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‘Go Beyond' Artists' intuition on show at Athr
Text and photos by Bizzie Frost
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 17 - 12 - 2009

At the insistence of a friend, I accompanied him to an exhibition entitled “Go Beyond” being held at the Athr Gallery in Jeddah. It was my first visit to this gallery and my first impressions of the gallery itself reminded me of an installation that I once saw at the Saatchi Gallery in London: an artist had taken over a whole room which he had divided with a “V” shaped aisle.
On either side of the aisle were two tanks filled almost to the brim with used and very black engine oil. In the stillness of the room, the surface of the oil was like a deep mirror, creating very clear reflections of the tall windows and the sky beyond, as well as the rest of the room. You did not feel as though you were looking into liquid – you felt as though you were looking into infinity.
The Athr has black, shiny tiles on its floor and as I walked down the corridor towards it, I felt as though I was going to step right into that infinite void. As I entered the room, the first impression was of great space and light – and the large paintings reflected in the black, shiny floor. It is an impressive gallery.
The work exhibited in “Go Beyond” are works done by six artists: Saddek Wasil, a Saudi sculptor; Charles Khoury, a Lebanese painter; Farouk Kondakji, a painter from Syria, Houssein Al-Mohasen, a Saudi artist; Lebanese painter Dr. Raouf Rifai; and Mohammed Al-Ghamdi who recycles wood and metal to create his works of art in the two dimensional form of paintings rather than sculptures.
The description of the exhibition in the catalogue describes it as being a reflection on the outcome of going past lines, colours and shapes to gain a better understanding of our fears and anxieties, our inner peace and equilibrium.
When a scientist's logic stops, an artist's intuition begins. An artist imagines beyond what can be imagined. (That is a very thought provoking sentence – how does one imagine beyond what can be imagined?) In the words of one artist: “My art requires some time to be spent with it. My hope is that the longer you look at it, the more new meanings you will unravel.”
I am not an academic art critic – I just know what I like and why I like it. Farouk Kondakji's work comprises large impressionist style paintings using acrylic on canvas. Within each one there is the shadowy shape of a tree – although because some of those shapes are reminiscent of the legendary “mushroom cloud”, the first connotations for me were of a nuclear explosion.
He uses dark colours, with at least two paintings predominantly red, and another that was greenish-black with gold flecks in it. His use of paint is in beautiful layers giving depth to the surface of his paintings, with one colour glowing through another; I would have liked to have spent more time enjoying them.
I completely fell in love with Saddek Wasil's sculptures and Mohammed Al Ghamdi's recycled wood & metal “paintings”.
Works of art that are created with found objects particularly appeal to me, and Wasil uses scrap metal and wood to create his pieces: nuts, bolts, chains, padlocks, pieces of steel, cogs from machinery, nails. His sculptures are generally about 18 inches high; they are humorous, savage, poignant and instantly recognisable as comments on a restricted society – that is perhaps dominated by materialism.
One has a head and a hand being savagely crushed in the vice-like grip of two large cogs; another is a face with the tongue sticking out which has been firmly clamped with a padlock; another is a figure who appears to be struggling to dance freely but is constrained by chains and a padlock.
Another is a face with a wide-open mouth with about a dozen huge nails hammered brutally into the open cavity. In all of them, the materials are treated in such a way as to beautifully enhance their textures.
In contrast, Al-Ghamdi's recycled wood “paintings', with small pieces of interesting metal shapes included, are mellow tapestries of texture and grain and very pleasing to the eye. His aim is to recycle the refuse of our changing society, shaping it into a new definition of value and beauty. He holds a degree in Aviation Engineering and he draws on his knowledge of materials gained through that qualification to create his works.
Charles Khoury's work entitled “Creatures” immediately reminded me of the Spanish surrealist painter and sculptor, Joan Miro. Khoury's paintings are acrylic on jute, which gives a much coarser canvas than the type usually used by painters.
He uses bold colours and strong geometric shapes, representing humans, animals and plants. He then inserts unexpectedly real depictions of creatures such as birds. His paintings are untitled so it is impossible to refer to them individually; some of them appear deeply troubled as his work is influenced by the war in Lebanon. One, which had predominantly lighter colours, really appealed to me and I was tempted to buy it for my husband who is a great Miro fan.
The large acrylic on canvas paintings by Dr. Raouf Rifai are colourful abstract and figurative pieces. One very large abstract one, “Harmony”, has already been bought by Sursock Museum, Beirut, Lebanon. It is almost like a quilt of different fabrics, rather like all those colourful rolls of fabric that you see lined up in fabric shops, or oriental rugs in a carpet shop. Then there is a series of figurative paintings of Dervishes and Maya El Khalil was on hand to tell me all about these interesting people and explain their representations in Rifai's paintings.
I think I needed more time to appreciate Hussein Al-Mohasen's black & white abstract yet figurative work entitled “Jassad”, which at a quick glance did not appeal to me.
In the series he has apparently cleared the physical to lead the viewer to the realm of the inner soul but I was pressed for time and couldn't quite grasp this.
The exhibition officially closes this week, but unofficially it will run for another week or two. You are advised to get there quickly before some of the best pieces are removed by the people who have bought them.
The Gallery is an impressive space with lots of natural light in the day time, and is one of the first contemporary art galleries in the Kingdom. My only criticism is that the lighting on the some of the paintings could be better. It is well worth a visit.
Athr Gallery, fifth floor Business Centre, Wing B, Serafi Mega Mall, Tahlia Street. Jeddah. Saturday to Thursday 9 A.M. – 6 PM. More details at www.athrart.com

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