work for a wide range of clients worldwide from The New York Times to the London Underground.

As he told The Creative Review’s Mark Sinclair “When I create an image, be it for commercial or personal purposes, it is because I have a message to deliver. That’s the primary objective and everything that comes after is somewhat expendable. That’s why my work sometimes appears to be quite minimal or naive, because I try to stick to what’s necessary to be read and understood in the best way.

About the appropriation of the Peace for Paris symbol Jullien is quite relaxed.

As he says “It’s about people sharing it. It’s like giving birth to something and watching it develop a life of its own. You just have to learn to let go and see what it becomes. It’s quite a strange feeling. I’m just pleased that it’s found a use for everyone, regardless of their nationality or where they are in the world, in Paris or not.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Reality to the Moment

“To me, magazine covers on newsagents’ shelves are like decapitated heads.
Mitch Griffiths

The British painter Mitch Griffiths depicts the icons of today in a realist style that mimics that of the old masters.

As he told the Unfolded Magazine’s Nardip Singh “Caravaggio for light and Rubens for compositions… I want the paintings to look real, but I particularly don't want them to look like a photo, not to be super detailed, but there should be detail in paint. I want it to still have the identity of an oil painting. If it is too detailed, you almost get a deadening CGI effect. I want to maintain an organic quality."

After studying graphic design at the South Devon College and illustration at the Southampton Institute, Griffiths’ 1994 portrait of the boxer Chris Eubank so impressed its subject that Eubank employed the artist to produce promotional material for his fights. An avid boxing fan Griffiths also became the artist in residence at boxing promoter Terry Johnson’s luxury retreat and sometime boxing camp, Hystyns.

With the production of over 100 paintings during this time Griffiths refined his style through the study of the works of the old masters, immersing himself in their culture and history.

About which the writer Philip Wright has said “His pictorial language is not so much old-fashioned as reborn out of the pervasive and at times almost pornographic vividness and in-your-face quality of much of our current visual culture.”

With the choice of his entry in National Portrait Gallery’s BP Portrait Award for the exhibition’s promotion Griffiths’ career received a further boost.

As he told Dazed DigitalIn 2001 my self-portrait was chosen for the advertising campaign for the exhibition. In terms of exposure, it was better than 1st prize. I exhibited in the exhibition a couple more times. This is where Paul Green and the Halcyon Gallery approached me.

Having moved on from pugilism, Griffiths now shadow boxes the social issues of modern life in his quasi-religious paintings. Ranging from commercial branding to patriotism, from social inclusion and exclusion to conflict, Griffiths invites gallery patrons to view his reality.

As he told the Combustus MagazineArt can be a medium for escape and take you on wonderful journeys, for both artist and viewer. However, it must have the resonance of reality to truly connect (and I don’t mean realist; it can be any style, any medium). There needs to be gravitas. The best work is monumental, not ornamental.”

Griffiths’ current exhibition Enduring Freedom is on show at London’s Halcyon Gallery until the 28th of November.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What a Difference a War Makes

“Forbidden thoughts trying to break out.”
Abdul-Karim Majdal Al-Beik

For the Beirut based Syrian artist Abdul-Karim Majdal Al-Beik the stored memories on the walls of the buildings that surround him are an on-going inspiration for his work. From the seven house village in Northern Syria of his youth to the alleys of the city of his self-imposed exile Majdal Al-Beik explores the marks both human and natural that record the passage of time.

As he explained to the canvas supplement “Walls drink in the history of a place. Every alley is bound to have a ‘Saeed loves Samira’ kind of graffiti on its walls, a spray-painted arrow to some place, a ‘For Rent’ sign, ‘Allahu Akbar’, or the daubs of letters and numbers by the neighborhood’s children.”

A graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus, Majdal Al-Beik earlier pre-war works recorded the differences between the walls of his childhood and the walls of old Damascus. From the cracked walls of the houses built of mud bricks and straw to the city walls laden with administrative notices, religious proclamations and the graffiti of adolescent frustration.

About which Majdal Al-Beik told the Gulf NewsI am interested in capturing the passage of time and its effect. And I found that painting walls is the best way to achieve this because walls are like a memory of a city, where myriad stories are recorded in the graffiti and the marks created by people and elements of nature.

The harsh realities of the Syrian conflict replaced his renderings of everyday life with the violence and destruction that his walls witnessed.

As he said two years ago “Today, in Syria, men and women are being lined up against the same walls and executed — the same walls where children once scrawled doodles and young lovers wrote their names. The barbaric and indiscriminate killings have forced me to use new and violent vocabularies in my work to express the pain and horror. The patched military fabric on which these paintings are made is like a tattered military tent that offers no refuge and only holds painful memories of years of terror.

Majdal Al-Beik’s latest works have moved on to examine the plight of the refugee who like him have been forced to relocate from their homes.

As the press release for his current exhibition A Heart on a Wall says “Majdal Al-Beik’s new works demonstrate an attempt to incorporate the ‘concerns and desires and hopes and dreams’ of friends and acquaintances, new and old, or those who have emigrated or passed, leaving behind ‘beautiful or painful’ memories. This new series forms ‘a remembrance of heroes who are ordinary people.’ Recreating their engraved voices prevents their memories from fading away.”

A heart on a Wall is currently on show at Ayyam’s DIFC Dubai Gallery until the 31st of December.